How to Mortar Wash (German Schmear) a Brick Fireplace

mortar washed fireplace diy home improvement project

In this post, we will show you how to German Schmear a fireplace (also known as German Schmear). We opted to use this this technique because we were concerned that paint would not last as long.

Materials:

  • Plastic or drop cloth
  • Painter’s tape
  • 2 buckets (one for mixing mortar and one for water)
  • Durable gloves
  • Mortar mix
  • Electric drill (for mixing mortar)
  • Mixing paddle
  • VersaBond White Mortar Mix
  • Putty knife (metal is preferable)
  • Heavy-duty sponge
  • Rags

Step 1:

If any of the bricks have soot on them, clean them off using Clorox Clean-Up Cleaner + Bleach spray and a rag.

Step 2:

Cover the floor and logs (or inside the firebox) with plastic because this is a messy process. We were eventually covering the tile floor with new flooring, but we still covered the floor to make cleanup easier.

Step 3:

Use painter’s tape to tape off around the crown molding, wall, and floor (anywhere the brick borders) so as not to get the mortar on the walls, floor, molding, or ceiling.

Step 4:

Mix the mortar (according to product directions) in a bucket using an electric drill and mixing paddle. Give it a few minutes to slake (again, according to the mortar mix directions).

Step 5:

Start at the top of the fireplace. Using a putty knife, apply mortar to the brick joints. Use the putty knife to smear the mortar mix on the brick. The amount of mortar you use is dependent on the look you are attempting to achieve. If you want to leave some brick exposed, then apply the mortar more sparingly and leave some brick exposed.

Because the brick on this fireplace is mostly brown, we wanted to use more mortar and not have exposed brick.

We worked in an area at a time. After we applied the mortar to a section, then I came back and wiped it down with a heavy-duty sponge to remove some of the excess mortar.

Continue applying mortar and wiping down with a sponge until completed.

Step 6:

Remove painter’s tape and clean up. Allow time to dry. We waited overnight and a few days before putting anything on the brick.

Here is the process in a quick time video. In actuality, it took about 4-5 hours to accomplish this project.

And ENJOY your updated fireplace!

Don’t forget to Pin this for future reference.

Pinterest Pin Mortar Wash German Schmear Fireplace

Let us know if you have any questions or what you think about how we German Schmeared this fireplace by commenting below.

36 Comments

  1. Patty on 09/05/2019 at 12:36 PM

    Gorgeous!

  2. Cindy Hopper on 09/06/2019 at 2:54 AM

    How would you leave some of the brick exposed?

    • Suzanne on 09/07/2019 at 9:28 AM

      Hey Cindy,
      We thought about leaving some of the brick exposed but just did not like the brown color.
      To show more of the brick, just apply the mortar to the joints only (you can see I sort of do this and then wipe it on the face of the brick) and don’t wipe on the face of the brick. Only smear the mortar on the joints. Some will get on the face of the brick but that is ok – – part of the overall look. Go slow and get the feel for it initially. Let me know and share pictures if you do this.
      Thanks for reading our blog!
      Suzanne

  3. Karen on 09/06/2019 at 3:28 AM

    Is the mortar white or off white?

    • Suzanne on 09/07/2019 at 9:23 AM

      Karen,
      It is off-white, but it initially dries more white (at least lighten than when applying) and then sort of darkens up over time. It definitely looks off-white now.
      Thanks for reading our blog! Let us know if you have any other questions.
      Suzanne

  4. Samantha on 09/06/2019 at 8:17 AM

    I am amazed by the change! Cute wreath also.

    • Suzanne on 09/07/2019 at 9:25 AM

      Thanks, Samantha! We really appreciate that!
      I bought the wreath at Hobby Lobby and added the ribbon (also from Hobby Lobby).
      Thanks for reading our blog!
      Suzanne

  5. Katrina on 09/07/2019 at 9:20 AM

    Wow! This looks good!
    I enjoy keeping up with your project.

    • Suzanne on 09/07/2019 at 9:25 AM

      Thanks, Katrina!
      We really appreciate that affirmation!
      Thanks for reading our blog.
      Suzanne

  6. Alice on 09/10/2019 at 12:42 PM

    You have inspired me to do this to my fireplace.

  7. Emmy on 10/20/2019 at 3:05 PM

    Wow, gorgeous!

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  9. Christine Casey on 02/24/2020 at 3:08 AM

    Great job, thanks for sharing. I have two very ugly fireplaces that I’m going to try this technique on.

  10. Beth on 03/26/2020 at 7:18 PM

    Looks great and thx for the inspiration!

    • Suzanne on 03/27/2020 at 8:29 AM

      Beth,
      Thank you so much! We were pleased with the result and my Mom really likes it too.
      Thanks for reading our blog!
      Suzanne

  11. Jess on 06/14/2020 at 2:54 AM

    Is there a benefit to doing this beautiful technique vs painting ? 🙂 asking because I’m trying to decide what to do to my own outdated red fireplace.

    • Suzanne on 06/14/2020 at 6:41 PM

      Hey Jess,

      Thanks so much for your question. I had thought about painting the fireplace, but paint does not always stick well to brick.

