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DIY a German Smear Mortar Wash for Under $10

Try this easy and inexpensive DIY tutorial to achieve a german schmear mortar wash on a stone or brick fireplace for just a few dollars!

Welcome back to the One Room Challenge, a six-week-long room makeover challenge featuring twenty designers and hundreds of guest participants like myself. 

We are already at week four which means there are only two weeks left!  There’s still a lot on my to-do list but I am over the moon happy about how this week’s major fireplace DIY turned out. 

Read on to find how out to create a german schmear fireplace makeover the cheap and easy way! 

How to DIY a german smear fireplace for under $10

Yep, you saw that right!  I created this lovely german smear fireplace update for under $10!! 

German Smear Stone Fireplace with tan stone and a white mortar wash.  White built in and fern on fireplace.
Old World Look of German Schmear

A professional German smear or German Schmear can cost thousands so I was super excited to figure out how to do it for pennies. It’s also a great way to achieve a whitewashed brick look without the paint.

First, let me show you how it was when we moved in six months ago.  The built-in bookcase was a genius solution for this common Texas stone fireplace wall.

Living Room Before
When we first moved in!

I painted out the built-in bookcase white before the moving trucks even arrived and then later decorated it with our personal items.

Living Room Wide before a german smear makeover.  Eclectic and colorful room.
Stone Fireplace Before

Our house is pretty dark so just about every decision I make is one to try to improve the light in the space. 

German Smear Mortar Wash Stone Fireplace after.  White and bright and airy.
Mortar Wash Stone Fireplace Surround

This side of the room was completely transformed with the mortar wash completed!

What you need for a german schmear /whitewash stone fireplace update

  1. Joint compound (under $10)
  2. Gallon zip lock bag
  3. Putty knife or another similar tool
  4. Bucket of water and sponge for a clean up
  5. Protective cloth and painter’s tape
German Smear Mortar Wash Stone Fireplace Cheap And Easy 5
Joint Compound

After doing much research on the proper application of the german smear technique with mortar I decided I wanted something less messy, easier, and could use tools I had on hand. 

I’ve been using joint compound to repair cracks in our drywall and am familiar with its consistency and how it dries in a creamy white.   

Since it is a permanent solution my backup plan was to paint over the joint compound if needed.  Thankfully it worked out beautifully and I am thrilled with the finished results!  Sometimes you just have to go for it. 

You can rest easy in this simple technique now that I’ve done the leg work for you. 😉  Especially if you are unhappy with your stone or brick! 

What to use for german smear

Use joint compound which comes premixed and dries white for an inexpensive mortar wash.

How to apply a german smear mortar wash on your brick or stone using joint compound

  • Keep a bucket of water and sponge for quick clean-ups and protect surrounding walls and floors by taping off the edge with painter’s tape and laying a cloth. 
  • Use a spatula or similar tool to scoop the joint compound into a Ziploc bag.  Close and snip a tiny bit off one corner. (You can use the same method to apply mortar.)
Applying joint compound for german schmear technique.
Filling in the Lines
  • Hold and squeeze the bag like you would ice a cake!  Fill in the grout lines as you work a section of your fireplace.  I did about 2-4 square feet at a time.
Applying a german smear technique with joint compound on a stone fireplace.
Mortar Smear on Stone
  • Smooth down the joint compound with your finger. Wearing durable work gloves is probably best to prevent cuts and irritation.  My plastic glove ripped easily. 😉
  • I suggest filling in all of the grout lines and letting the compound bleed over the edges a bit as it’s a lovely look on its own. 
Applying a german smear/schmear mortar wash on fireplace.
Apply German Smear
  • Create a lighter look by using your hand or spatula to spread the joint compound on top of the stone or brick.  Cover it all or leave some natural and some white per your preference.
Bright living room with stone fireplace and german smear progress photo.
Progress of Mortar Wash on Stone
  • It takes 24 hours for the joint compound to dry (sometimes longer) but when applying thin layers it can dry much more quickly.  I was able to cover our entire fireplace surround in a few hours and it dried to the touch shortly after.
German Schmear Mortar Wash Stone Fireplace Cheap And Easy
A Beautiful Home Improvement Idea

Isn’t it beautiful?  I know german schmear is often associated with farmhouses but I also love the cozy cottage vibes it gives.

German Schmear up close on a stone fireplace next to a gallery wall.
Next to Hallway

You can find all the scoop on that with my makeover plans and inspiration boards shared in week one

German Smear Mortar Wash Stone makeover in a bright and light living room.
German Smear Technique

Now that the stone is lighter I feel like the room with our gallery wall and freshly stenciled gray walls flow seamlessly together.

German Smear Mortar Wash Stone Fireplace up close with a dark mantel, bird cage, and plant.
It will last over time!

The great room layout definitely has a yin-yang element with the other side of the living room featuring moody colors and maximalist vibes.  I still have much to do to unify everything including the dining area.  Just two more weeks!

Faux German Schmear Fireplace DIY Four Years Later

I completed the One Room Challenge and this fireplace DIY almost four years ago (April 2019). We haven’t had to do a single touch up and now our floating mantel has had a facelift. Here’s how it looks now!

