Maintenance for bricks and mortar: helpful hints

August 20, 2015

Your home's brickwork can add some lovely notes to your home's exterior. Here are some helpful hints for keeping your brickwork looking its best.

  1. A white powdery deposit, called efflorescence, is common on new brick walls. It's produced when salts in the brick leach to the surface as the brick dries after rain. If you try to wash it off, the problem will only last longer. Instead, brush the affected area with a dry bristle brush until it stops recurring.
  2. Think long and hard before you have the outside of your home sandblasted or cleaned with acidic chemicals, particularly if it's a home with some period character. In the process of cleaning the grime from the walls, both sandblasting and acidic chemicals will remove the surface layer of the bricks. After these sorts of cleaning processes your brickwork may look fresh and new, but you stand to lose some of the charm of the old house's exterior. You may even damage the bricks to the point where they need to be coated with a sealant.
  3. Remove years of grime from bricks with a stiff-bristled brush and a running hose. Work in horizontal bands from the top to the bottom of each wall, checking the stability of the pointing as you go. On really dirty areas use a solution of about 125 millilitres (1/2 a cup) of household ammonia in one bucket of water. Wear goggles and rubber gloves for protection.
  4. When removing clinging vines from brickwork, make sure you get all of the vegetation off, since any that's leftover will oxidize, leaving ugly marks. Pull off as much of the vine as you can, wait a week or two for the remainder to dry, then scrub bricks with strong detergent and a stiff brush.
  5. Remove stubborn stains like tar and oil with a paste made from fuller's earth or ground chalk, mixed with paraffin or mineral spirits. First, wipe over the stain using a little of whichever solvent you used to make your paste. Next, spread the paste over the stain. Finally, tape a plastic bag or a piece of aluminium foil over the top to stop the paste drying out. Over a few days the paste will draw out the stain, and then you can wash the bricks clean.
  6. Mould and mildew thrive in shaded areas. In most cases these things don't harm your brickwork, but they do cause discolouration. To remove mould, scrub clean with a solution of equal parts household bleach and water. Use a stiff-bristled brush and lots of elbow grease. After letting what you've scrubbed sit for an hour, rinse the surface down with clean water.
  7. In damp, shady areas, moss can become a recurrent problem on brickwork. If you want to be free of moss, try a dose of weed killer, applied according to the manufacturer's directions.
  8. Mortar is softer and more porous than the bricks around it. If you're restoring period brickwork, get some advice from a heritage expert to find the right mortar for the job. Modern mortar mixes are very hard and can crumble the edges of softer period bricks.
  9. Scrub specks of paint and mortar from brick surfaces with a fragment of broken brick that's the same colour as the brick you're scrubbing. Always rub with the rough, broken interior (the smooth face of a brick is hard and can scratch).

Keep these helpful hints in mind and you'll be on your way to keeping your brickwork looking its best.

Maintenance for bricks and mortar: helpful hints
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