How to Limewash Paint Your Walls for That Cozy, Rustic Look

Here’s how to embrace this paint trend with confidence.

limewash-paint-Design Studio Life Style-Photo Stephen Busken

Stephen Busken

Over the past year, limewash paint has seemingly been showing up everywhere: in magazines, on Instagram—even in the pretty bathroom of my favorite bakery. I've always loved the texture and visual interest of a limewash-painted wall—the way it mimics the look of plaster—and I’ve even written about the trend in the past. However, I've felt way too intimidated to try limewash painting myself. It turns out, I shouldn’t have been. Though it's a bit more work than rolling on conventional paint, limewash paint is indeed DIY-able.

Designer Whitney Lee Morris, author of Small Space Style, took on the project herself in her new home. She says she liked both the look and the low-toxic formulation of limewash paint and found it relatively easy to apply as a first-timer. “Lime paint is an impactful way to attain the type of beautiful, rich patina that old homes develop over time,” she says.

To learn more about this trending paint technique (which actually dates back several centuries) I talked to Morris and other design pros for their advice on how to achieve that coveted rustic finish. Below are all the tools, tips and tricks you’ll need to limewash paint your walls like a pro.

Prep the walls first

Just like with regular paint application, you’ll need to prime your walls and tape your molding, windows, and doors before you get started. Some limewash paint brands recommend using the same brand of primer for the best results.

Start with a good brush

Limewash paint is always applied freehand with a brush, not a roller. “Hand brushing a large area is a tiring technique,” cautions Casey Keasler, the founder and designer of the interior design firm Casework, who used limewash paint in the primary bedroom of her own home. Because the brush plays a big role in the limewash process, she recommends buying "the best quality wide flat brush you can afford."

Morris also recommends using the same size of brush for the entire project. “If you start with a 5-inch, finish with a 5-inch," she says. "Otherwise, the varying strokes will look truncated.” Likewise, if you're painting with a helper, make sure to use identical brushes.

Stir it up

Proper mixing is the tip the pros repeated over and over again. “Don’t forget to stir, stir, stir your paint every few minutes,” says Morris, who found limewash paint settles within the can or tray quickly. “We learned that if we failed to evenly mix the lime paint throughout the process, we would end up with a very solid or very powdery patch of wall, rather than a happy, even medium.” 

Watch a pro first

If you’ve never seen anyone apply limewash paint, which is done in a loose, freehanded style, the experts say it's critical to watch a video of the hand brushing technique first. Keasler used Portola Paint and watched the brand’s online tutorials before painting her bedroom. “Their videos are incredibly straightforward and helpful,” she says. (The limewash time-lapse video provides a great overview of how the process works.) A quick search of "limewash paint tutorials" on YouTube will yield dozens of other helpful videos as well.

Paint the whole wall in one go

To keep the finish looking consistent, don’t stop painting mid-way through a wall, cautions Jamie Davis, a co-founder of Portola Paints (and the expert who does the painting in those tutorials Keasler watched). “Trust the process and paint an entire section at once, not a small patch,” he says. Give yourself plenty of time to get to a stopping point, usually a corner, adds Keasler. One more tip from Davis: Start with the room’s smallest wall that has the least interruptions so that you can ease into the process. 

Don’t let it dry out

This is a tricky one, but essential: Keep the edges wet. “It is very important that you keep a wet edge and work corner to corner across the wall in one direction,” says Davis. This helps to keep the color consistent throughout the paint job. You should cut in as you go, while moving across the wall. Remember to finish the entire wall before taking a break.

Scan for drips

You’ll need to watch for runs or drips as you paint, Keasler cautions. “This material is much thinner than regular paint,” she says. And because you’re hand brushing, the likelihood of some drips is high. If you notice drips, make sure to brush them out right away before they dry.

Consider an extra coat

Two coats are the standard recommendation for limewash paint, but if you’re looking for more movement with lighter colors, Davis says you can apply a third, watered-down coat.

Avoid high-traffic rooms

“Limewash can be tricky to touch up, as the paint is extremely delicate,” Davis says. However, he notes that lighter colors are more forgiving than darker colors, so you might be able to manage it with a pale hue. Otherwise, you’ll probably need to redo the whole wall. That means that areas of your home that are prone to lots of dings and scuffs aren't the best candidates for a limewash treatment, because it often requires you to repaint an entire wall instead of just touching up a small area.

But, if you really have your heart set on limewash for a room that’s likely to get dinged, Keasler recommends applying a sealer on top of the paint as an extra layer of protection.

Embrace irregularity

Don't try for perfection, says Keasler, because you’ll be giving yourself an impossible challenge. An irregular, organic finish is what you sign up for with limewash paint, so don't get caught up on small details. But, when it comes to deciding on the finished look, it's also a matter of personal preference. “If you like the look with only one coat, leave it,” Davis says. And if you're looking for more of an opaque finish, go for more coats.

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