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brick and white wall

What Is German Smear?


May 27, 2020 by Barbara Zito
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While it sounds like a decadent spread for pumpernickel bread, German smear is actually a design treatment for bricks. A brick accent wall, brick fireplace, or brick exterior on a house certainly creates a beautiful facade on its own, but the German smear technique can take the aesthetic up a notch.

Old-world style meets modern-day DIY

If you've ever seen bricks that look like they've been whitewashed, you may be in the presence of German smear. Instead of using paint -- which is indeed another treatment option -- wet mortar is smeared on and scraped off. The result is a textured, distressed look that evokes an old-world feel. White mortar over red bricks is often a go-to combo, but other mortar-and-brick pairings are certainly possible.

How easy is it to DIY?

You might think that anything involving brick needs an experienced hand. But you're not laying brick -- you're just refinishing it. Still, German smear is a project that requires a bit of patience and time.

We checked in with the home improvement experts at BobVila.com to see how it's done. Take a look at the process and decide for yourself whether German smear is a good DIY project for your own home.

What you'll need:

  • Premixed mortar (don't try to mix it on your own).
  • Stiff-bristle wire brush.
  • 5-gallon plastic bucket.
  • Power drill with a paddle drill bit.
  • Garden hose for outdoor work or stucco sponge for indoor work.
  • Grout sponge.
  • 6-inch taping trowel.
  • Rubber gloves, protective eyewear, and old clothing (this could get messy).

Step 1. Prep by cleaning the brick of any dirt or debris with water and a stiff-bristle brush.

Step 2. Mix a mortar slurry (70% mortar to 30% water) in the bucket using the drill and paddle bit to mix. You are aiming for a mixture with a peanut butter-like texture. (Want a thinner texture? Just add more water.)

Step 3. Hose down the bricks with water if you're working outdoors, or use a wet stucco sponge if you're indoors. Wetting down the bricks will make the mortar take longer to dry. That's a good thing -- you'll need the time to smear the mortar to get the finish you want.

Step 4. Using a gloved hand, a grout sponge, or a trowel, begin smearing the mortar over the bricks and into the joints. Work section by section from top to bottom, a few feet at a time. Then use the trowel to scrape off the mortar, as much or as little as you need to get the look you want. If possible, test your technique first on a spare brick or in a spot that's not too visible.

You've got time before the mortar dries to get your desired result. However, once it dries, it'll take some heavy-duty chemicals and scrubbing to get it off if you change your mind. In the end, German smear isn't the most difficult DIY project, but you'll need to have your head in the game to be happy with the finished look of your brick.

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