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Welcome to Salt & Rook, a blog about our DIY home renovation and style | Syracuse, New York

Taking paint off a brick fireplace, pt. 1

Taking paint off a brick fireplace, pt. 1

Update: This is one of our more popular posts, but there have been some updates to this project since this post first went live. Thanks for reading! 

When we were looking at this house for the first time, one of the first things we noticed was the painted brick fireplace. We loved the fireplace, but we knew that the paint would be one of the first things to go.

In the Syracuse University neighborhood, arts and crafts style homes and interiors are popular. But what's equally popular is painting over the brick and stained wood walls, trim, and doors that give arts and crafts style houses their charm. My personal favorite is where a previous owner just ... painted over the metal damper handle.

 I mean, this looks really good.

I mean, this looks really good.

We knew painted brick was going to be a pain in the ass to fix, so we researched like crazy. As it turns out, there are tons of tutorials for painting your brick fireplace. There are not tons of tutorials for removing paint from a brick fireplace.

In fact, there were zero tutorials to guide our first project - but we found some motivation on the blog 1914 Foursquare and their fireplace restoration project. We cobbled a "plan" together and just ... started.

At the very least, we knew we first needed to apply a chemical paint stripper. So we headed to our new favorite store, Home Depot, picked up about 4 tubs of paint stripper and a bunch of other stuff, and got to work.

Side note: since the blog was just an idea when we started this projects, the pictures are all phone pictures, taken at night, in terrible lighting. Better quality pictures are on the way.

Step 1: Gather supplies

We went nuts at Home Depot and bought everything we thought we might need, including:

Step 2: Prep and applying multi-strip

First, we prepped the space: removing the furniture, removing the mantle, laying down a plastic tarp and taping it to the floor and walls. We made sure to create airtight seals where the tarp would protect the hardwoods.

 Where the wall was painted around the mantle.

Where the wall was painted around the mantle.

Although the mantle is removable, you can see where a previous owner painted the walls around the mantle without removing it. You'll see a lot of variations on this general theme of "fixing laziness" in future projects.

To be honest, Pat applied the first layer of the multi-strip while I went out to dinner with a friend. Eek! But he used a cheap paintbrush to just "paint" it over the entire fireplace.

Multi-strip is not what I expected. I thought it would be more like a paste, but it has a gelatinous texture - I think the technical word for it is "gloopy." It was easiest to spread on with a paintbrush. 

Step 3: Wait

This may have been the hardest part. Seriously. It's hard to resist scraping paint when it's practically bubbling off. Are we weird? Yes, definitely.

 A close-up of the multi-strip remover melting paint off the brick.

A close-up of the multi-strip remover melting paint off the brick.

Step 4: Scrape the crap out of your fireplace

After about 2 days of letting the multi-strip work its magic, we put on our worst clothes and got to scraping.

I'm not going to lie: this process took several hours. We methodically scraped, trying to get as much paint off the brick and mortar as humanly possible. We tossed the paint scraps into a garbage bag, and as we got more tired, we kept missing the garbage bag and stepping into jelly-like paint blobs.

Also: we bought nitrile gloves to protect our skin, but the multi-strip basically dissolved them right off of our hands. Since we're going to use those gloves in future projects, we didn't feel too stupid. But we still felt pretty dumb. 

It was a mess.

Once we finished scraping, we scrubbed down the brick with metal brushes and warm water. Finally, we took sponges and warm water and gently rinsed off whatever remained on the brick. Then ...

Step 5: Repeat

That's right. We did this entire process twice.

Immediately after washing the brick, we went right back in with the multi-strip.

 Right before scraping off the second layer of multi-strip.

Right before scraping off the second layer of multi-strip.

We glopped on the second layer super thick. We learned that the thicker we applied the multi-strip, the easier it was to scrape off. We let that sit for about 2 days, and then we repeated the entire process of scraping and scrubbing.

And then we were done! The end result:

 What the brick looked like after two treatments with multi-strip paint remover.

What the brick looked like after two treatments with multi-strip paint remover.

Although it wasn't as dramatic of a change as we wanted, we were happy with it. We scraped off at least 3 layers of paint, including, and I kid you not, a layer of pink paint. Pink! 

Pat later went in later and scraped paint off the bottom line of bricks. We wanted to be extra careful around where we could get water on the hardwoods. In the end, it pretty much looked the same as the rest.

The last layer of paint is a grayish off-white paint that was barely affected by the multi-strip. We think it's an oil-based paint, perhaps even a paint meant for exteriors. How did we decide to remove it? We'll detail that in part 2.

A couple things we learned from this project:

  • Don't put duct tape on your walls. It'll rip the paint and parts of your wall clean off. Be smarter than us and use the blue painter's tape. We're going to repaint our walls eventually so it's not a huge deal, but the wall surrounding the fireplace looks pretty torn up right now.
  • We loved using the multi-strip remover, despite how tedious this project was. It works super well on latex paints, and it was weirdly satisfying to scrape off.
  • If you're thinking of painting or whitewashing a brick fireplace to help "brighten" your space, maybe consider other options. That goes double if your home is older or has any historic design influences. As we're learning, this change is almost irreversible unless someone is willing to put a lot of hours into reversing it (which is what we're currently attempting!) or a lot of money into replacing it. We're not saying don't do it ... we're just saying do not rush into painting a porous surface like brick or stone as a "quick fix" for your space. Because if you don't like it, you're stuck with it.
Past living room layouts and designs

Past living room layouts and designs

The first post, the first project

The first post, the first project