A beautiful german smear technique on stone fireplace with a black mantel makeover and modern traditional decor.
German Smear Technique and Mantel Makeover
German smear with a black mantel and modern decor styled by oil landscape painting.
Traditional Modern Fireplace DIYs

You can read all about our current organic modern living room resources and DIYs in this story.

Now you know how to achieve a german smear/schmear mortar wash for just a few dollars, quick, and easy!   

Questions about German Smear Fireplace DIY

  • What’s the difference between whitewash and German smear? The whitewash technique is using a water-down solution of white paint to create a more transparent effect on brick or stone lightening the color but letting some of the surfaces come through. German smear is using mortar on brick or stone surfaces wiping some away to soften grout lines and create a more irregular aged look and is more long-lasting than whitewashing. Both can be used on interior and exterior walls.
  • What is German smear? German smear, German schmear, and mortar wash all refer to the same technique used centuries ago. The technique is when you apply wet mortar on the surface of brick or stone walls.
  • What style is German smear? German smear provides a rustic or aged look reminiscent of European cottages and castles but has quickly become on trend for the farmhouse style and interior spaces like fireplaces for added character and texture.
  • Can German smear be removed? It can be extremely difficult to remove and should be considered a permanent solution.

A huge thanks to these sponsors for making the One Room Challenge possible.

Orc Sponsors Updated

Velvet Finishes |  Well Woven | Brightech | Royal Design Studio Stencils | boho luxe home | Hudson Valley Lighting Group | Fanimation 

Week One:  Eclectic and Glam Inspiration for an Open Concept |  Week Two:  How to Update Furniture with Peel and Stick Wallpaper | Week Three:  Small Dining Room Decorating Ideas |  Week Four: DIY a German Smear Mortar Wash for Under $10 | Week Five:  Stencil Your Foyer for a Beautiful Makeover | Week Six:  Eclectic Glam Open Concept Living Areas

The to-do list: 

  • Reupholster grandparent’s armchairs with blue velvet and bird fabric
  • Paint the front picture window black
  • Paint green focal wall
  • Hang new window treatments and remove old blackouts in the piano area
  • Makeover music cabinet with removable wallpaper and paint
  • Install new foyer light
  • Stencil foyer walls with cheetah stencil and pearl metallic paint
  • Add fringe to arch floor lamp
  • German smear technique on fireplace stone
  • Hang curtains with rings
  • Create a faux roman shade for the dining room with an existing window panel. 
  • Reupholster two barrel chairs in green velvet with green print, paint the chairs frame dark
  • Purchase a new sofa
  • Trim loveseat with fringe 
  • Paint french door trim black? (Having second thoughts….)
  • Add brass nailhead trim to the black leather chair
  • Sew lumbar pillow
  • Reupholster two more dining chairs
  • Add fringe to the piano seat and maybe tuft 
  • Install chandelier
  • Paint the dining room wall
  • Stencil living room wall
  • Paint buffet 
  • Add trim/moulding if foundation issues are resolved
  • Add rugs, lights, textiles, and art
  • Paint front door
  • Large tropical print art
  • Style, style, style

It is seriously crunch time!  Aside from the many DIYs on the to-do list I need to experiment with a couple of different furniture arrangements and source art for the walls. 

Thanks for stopping by!  Remember to check out the feature designers and other guest participants for the One Room Challenge

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  1. The transformation is nothing short of miraculous. You took something ugly and made it very. beautiful. I love how you balanced the asymmetrical lines with the TV mimicking the fireplace. The little black lantern just punctuates the TV and fireplace beautifully. LOVE IT!! I don’t think the treatment looks “farmhouse” at all especially not on a mid-century asymmetrical fireplace.

  2. This looks great. I want to do this on my ugly 1965 grooved brick. I have a pellet stove that leaves residue.
    How is the joint compond with dust?

    1. Thank you!! I did this almost a year ago and I haven’t had any problems with dust and we get pet hair and dust on EVERYTHING else. If you are worried, I would fill in the grooves as much as you can to get a flatter surface and then you could wipe it off easier with a dust rag if needed. Good luck!!

  3. I love this but we are in Florida. I ran it by my contractor hubby and he said that if this isn’t sealed it is prone to absorbing moisture and will mold or mildew eventually. So, I am doing the same thing, but I am going to pick up SimpleSet Pre-Mixed Thin-Set Mortar from Home Depot. It is only $20 and worth the few bucks extra not redoing it in case of the mold. Maybe not the case for you, but I thought I would share!

  4. Stunning and exactly what I’m looking for! We did a whole kitchen/den renovation and the red brick with black grout in the den fireplace has to go! The grout is pretty deep and wide. I, too did not go for the farmhouse look. More of gray, clean lines, accents of wood.

  5. I desperately want to whitewash or schmear my exterior brick (small covered front porch area), but hate the idea of never being able to go back. If joint compound is water soluble, could it possibly be removed with a power washer if I try it and don’t love?

    1. That’s an interesting question! I did a little research but have not personally tried to remove it. It sounds like if you spray water and use a wire brush you might be able to remove it. Perhaps you could test a small area, wait a few weeks and see if it works before covering the entire front porch? I was hesitant and after I applied the joint compound in the first corner, I thought I hated it but continued thinking I didn’t have any other choice. lol, I absolutely love it and would do it all over again!

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