Two Big Reasons To Paint Over Your Exposed Brick Right Now

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Julia Steele)

I’ll just start off and say that there’s a lot to love about exposed brick walls. I’ve lived with many over the years, and there’s no substitute for the warmth, texture, and authenticity they bring to a room. But those are just the pros, because exposed brick can also be kind of a nightmare. So, read on to decide if all that historic charm is worth the headache.

Here are a few problems with the exposed brick, and things you should know moving forward:

#1: They’re Kind of Dark

(Image credit: William Strawser)

If you find yourself dreaming of a light and airy space, the heaviness of an exposed brick wall (or walls) can weigh the room down and make it feel darker than it actually is — especially if you have low ceilings. Painting it can automatically lighten the space and give it a visual boost. Plus, if you paint, you get to choose a different color besides brick red.

(Image credit: Paul Barbera )

This Boston apartment got a makeover, and one of the major things the owners did was paint over the brick. Now, the artwork they hung really stands out against the clean white — everything feels crisper and brighter, even despite the black ceiling. You can see what this room looked like before here.

#2: They Shed Red Dust

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Unlike stronger and more watertight exterior brick walls (that also hopefully get tuck-pointed regularly), interior brick walls were often made with lower quality brick and installed by apprentices just learning the trade. So, beyond just the visual imperfections (which actually adds to their appeal IMO), older original walls also tend to shed red dust, which will rain down on whatever is beneath it.

I once had exposed brick in the back of a closet, and my clothes constantly looked like they just came back from vacation on Mars. Which is why I especially worry when I see electronics nearby, like the keyboard in Jessica’s Itty Bitty NYC Apartment, seen above.

Painting over a wall, either with a color or a clear sealant, will get rid of the dust. A couple words of warning though, if you decide to go this route:

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

Prep Well

Painting is really all about the prep beforehand, and this is especially true with brick. If your brick is in good shape, then clean it thoroughly before you get started. Prime the area first, and use paint products specially formulated for masonry walls. Brick is porous, so it might require a number of coats until you get good coverage. Using a spray gun will help you get into the crevices more easily than a roller. Avoid glossy finishes —especially if you use a clear coat instead of paint.

Treat Underlying Issues First

As mentioned, brick is porous, which also means that it readily and happily absorbs moisture. Brick that’s in bad shape — if it’s really crumbly, or has mold on the surface — probably has a larger water or ventilation issue. If enough moisture gets trapped in there, paint won’t help you, and the wall will deteriorate, regardless of what covers it. If you still must paint, solve the larger issue of moisture or leaks, before you paint.

(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

No Regrets

And know this: once you start, it’s hard to go backwards, as Rachel learned after painting the brick fireplace in her bedroom, seen above. She covered the entire wall of brick with white before realizing she really wanted a white-washed look to match her other walls. Her husband spent hours removing the more opaque paint using a rag and paint stripper.

Any other reasons you’d want to paint over exposed brick? And any other things to watch out for? Share in the comments!