Bronwyn Riedel: The Wonder of Whitewash

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Whitewash is one of the most beautiful surfaces finishes to be seen on an exterior. A natural white that has been used for centuries, not just for its’ aesthetic appeal, but also for a myriad of other benefits, which come as gifts from nature.

Whitewash is a very simple paint made from Calcium carbonate, a naturally occurring mineral found in limestone and sea shells. It is made into paint by slaking it in water over many months, and then aged for many a year. It’s then ready to be made into paint.

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Like all things simple it requires a lot of knowledge to create a good quality whitewash. Like making a good wine, it requires experience and an innate feel for the process. Whitewash is limewash without the addition of pigments of colour.

The beauty of whitewash is in its make up. Due to the calcite crystals in the structure of the lime it has double the light refraction which refracts light in a completely different way to other paints, making the surface glow.

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Part of the fascination of limewash, is that you can easily paint coat after coat over time without any adverse reactions between the coats. Every coat improves what is already there, so that the white becomes more brilliant.  It always looks beautiful no matter how old or worn away.

One of the myths of whitewash is that you have to redo it very year. But it will last many years after the initial 2 or 3 coats are applied, if the whitewash is correctly manufactured.

As a ritual in many cultures, it was re-applied each year as a Spring tradition due to its natural abilities to disinfect and clean surfaces. It’s natural protective qualities (a high pH level) means that microorganisms find it hard to grow on it. It helps protect buildings against moulds, and more importantly, it means that no biocides or fungicides are required to be added to the manufacture of the paint. Unlike other paints which are made with petrochemicals and require a toxic cocktail of chemicals to allow them to function as paints.

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Whitewash works with the building and the underlying material leaving a wall surface that can breathe, allowing moisture to be stored and released just like the skin of the body. It makes for a much healthier building, maintaining the alkaline nature of the structure, without the environmentally unsustainable footprint of most other finishes.

Best of all it’s truly beautiful.


Image credit: 1. Rob Frith Acorn Agency 2. Bauwerk Colour 3. Bauwerk Colour 4. Bauwerk Colour 5. Petrine Tinselly 6. and 7. Bauwerk Colour