DIY Projects Home Repair

Complete German Smear Guide (Schmear)

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1. What is German Smear (or Schmear)?

If you’re looking to update the look of your worn-down bricks, consider using the German smear technique. This type of mortar wash will provide a stylish white tint to the bricks while exposing some of the underlying brick to create a charming aesthetic reminding you of the Old World. Compared to similar remodeling solutions, German smear isn’t particularly expensive while also being fairly easy to handle by DIY enthusiasts.

2. History of German Smear

This finishing technique traces back its origins in Northern Germany. It’s also called German schmear from the German word “spread”. Since becoming quite popular in Europe and America, it’s now commonly called German smear. The rustic vibes obtained by this finish can be highly appreciated regardless of the time period. German smear is always in style and allows for flexible styles depending on the kind of look you prefer. You can either paint the mortar mix or trowel it.

Fans of medieval castles and old cottages enjoy the German smear finish because it essentially emulates the same exterior look. It’s also similar to whitewashing bricks but you need to use wet mortar instead of paint. This is an important distinction to obtain that characteristic distressed look of German smear. When done correctly, the technique lets you take advantage of a more interesting texture and irregular patterns that appear more attractive than others. German smear works well for interior brick walls as well.

3. Benefits and Disadvantages of German Smear

The main benefit of German smear is the low cost. It depends on the size of the surface you’re working with, but premixed mortar is fairly cheap. There’s no need to search for a professional contractor when you can easily tackle the job yourself and save a lot of money in the process. Applying the German smear can take some effort but it’s a doable project for any DIY enthusiast. Just keep in mind that you need some time to prepare the materials and use the technique.

A notable disadvantage of this finish is the fact you can’t easily switch to another look if you’re not satisfied with the final results. German smear involves a permanent treatment of the brick wall. Another aspect that you should consider is the need for a bare brick surface. It would be tough to use the German smear finish on painted brick. The upside of making a permanent remodeling of your brick surface with this technique is that you won’t have to bother with a lot of maintenance work in the long run. It’s hard to remove German smear but that’s because it’s an extremely durable finish.

4. German Smear VS Other Techniques

Even if you understand the benefits and drawbacks of German smear, it can still be difficult to decide. Before going for this type of brick wall finish, it’s also recommended to explore other options and see how German smear compares to them. This is precisely the aim of this section in our article. Here are some of the rivaling techniques for German smear.

5. Painted Brick

Anyone tired of the plain look of a brick surface will typically consider painting it. This is a classic method for making an aesthetic upgrade to your home’s brick walls. The popularity of painted brick is not surprising when you take into account some advantages like being able to select a specific color that matches your tastes.

Compared to German smear, painted brick may not appear a lot more expensive. It would seem like a viable alternative until you calculate long-term maintenance costs. This is one area where painted brick falls short. It will cost you more money in the long run to maintain the stylish look of a painted brick surface. You need to repaint the area more often because the paint is vulnerable to weather damage. German smear is superior to painted brick because using mortar provides extra durability to the brick surface.

6. Whitewash or Limewash

Similar to basic painted brick, whitewashing the surface can create a more attractive look. But this technique still relies on paint so you might run into the same disadvantages previously mentioned. Another solution is to make a limewash. This finish works using crushed limestone that could be effective to obtain that similar Old World vibe for your home’s brick. However, it’s simply not that visually impressive when compared to German smear. If you have an older home, German smear is superior to limewash because it contributes to strengthening a deteriorating brick surface.

7. How to Apply German Smear

Do you feel ready to apply a German smear finish for your own home? If you’ve decided to tackle this DIY project, follow our instructions to get started. We’ll use a step-by-step approach to rejuvenate the look of your brick surface using the German smear technique.

7.1 Gather the Materials

The first step is visiting a home improvement store where you will have to purchase some basic materials. The main item required is mortar. Although you can mix mortar yourself if you’re handy, it’s still recommended to purchase premixed mortar products like this one on Amazon. This kind of blend can bring some convenience and speed up the work on the project. Simply add water and you’ll get the right mortar mixture to use for a German smear finish. Other items needed for this project include a brush with stiff bristles, a garden hose, and a taping trowel. A power drill can be very useful to have as well.

7.2 Clean The Brick

Before applying the mortar paste, it’s important to ensure that your brick wall is as clean as possible. Whether you plan to work on the exterior of the home or an interior brick fireplace, make sure the surface is properly cleaned. It’s recommended to use a power washer for the outside and a stiff-bristle brush for interior areas. The reason why cleaning is an essential step is to ensure adequate sticking of the mortar to the brick wall. Any trace of dirt or mildew can affect the final results of your German smear.

7.3 Mix The Mortar

Now that your brick surface is perfectly clean, you can go ahead and create the mortar mixture. The dry premixed mortar needs the right water proportion to become a usable paste for your project. The mix ratio is usually 70-30 but you should check the instructions on the packaging of the particular mortar product you’re using.

Although this step isn’t very difficult, it can be a little tricky to obtain the proper consistency for your mortar mix. Try aiming for a paste that feels right between cream cheese and cake batter. If you desire a different texture for your German smear, you could make slight adjustments to the amount of water added. More water can create a subtly translucent effect whereas less water can result in a heavier texture.

If you’re not very familiar with this kind of DIY project, it’s strongly recommended to apply a bit of your mortar mix on a small area to test it before trying out a complete German smear. It’s useful if you have some spare bricks for this purpose. To make a reliable German smear mortar blend, it’s highly recommended to mix it using a power drill.

7.4 Prep The Bricks

Obtaining the desired German smear look can be done more effectively if you prepare the bricks before using your mortar mix. With the help of a garden hose, try dampening the exterior bricks a little to enhance the application of the mortar. If you’re working on an indoor brick wall, use a sponge to get the bricks wet for the German smear project. By extending the drying time of the mortar, you will be able to create an ideal finish.

7.5 Apply The Mortar

Whether you prefer a paint roller or trowel, start applying your mortar mixture to the brick wall. Work efficiently by spreading the mortar carefully in small areas and all the joints of the surface. Pay attention to how the mortar is drying after a few minutes. You will need to smear some off but only after it starts to stiffen. Setting times depend on temperature and humidity so you will need to work fast to remove parts of the mortar and apply the German smear finish.

Wire brushes can come in handy to smear some mortar areas or you could also use a wet sponge. Don’t worry about removing too little or too much mortar. This is the part where personal preferences come into play. Use your creativity and find the best look between a softly muted German smear or a more intense one with more red bricks exposed.

7.6 Maintain The Style

Given enough time, mortar sticks very strongly to a brick surface. When that happens, you can rest assured that your German smear finish has been completed. The only job left to do is to maintain this stylish look over time. As previously mentioned, maintenance is a breeze when you rely on this technique compared to other finishes.

Inspect the brick wall from time to time and clean it with the garden hose if you spot signs of dirt. Soot deposits need to be cleaned if you’re dealing with an interior brick fireplace. Mortar can start to wash off eventually but it will be a long time before you have to worry about reapplying the German smear finish. If you decide to change the look completely, you will need to scrub the surface using strong chemicals such as muriatic acid.

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