German Schmear: A More Rustic Fireplace Painting Option

August 12, 2023

When I first heard the term, German Schmear, I thought it was some kind of food. In my mind I pictured a delicious, savory spread for bagels.  But in reality, it’s no such thing. It’s actually...are you ready for this? A paint technique that’s super trendy right now! Who knew??

As it turns out,  the German schmear paint process is an interesting way to transform an outdated brick fireplace from drab to charming using just a few supplies.  Let’s take a look at how this magic happens.

German schmear, sometimes called a “mortar wash”, can be achieved by spreading wet mortar over your bricks and then wiping some of it off before it dries.  Imagine the look of weathered castles and cottages throughout northern Germany hundreds of years ago. The technique is similar to whitewashing except instead of using watered-down latex paint, you use wet mortar to cover your bricks.  The mortar makes a rough texture on the surface of your bricks creating an old-world European distressed look.  

“So how do I get this on- trend German schmear paint look you speak of?” you may ask.  Let’s go through the process step- by -step and then you can decide if you’re ready to tackle the project on your own.

The German Schmear Process

Materials You’ll Need

  • 5 gallon plastic bucket
  • Sturdy brush
  • Premixed white mortar
  • Stucco sponge
  • Spray bottle filled with water
  • Drill
  • Concrete paddle bit
  • Protective rubber gloves 
  • Protective eyewear
  • 6 inch taping trowel
  • Wire brush


How to Do the German Schmear Technique on Your Brick Fireplace

  1. Make sure your fireplace is clean.  Use a fireplace cleaner and a scrub brush and water to remove any dirt, dust and grime from your brick.
  2. Mix the mortar and water in the bucket to create your “mortar slurry”.  Typically a 70/30 mix mortar to water. 
  3. The mortar mixture will be thick but you can add a little more water if you want a thinner more translucent coating. 
  4. Blend the mixture using the drill and concrete paddle bit.
  5. Spray your brick with water to dampen the bricks.  Smear the mortar over all bricks and mortar joints. You can use your hands (covered by your protective gloves, of course), or a trowel .  Work in small sections at a time. 
  6. Before the mortar dries (usually around 30 minutes), use a trowel or wire brush or sponge  to remove as much of the mortar as you’d like to get the look you’re going for.  

Still not convinced?  Let’s take a look at some what some bloggers around the internet have to say about the German schmear projects they’ve done.

First off, there’s a Dimples and Tangles blog post where blogger, Jennifer Griffin,  talks about how she and her sister did a makeover on their parents’ fireplace since her mom wanted to redecorate the living room. They chose the German schmear technique and their project turned out amazing!!

In her post, “How to German Schmear Like a Boss”, AshleyAnne of Pineapples + Porches, describes how she added charm to her home by transforming her dark outdated fireplace brick using German schmear.  She describes the process taking about 8 hours to complete. She gives lots of tips and advice, so check out her blog post to get inspired!


German Schmear

Pineapples + porches

Here’s the picture AshleyAnne found on that motivated her to use the German schmear technique on her own fireplace. Just beautiful!!

German Schmear


In her blog, The Heathered Nest, Heather describes how she not only tackled the German schmear technique but she actually built a fireplace using brick tiles to go on a blank wall in her bedroom.  Impressive!!! Check out her story in the link above.


How is German Schmear Different Than Whitewashing and Lime Washing?

So, as you can see German schmear brick fireplace painting doesn’t involve German schmear paint.  Instead, you apply a light colored mortar mixture over the surface of some of your bricks. Although German schmear is a brick remodeling technique, the process is different than whitewashing and limewashing with paint.  

In case you don’t know about whitewashing, this paint process involves combining water and latex paint to create a thin paint mixture that you paint over your bricks and mortar.  The result is a toning down of the bricks’ natural look allowing a little of the original color to peek through. The more water you add to the paint, the more your original brick will show through.

Limewashing is a similar process and is a type of whitewashing. But instead of using latex paint, you use a combination of crushed limestone mixed with water.  A paint called Romabio Classico has the limestone paint already mixed and ready to dilute with water, so that’s a super easy option for this type of painting. Limewashing allows you to remove the paint within 5 days of the application if you decide you don’t care for the look.  This is a good option if you’re really on the fence about whether you should paint your brick at all.  

So what do you think?  The German Smear technique is definitely an interesting option for updating any tired outdated fireplace.  Applying some white mortar over some of your bricks gives a light, distressed look loaded with old world charm.  Your fireplace will have a personality of its own after this technique and will definitely be a conversation starter next time you have friends over to gather around the fire. 

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