Everything You Need to Know About the German Schmear

Audrey Bruno
Written by Audrey Bruno
Updated April 28, 2022
A fireplace with fall decoration
Photo: Kristen / Adobe Stock


  • The German schmear is a brick-painting technique from Germany.

  • This method is easy to do yourself and more affordable than other techniques.

  • However, the German schmear has a lengthy installation process and it’s difficult to remove.

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If you’re looking for a low-cost and convenient way to update any bricks in your home, you need to know about the German schmear. Also sometimes called the German smear (the literal definition of “schmear”), this method involves smearing white mortar wash on dark masonry to give it a lighter color and interesting texture. 

Use this guide to understand the basics of a German schmear, along with whether or not you can do it yourself, and some cases in which you might want to reconsider this option. 

What Is a German Schmear? 

The German schmear is a mortar wash method that gives red or darkly colored brick a rugged, white tint. Some people use it to restore or repair old or broken masonry, and others use it simply for its unique aesthetic appeal, whether that’s by repainting a brick fireplace or adding a lighter tone to an interior wall.

German Schmear Origins

A woman painting a brick wall
Photo: Guido Mieth / DigitalVision / Getty Images

As you can probably guess from the name, this technique comes from Germany. But while we know the place of origin, the question of “when?” is a bit murkier. 

What we do know is that the method seems to have first appeared in Northern Germany several centuries ago and was originally intended to create uniformity between castles and the buildings that surrounded them. It’s also worth noting that the German word “schmear” translates to smear in English and is a direct reference to the smearing technique that’s used to apply mortar wash to masonry throughout the process. 

Pros and Cons of the German Schmear

The German schmear has a lot of upsides but there are also a handful of downsides worth considering before you commit to this method. 

Pro: It’s Easy to DIY

In comparison to other brick-staining methods, the German schmear is almost impossible to do incorrectly. As long as you take care to wash and prepare the brick first, actually applying the mortar is the easy part. There’s no need to worry about uneven application or spotty staining!

Con: There’s a Lengthy Installation

Though the German schmear application process is relatively easy, it can take a lot of time to complete the project. Depending on the size of your working surface, you may need anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to finish. 

Professional brick painters near you will complete the project quicker (typically starting and finishing within a week). Just make sure to find out if the painting pros in your area know the ins and outs of applying a German schmear. 

Pro: It’s Adaptable

Along with being easy to apply, the German schmear is also highly adaptable and can be a great fit for so many different styles. The effect you create is entirely up to you and determined by how much mortar wash you use and exactly how you smear it onto your brick. Go all in to add a sun-washed effect and a tactile, 3-D texture. Or apply it in a way where you can still see bits of the original brick color poking through. 

Con: It Can’t Be Applied to Every Brick Surface

While the German schmear can be adapted to so many styles, there are a couple of brick surfaces where it can’t be applied. If the brick is already painted or varnished, for example, the mortar wash won’t adhere and you won’t get the effect you were looking for. 

You always need to take care to remove any paint or finish because only bare brick surfaces are suitable for a German schmear job.

Pro: It’s Durable

Mortar wash adds an extra layer of protection to brick masonry, keeping it safe from the elements and minimizing the need for regular upkeep. While most brick-painting methods require extra attention every few years, the German schmear will still look as good as it did on day one almost a decade down the line.

Con: It’s Difficult to Remove

Mortar wash is a great shield for brick and stone masonry because it forms a protective layer. Unfortunately, this shield also happens to be extremely difficult to remove. 

This is a con for more reasons than one. If you decide to do the German schmear yourself, for example, any mistakes you may make are more likely to be permanent. Avoid any troubles down the line by outsourcing this project to a local brick painting pro.

Pro: It’s Affordable

The cost to hire a pro to apply a German schmear ranges from $1,500 to $3,000, which is much less than the average $7,000 it costs to hire a pro to paint a brick house.

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