I love lime because its has such an extraordinary number of benefits: It’s a fungicide, insecticide, and if you live in a damp climate, lime draws the humidity out of your building like nothing else can. Unlike Portland cement it doesn’t hold the damp, so your walls never suffer the dreadful cold clamminess of concrete. It breathes. It’s non-toxic. And it’s also superbly versatile. You can use it as a crete, with hemp to make bricks, in floors, on walls, and also of course as a paint (lime wash).
Lime wash (also sometimes called whitewash) is simply lime mixed with water. Depending on the quality of the lime you can get your hands on, you may need an additive to prevent dustiness too (you can read more about that here).
The only issue you may experience with lime wash is that it’s...well...white. Stark white.
So when Sophie Hunter added this picture of her amazing lime paint work in The Mud Home Closed Facebook group, I naturally sat up and paid attention.
You may remember Sophie and Hakan who are constructing a wonderful stone, mud and horse paradise in Spain. Sophie is incredibly creative, and never afraid to experiment. She’s also very generous in sharing her the results of her trials. But before I tell you her secret recipe, here are the basics:
How to make lime paint (the basics):
1. Make a simple lime wash by mixing hydrated lime with water. For best results use lime putty and slowly mix or whisk in water.
2. Worry less about numbers and exact ratios, and more about consistency. You want your lime wash to be roughly the consistency of milk.
3. The primer coat is always more watery to help it adhere to the wall, the second coat is a little thicker, and the top coat is thinner again.
No putty? How to use powdered hydrated lime
If you’re out in the sticks and stuck for choice (I hear you, I’ve been there) you can also use powdered hydrated lime and slake it (ie. let it soak in a big vat of water). Do be careful when doing this - lime is caustic and can burn, so you need protective clothing, gloves, goggles etc. The longer you leave the lime in the water, the better quality putty it will form. A few days is good; two weeks is better. Soon it will look like thick Greek yoghurt, and you can dig it out of your vat with a spade, and then use it just like the shop-bought putty.
4. Now you are ready to experiment with colour!
Testing is crucial.
Pour your freshly made lime wash into a number of separate pots. Take a selection of mineral pigments, add them to the lime wash pots, and leave them to ‘set’ for a few hours.
You may find you need quite different amounts of each pigment to achieve the same depth of colour. In Sophie’s case, she needed a quarter of the amount of the red pigment than she did of the green.
5. Dampen your wall either by spraying it with water or sponging it (lime will continue to draw water, so if your substrate isn’t moist enough it will dry too fast and crack).
6. Now take your various colour pots and make a number of test patches on your wall. Do note: When you first apply the coloured lime wash it will appear a lot darker than it will when it dries.
7. The next day, take stock of the final result and adjust your pigment to lime wash ratio accordingly.
Sophie’s Own Magic Formula:
• Take your lime putty and mix with water until creamy. The first coat will be a thinner mixture. The second coat will be thicker.
• Add a squirt of dishwashing liquid (Sophie doesn’t know why, and neither do I. Maybe it's to make it easier to apply?)
• Add a little bit of wheat paste: Approximately 1 cup per 5-litre bucket of lime paint. (This will bind the paint and prevent it rubbing off and staining your clothes or skin later, when dry).
• Mix the pigment (the amount you deduced in your tests) with a small amount of your lime wash and combine very well. Then add this concentrated sample to your main bucket of lime wash and mix again.
Tip: Sophie always adds a bit of dark brown or black into her colours to reduce the lightness, otherwise she finds they look too much like ice-cream parlour colours 😏
• Spray the wall, paint it, then wait a few hours or overnight and observe the result.
If you want to make your painting experience more enjoyable, Sophie recommends adding a few drops of essential oils into the mixtures before painting, (she likes orange for a good mood, or lavender to calm down, or ylang-ylang to keep her confident).
Total cost of Sophie's paint experiment: €15 with lots of leftover lime powder and pigments. Probably €3 for the entire wall.
How to Paint an Ombré Wall with Lime Paint
Okay so you’ve got the hang of lime paint and have created some gorgeous tones. Now you want to really impress your friends and create an ombré wall.
Not sure what ombré is?
Ombré is a paint job that changes gradually from one tone to another (take a look at my Pinterest Board for more examples). The tone change on Sophie’s wall is so subtle that you might not realise from the photo that the colour is actually changing, and assume it’s natural shadow instead, but I can assure you, that’s ombré.
1. Choose the colours you want and test them (as above) so that you know the exact colour intensity when dry. For this paint technique, you could use just one colour and lighten it or darken it as you go, or you could choose two or more colours which will then fade into one another. The world really is your ombré oyster.
2. Make a paint the thickness of creamy milk (a little more watery for the first layer).
3. Add the pigments to the lime wash and let them set for a few hours.
4. Spray your wall with water, then apply a base coat of your pigmented paint. Don’t forget, the initial colour will be nothing like the finished result, so don’t panic. Trust the colour tests you’ve already done. This is the first coat, so the colour doesn’t matter too much at this stage, but at least when it dries it will give you a better idea of what’s going on.
5. For the second coat, start from the top and work down, otherwise you’ll see all the drops of paint that have leaked.
6. For simplicity’s sake, I’m imagining you’re going from dark to light. Have a bucket with your vibrant darker colour and another bucket with white wash. You are going to be painting strips of varying colours across your wall. Each colour strip will be approximately 15 cm high. Again, for a better idea of what I mean, check out my Pinterest board.
7. Take your pigmented paint and paint the top 15 cm strip. This is your darkest (or most vibrant) section of wall.
8. Add a small amount of white wash to your pigmented batch and paint a second, slightly lighter band just below your first.
9. Continue painting increasingly lighter strips by adding a bit more white each time (keep the amount of whitewash you add proportionally the same each time for a smooth ombré effect). NOTE: At this point, you will not be able to see the colour changing. You need to trust the process.
10. Wait overnight for it to dry and wake up to a great wall!
Many thanks to Sophie Hunter for sharing her tips. You can follow her inspiring life with her horses and stone cabanas on Facebook.
If you find these posts inspiring, useful, or both, consider chipping in to support The Mud Home on Patreon. It takes quite a while to compile quality posts, and costs a lot of money to run. For just $2 a month you get a behind-the-scenes look at how I’m building my own off-grid world in northern Spain. All patrons also enjoy email priority and now also have access to an exclusive monthly video from my land.
Those planning their own builds, wanting to ask in-depth questions and get more support should seriously consider joining The Mud Home Facebook too. It’s an inexpensive way to get advice from me and other experienced builders, and join a supportive, inspiring, and non-competitive community.
Many thanks to the Mud Sustainers already supporting The Mud Home and making these articles possible.
Many thanks to the Mud Sustainers supporting this site!
Do you find The Mud Home valuable? Please consider supporting the blog on Patreon. For as little as $2 a month (not even a coffee where I'm from), you can join the club.
BENEFITS FOR PATRONS INCLUDE:
Email priority, private Facebook group, review copies of my books, sneak previews of courses and books, Q and As, priority for courses and more.
Atulya K Bingham
"Beautifully written and inspiring." The Owner Builder Magazine
If you want the step by step guide of how I built my house, sign up for the PDF.
WHY NOT? IT'S FREE!
All the Mud Home How-to posts have been compiled into a PDF package with 75 articles and over 200 photos. You can still buy it now, and enjoy lifetime access to all the updates.
“Entranced! Be inspired by one who’s lived and breathed dirt.”
Kim Fraser, Get Rugged