      This technique also gives it texture – – sort of gives it an old/aged look. Another advantage of doing this technique is to reveal the color of the brick in some places. I initially was going to reveal some of the brick, but the brick was not very pretty (brown). However, if your brick is pretty (red), then this would look good. It would make the fireplace look old/aged. I hope this helps!

      Thanks for reading our blog!

      Suzanne

    • CallMeChaz on 03/29/2022 at 7:53 PM

      The answer is subjective. It depends on the result you want. When I hear that someone want to “paint” a fireplace, I assume it means painting it with a solid, opaque finish. It you clean the brick well, it will adhere just fine. Use a good masonry primer, with a quality latex finish. This looks good in a modern home, or just about any style other than rustic. You can also do a faux lime wash with diluted paint, often referred to as a whitewash. It looks more uniform than a schmear, but lets the brick show through to the extent you choose. These are somewhat easier to perform than a real lime wash, or a schmear, but with less texture. The latter two, especially the schmear, look great with a cottage or farmhouse theme.

      • Suzanne on 03/30/2022 at 10:45 AM

        Chaz,
        Thanks for offering some other options for my readers.
        Suzanne

  12. Heidi on 11/10/2020 at 12:21 PM

    Hello, I was wondering if I could use grout instead of mortar?

    • Suzanne on 11/10/2020 at 2:31 PM

      Hey Heidi,

      Great question! I would not use grout if you are trying to do a true mortar wash. Grout is not as consistent in texture and would crumble more when applied to the surface of the brick. However, I did a little research and it you are just trying to cover the grout lines (different look than mortar wash), then the grout would work just to cover/redo the grout lines on your fireplace.

      I hope this helps! Thanks for reading our blog!

      Suzanne

  13. Lindsay on 11/10/2020 at 7:37 PM

    Did you have to seal the fireplace after completing the mortar mix painting? Also, where did you get off white mortar mix? Thanks!

  14. joe on 01/19/2021 at 6:42 AM

    if i went this route, and then wasn’t happy with the results on my fireplace (yours looks great), could i then just paint it white overtop of this method?

    • Suzanne on 01/19/2021 at 7:28 AM

      Hey Joe,

      That is a very good question. Typically you can paint over mortar, just as people paint a brick house with mortar between the bricks. However, it can be challenging because mortar is porous. You would also need to prime it before painting. My suggestion is to determine the look you want (mortar wash vs. paint) and then do that approach. I would also suggest talking with a true paint expert. I often talk with the expert at our local Sherwin Williams; he is very knowledgeable.

      Thanks for reading my blog.

      Suzanne

    • CallMeChaz on 03/29/2022 at 7:23 PM

      Short answer “Yes”.

  15. BKell on 01/19/2021 at 7:32 AM

    I’m curious if this is hard to keep clean because we use our wood-burning fireplace extensively. What do you think?

    • Suzanne on 01/19/2021 at 10:55 AM

      That is a good question! This fireplace (at my Mom’s house) has a gas insert. Prior to doing a mortar wash on the fireplace, it was a wood burning fireplace and I scrubbed as much soot as I could off the brick. Honestly, I am not sure the answer to your question. I will share that when they (professionals) inserted the gas logs and connected the gas, they got soot (from the inside of the fireplace) on the hearth. I was able to scrub the soot off. I don’t know if you have a lot of soot how hard this would be. The mortar seems to be durable but I am not sure how durable is scrubbing often. Sorry I don’t have a better answer.
      Thanks for reading my blog.
      Suzanne

  16. Kim on 02/19/2021 at 8:55 PM

    It looks very nice! I will be doing something with our brown brick fireplace soon. I am wondering what the wall color is. Together, it is a good look and may be similar to a paint color I am considering. Thank you for sharing.

    • Suzanne on 02/22/2021 at 2:09 PM

      Hey Kim,

      I apologize for my delay in responding. I had to go to my Mom’s house and get the paint color off of the can. We use Behr paint from Home Depot. The color is Indulgent Mocha. It is basically a light beige and goes with everything.

      Thanks for your kind words about the fireplace. We are pleased with the result. Let me know if you update your fireplace. I would love to see pictures.

      Suzanne

  17. Caitlyn on 03/30/2021 at 5:50 AM

    It looks so elegant finished! I really like this look but am wondering if it is a good option for refacing the brick backsplash and wall in our kitchen rather than a fireplace. Does it crumble or flake off at all on contact? And is it difficult to clean because it is so porous?

    • Suzanne on 03/30/2021 at 8:20 AM

      Hey Caitlyn,
      That is a great question. It is a little rough to the touch initially and porous so I am not sure how it would work as a backsplash. It would look good but might be harder to clean.
      Thanks for reading our blog.
      Suzanne

  18. Meggie on 10/14/2021 at 11:33 PM

    Could you do this over a white painted fireplace? Or does it need to be a natural fireplace color to get the look you did ?

    • Suzanne on 10/15/2021 at 9:02 AM

      Meggie,
      Great question! I think you could but because you are doing this over white and not brown or red brick, the reveal would not be as much to show through. Thanks for visiting my blog.
      Suzanne

    • CallMeChaz on 03/29/2022 at 7:25 PM

      Noooo! You cannot apply masonry products over painted surfaces. It will not bond.

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