What Is Limewash Paint? Plus, How to Use It In Your Home

Here’s what you should know about this centuries-old painting technique.

Bedroom with blue chairs and vaulted ceiling
Photo: Tria Giovan Photography Inc

The first thing you need to know about limewash paint is that (surprise!) it isn’t actually paint at all. Instead, it’s more accurately described as a process. Limewash is one of the oldest painting methods, dating back to ancient Egypt. And while it's come in and out of fashion over the centuries, limewash is having a moment in modern decor right now.

“Limewash paint can be a very fun and rewarding method of finishing walls,” says Joshua Dunn of James Alexander Specialty Paints. Because it’s a different process than standard painting, and each coat can result in a much different look, Dunn suggests purchasing small sections of drywall from the hardware store so you can experiment and get a feel for the process ahead of time. It is quite a departure from your standard two-coat traditional paint job.

Here, painting pros share all the tips and details on limewash, including inspiration for where to use it in your home (it's not just for walls!) and advice on how to clean limewash surfaces once installed. 

What Is Limewash Paint?

"Authentic limewash paint (without binders or modern additives) is a traditional mineral finish that is derived from natural limestone,” says Dunn. “Limestone is made up primarily of the mineral calcium carbonate, one of the most abundant minerals on earth.” True limewash includes no additional paint binders. “It’s simply a function of the lime rehydrating as it dries on the surface and cures back to a limestone-like material,” he says. Limestone finishes come with a particular set of guidelines for both their application and upkeep, though the latter (you’ll be glad to note) is minimal. 

family room with vaulted ceiling and pine beams

Is Limewash Paint Environmentally Friendly?

Because limewash is a primarily natural substance, it’s oftentimes viewed as a more environmentally friendly choice when compared to most varieties of oil-based paints that call on chemical-releasing plastic resins. “Lime paint is a mineral makeup and allows for wall decoration and design expression without a film-forming resin-based paint,” says Dunn. It’s also durable. The technique first made its appearance during the days of the Roman empire. “One of the great things about this eco-friendly paint solution is that it is time tested,” Dunn says.

How to Use Limewash Paint

With such a rich history, modern-day limewash applications on contemporary materials call for a slightly different process than that of the Romans. You’ll want to start with the right tools. “A proper block-style limewash brush allows the limewash to spread easily and quickly over a large wall surface,” says Dunn. “The block brush method works the limewash paint into the surface with the appropriate thin application and has the ability to produce a variety of finishes. “

You’ll also want to note the surface you’ll be limewashing. Whether you’re using it indoors on walls or ceilings, a mineral primer is necessary for the limewash to adhere to non-absorbent surfaces. “A more traditional surface, such as plaster and absorbent masonry surfaces, will not require a mineral primer application,” Dunn says. “These materials will absorb the limewash into them directly and bond very efficiently.”

Larry A. Kuhn, owner of Five Star Painting, says to start by diluting the limewash with water, otherwise, it will be extremely thick. From there, wet down and apply the limewash in patches. “Once opaque, use wet rags to ‘wash’ the walls,” he says. “The more you wipe off, the older it looks.”

When working on exterior surfaces, consider limewash a wearing finish with minimal upkeep. “Over time, limewash will age gracefully on masonry services and can be touched up occasionally to maintain a bright surface,” says Dunn. “When allowed to wear, it takes on a more weathered, established look.”

peach patio with bench and plants
Carson Downing

Limewash Color Options

“Limewash in general is a soft-looking finish with a lot of nuance,” says Dunn “Recently, there has been interest in more saturated colors, and it has been exciting to see limewash paint in more varied shades.” Today, you’ll find limewash offered in an array of hues, including opaque-like options, though pastels and soft colors are still more traditional choices due to the white base of the paint. If you’re looking to enhance your shade, specifically where darker limewash finishes are concerned, consider wax sealers that can be utilized for a bolder appearance. 

When using limewash paint, give it a trial run to see how the color and finish play with the natural and artificial light sources within the space. “Limewash is light-sensitive due to the calcite crystals that form within the paint when it cures,” says Dunn. “This unique feature creates a lively paint that can seem to change colors depending on lighting.”

How to Clean Limewash Surfaces

Limewash characteristics lend themselves to low to no upkeep. In fact, you might prematurely thin the surface (a process that’s designed to happen naturally over time with limewash) if you get to scrubbing. “Limewash is not considered a washable paint and should only be touched up on occasion with a light maintenance coat when needed,” says Dunn. “Sealers and waxes can be used in higher traffic areas to reduce wear and create a wipeable surface.” If you must clean limewashed walls, Dunn says a soft, lint-free cloth and water should be the only methods used to lightly wash the surface. 

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