The Complete Guide to the German Smear Technique

Is your home in dire need of a unique but classy makeover? Are you looking for new ways to level up the design and look of your exterior and interior wall surfaces? Let us introduce to you the German smear technique.

Tired of your old brick? Then the German Smear finish is for you! It’s a relatively easy way to breathe some life back into a boring brick wall and add some old-world charm to your home.

The German Schmear finish is a type of mortar wash. It involves troweling mortar onto a brick wall and then wiping some of it off to expose parts of the brick. 

It’s a popular choice both for homeowners wanting to remodel an older home as well as people looking for some rugged sophistication on a newly constructed home.

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In this complete guide to the German Smear technique, you’ll learn more about German Smear and why you should consider it for your home. We’ll also give you some basic instructions on how to do your very own German Smear project and how to recover German Smear gone wrong.

German Smear Origins

Initially starting in Northern Germany, the German Schmear technique has become popular throughout Europe and America.

This finish is called German smear (or schmear) because it originated from Germany. Schmear is a German word that means “to spread,” like what you do with butter on bread.

So, depending on the look desired, a mixture of wet mortar is troweled or painted onto the surface of your brick. Then, before it’s completely dry, some of it is wiped off to expose parts of the brick. This gives it a rustic kind of “Old World” look that’s always in style.

HOW THE GERMAN SMEAR DIFFERS FROM OTHER BRICK-PAINTING TECHNIQUES

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In this part of our German Smear guide, we’ll look at the difference between the German Smear finish and other methods that are commonly used to refinish German Smear on red brick walls.

The main difference between German Smear and other German Smear faux brick painting techniques is the materials used. German smear uses cement-based mortar. Other techniques use regular paint or a limewash paint that’s usually been watered down.

Traditional Paint

Normal paint does have some benefits. Paint gives you the option to choose a specific color, although for a distressed look most will choose white. However, just like any paint, you will need to repaint every few years which will add more work and cost down the road.

Since German Smear uses a cement-based mortar, it’s much more durable, resistant to the elements, and simply needs to be washed clean once or twice a year. It also helps fill voids between the bricks to help protect them and extend their lifespan even more.

Whitewash and Limewash

The main difference between German Smear and Whitewashed Brick or Limewashed Brick, is the materials used. With whitewashed brick, a water-based paint, like latex paint is applied to the brick. However, it’s usually watered down so that it’s semi-translucent and some of the brick color shows through the paint.

Limewash is a paint made from limestone. Limestone is crushed and combined with water to become a type of watery paint. It’s also a relatively easy project to do for DIYers.

Both of these techniques can add some depth and a touch of style to your brick fireplace but they still don’t quite match the German Smear finish in terms of the overall look and long-term durability.

Different German Smear Styles

There are no hard and fast rules for applying German Smear to your brick. It all depends on the look you’re going for. If you want more depth, mix the mortar with less water and apply a thicker coat.

Another thing you can try is simply filling the joints with the mortar and then wiping the wall down with a sponge while the mortar is still damp. This will provide a more whitewashed look with thick, “chunky” joints.

Since there are so many different looks that can be achieved, we always suggest you practice a little before moving on to your final project.

So, are you ready to try your own German Smear project? Keep reading the next section of this German Smear guide to learn some more about how to do it yourself.

HOW TO DO THE GERMAN SMEAR TECHNIQUE

So now you’ve learned the basics of German Smear. Ready to give it a try? Keep reading for a DIY guide to your own German Smear project.

NOTE: If this is your first time doing something like this, try it out in a smaller area first. Although it’s a relatively easy technique to learn, it is PERMANENT and there’s no easy way to redo it once it’s dry. That’s why a lot of people leave important parts of their homes to the experts at Alexander and Xavier Masonry.

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The Things You’ll Need from Your Local Home Improvement Store:

The materials you’ll need for the German Smear finish are common and available in most home improvement stores. Here’s a basic list of materials you’ll need:
  • Premixed Mortar (Something like Quikrete’s Veneer Stone Mortar should be perfect)
  • Several five-gallon buckets
  • Drill and mixing bit
  • Water
  • Several large sponges
  • Several large spatulas or trowels
  • Gloves and safety glasses
  • Wire brush

GENERAL STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Prep

First, you need to prep your brick wall. For the mortar to adhere correctly, the brick needs to be squeaky clean. A power washer works great for this.

You can also use a hose or a bucket of water and a stiff brush to make sure it’s free of dirt, dust, and organic matter like moss.

2. Mixing the German Smear Mortar

Now it’s time to mix the dry mortar with water. Usually, you should mix with a ratio of 70% water and 30% powder.

If you want a thicker coating, add less water, and if you want a thinner coat, add a little more. Usually somewhere between peanut butter and milkshake consistency is perfect.

3. Preparing the Bricks

After mixing, splash or spray water on the brick. This will give you more time to work with the mortar before it dries. That way, you’ll have the chance to remove some mortar to be able to create the look you want.

4. Smearing

Now you’re ready for the fun part! Depending on the look you want, use the sponge, a trowel, or a paint roller to apply mortar to the wall.

After a few minutes of smearing, check back on the first mortar you put on the wall. It should start to get stiff but not be dry enough that you can wipe some off with a wet sponge or wire brush.

How long you wait depends a lot on the look you want to achieve. It’s really an art, so there are no hard and fast rules. That’s why it’s so important that you experiment until you achieve the look you want.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What kind of mortar is used for German smear?

Although you can create your own mortar mix with sand and cement, it’s a whole lot easier just to buy a premixed mortar. Sure it might cost a little more, but the hassle it saves you is worth it.

Do you seal a German smear?

You don’t have to seal it. Some do as an extra layer of protection, but it’s not really necessary.

How do you remove a German smear?

You can remove a German smear by scraping it off using a wire brush or a trowel. Once it’s fully cured, you may have to use muriatic acid to help remove it. Since it is so permanent, the best thing to do is to make sure you get it done right the first time.

MAINTAINING YOUR GERMAN SMEAR BRICKS

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One of the great things about the German Smear finish is how easy it is to take care of. Simply spray or wipe it down with water periodically to remove dust and dirt.

That’s it! Unlike paint that may need to be redone every few years, German Smear will last a long time.

Related article: Useful guide for German Smear stone.

Ready for your German Smear project? Inquire us at Alexander and Xavier Masonry today how much does German Smear cost and get a free quote. We’d love to discuss ideas for your project and help you make it a reality.

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