We love our brick houses, as we know they look good, age well and demand a premium in the estate agent’s window. But we often take the brickwork itself for granted. We are willing to get the pointing re-done when it is needed and even get a tradesman in to repair a cracked or ‘blown’ brick, but we rarely think about giving the bricks themselves something of a makeover when they have become darkened, stained or scarred in an unappealing way.
Our desire to leave our exterior brickwork well alone can be down to simply wanting that well-aged look or not knowing if attempting to clean it will do damage. But many of us may be missing a trick, as bricks that are cleaned well can really bring out the beauty of a building, allowing detailing to shine and pointing to stand out.
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Do carefully consider this course of action before you hire a tradesman to do it, or even attempt it yourself. There is no going back once you have cleaned the brickwork and you do have to consider how it will stand out on the street, especially if you live in a terrace. Simple, organic ageing is something that gives bricks their beauty and you should only really have them cleaned if they need it.
The most gentle way of cleaning brick is with good old water and elbow grease. This is the best way to approach cleaning brick if your home has developed unsightly stains over the years or if it has just become black in parts due to a combination of weathering, damp and pollution. Your tradesman, who may need scaffolding to do a thorough job, will start at the top of the house, gently scrubbing at the brickwork with a stiff brush as he or she washes with water and possibly some soap. The tradesman should go across the property in slim blocks, so as to ensure a continuous finish. But make sure that a wire brush or a pressure washer isn’t used, as these can damage the surface of the bricks.
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In many cases, pollution and airborne dirt will not come off with simply water cleaning or brushing down, as it will have bonded to the surface of the bricks in question. This can often happen with soot or rust.
In this case it may be best to leave well alone, but your tradesman may recommend that another method can be used to brighten your house. In this case, he or she could use a mild solvent, an alkali-based de-greaser or heavily-diluted acid, such as hydrofluoric acid. If this is the case then the brickwork will be wet before any substance is applied and again to wash it off once the cleaning process has been completed.
Neglected brickwork can often be covered with plant growths, such as small airborne weeds, moss or lichens. It is essential that these are removed properly, so as to stop any damage to bricks or pointing as the roots dig down into the masonry. Here, you or your tradesman should simply scrape away any organic material, preferably with a brush or a plastic spatula, before applying a weedkiller that is suitable for use on masonry.
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If the problem with your brickwork is old paint all over one surface, then you have something of a quandary on your hands. This is because a total removal of all the paint will be time-consuming and expensive, requiring a tradesman to use a paint stripper to slowly and gently remove the paint to hopefully leave attractive brickwork below. But you will not know how attractive that brickwork is until the job is done, or at least a part of it.
If this sounds like your house then always use a professional, as they will be able to assess the kind of paint that has been used, the correct solvent to remove it and whether or not you will simply be better off hiring a painter to re-do the paint job. They should be able to strip down a small area of paint back to the brickwork to see what the bare bricks and pointing look like. That way you can decide on the next steps without the expense of commissioning the tradesman for a whole job: scaffolding and all.
If your brickwork is in need of cleaning, post your job in our specialist Stoneworker / Stonemason category and up to three tradesmen will get in touch to quote on your job. You’ll be able to view their individual profiles, complete with previous customer recommendations, to help you decide who to hire.