How to Clean Brick

A dirty brick wall.

There’s no mystery as to why the use of brick as a building material has persisted through the centuries. Not only does it give whatever you’re building a warm, classic look, it’s sturdy as hell, requires very little in the way of maintenance, and makes you a whole helluva lot cooler than your neighbors. And when you get right down to it, what could possibly be more important than one-upping your neighbors? It’s the American way.

OK, so you’re cool. Now what? Well, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but being cool comes with some responsibilities. One of which is knowing how to clean brick. I’ll be honest, brick cleaning is a pain in the ass. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary pain in the ass. Since it can also sometimes be confusing, I have tried my durndest throughout the writing of this article to lay my instructions out as simply as possible for you. In the section below, you’ll find instructions and advice on cleaning bricks on the outside of your home, the inside, and on the ground (patios and walkways). All the way at the bottom, there are even some instructions for cleaning fireplace brick. A brief warning though: if the brick maintenance you’re performing needs to be done outdoors, be prepared to endure some taunting and jeering from your neighbors. Chances are, while you’re working away at washing brick, they’ll be standing around, drinking beer, and pretending to enjoy themselves as they laugh at you. But remember this and keep it close to your heart: they’re just jealous.

Cleaning Brick

  1. car crashed through brick wallPrepare your workspace. If you’re cleaning brick that’s part of a wall or structure, or that’s laid on the ground, you’ll need a nice clean workspace. For a wall, inside or out, remove anything that might be hanging on it and anything that is butted up against it. This includes rugs, furniture, grills, cars, potted plants, etc. If the wall is indoors, you will want to place some old towels on the floor at the base to catch drips. If it’s an outside wall, patio, or walkway, it’s a good idea to cover delicate plants to help ensure their safety.
  2. brick houseClean outdoor wall brick. This brick washing method is good for any color or texture of brick. Start by grabbing a stiff bristled brush (no metal bristles) and prepare one of two different brick cleaners. If your brick wall is pretty clean, you need nothing more than a bucket of warm water. If your wall is heavily soiled, simply mix ½ cup of clear liquid dish detergent with three gallons of warm water. Using a hose, spray the wall down really well with water. Next, mentally divide your wall into 3-5 foot sections, dip your brush in your brick cleaner and start scrubbing from the top down.
  3. brick wall in bathroomClean bricks on indoor walls. To wash brick indoors, a little bit more care should be taken than when working outdoors. Start by dusting the wall. This can be done with a vacuum attachment, a feather duster, or a rag. After it’s been dusted, fill a bucket with warm water and use as-is if the brick is not heavily soiled. If the brick is heavily soiled, make a brick cleaner of three gallons of water and ½ cup clear dish detergent. You don’t need anything fancy for this. Next, divide your wall into 3-5 foot sections and, starting at the top and working your way down, start scrubbing with a thick rag that has been dipped into your brick cleaner and rung out really well. If there are some heavily soiled areas, consider using a stiff plastic or boar’s hair bristled brush. Be advised that there will be some splattering. An old toothbrush works well for scrubbing the mortar. See the section two steps below this one for instructions on rinsing.
  4. brick patioWash brick patios or walkways. In this entire article on how to clean bricks, this is perhaps the most rewarding section. Brick that has been laid on the ground has a tendency to get far dirtier than wall brick and thus gives you a far greater sense of accomplishment once it’s cleaned. Aside from dirt and dust being able to settle easily upon it, moss and algae also have a tendency to grow on it, especially in shady areas. If this sounds familiar to you, take and use a stiff plastic kitchen spatula, held face down, to scrape the stuff away. Once that is done, or if it wasn’t there to begin with, take a hose and spray down the entire area to start it soaking. Next, fill a five gallon bucket with warm water and stir in the appropriate amount (according to manufacturers instructions) of oxygen (not chlorine) bleach. Dump your brick cleaner over the brick to be cleaned, let it sit for ten minutes before scrubbing it clean with a long handled brush or push broom.
  5. garden hose winderRinsing your clean brick. Luckily for everyone involved, there isn’t a whole lot of explanation involved in the rinsing of clean brick. For outside walls, you need to rinse directly after washing each section. Do this from the top down, using a back-and-forth sweeping motion with your hose. That’s it. For indoor brick walls, dip a heavy rag in a fresh bucket of warm water, wring it out, and re-wipe the clean brick surface to remove any loosened dirt particles and/or soap residue. Re-dip and re-wring the rag often. For patios and walkways, go for the hose. With a back-and-forth sweeping motion, use the force of the water to push any loosened dirt and brick cleaner off the edge.
  6. K&S brick cleaning logoCall the brick cleaning pros. You can’t be too careful when it comes to cleaning brick. Especially if it’s old. Older brick (50+ years) has a tendency to be somewhat soft and more delicate than new brick. The fired surface of this older, delicate brick, if treated poorly, can be easily removed. Without the protection of that fired surface, brick absorbs water and disintegrates. Not good. The mortar holding it all together also softens with age. I don’t have to tell you about the dangers of accidentally removing chunks of that. A quick Google search for “brick cleaning services + your city/state” should supply you with satisfactory results. To make sure you’re getting people who know what they’re doing, don’t be afraid to contact the Better Business Bureau and to ask potential brick cleaners for references.

How to Clean a Brick Fireplace

No question about it, cleaning fireplace brick is dirty work. And I’m sorry to say it, but you’re gonna get messy and your arms are gonna get tired. There are a couple of different methods for cleaning fireplace bricks that are pretty popular. But before you launch into either, I feel I should tell you, even though I’m fairly certain you’ve already figured this out, to scoop and sweep out as much of the ash and old coals as possible and to only do any of this if you’re 100% certain the fireplace is cold.

The first method I want to mention for cleaning soot from the fireplace is the ol’ bucket and brush method. Fill a bucket with warm water, squirt in a few tablespoons of clear dish soap, grab a stiff bristled scrub brush and start scrubbing from the top down. Re-dip your brush often and make fresh brick cleaner if you need it. Rinse the clean fireplace brick by wiping it down with a warm, damp rag.

The second method I want to recommend is quite different and requires a couple more steps and supplies. Pour about a half pound of powdered pumice (available at most any hardware store) into an ice cream bucket, stir ½ cup ammonia into it, and start slowly stirring in liquid dish detergent until the consistency of your fireplace cleaner reaches that of paint. Next, grab a paintbrush and paint your fireplace with the stuff. Once every surface you want to clean is covered, let it dry for one hour. After the hour has passed, use a stiff bristled brush to remove the fireplace cleaner and all of the crap underneath it. Be sure to give it a good, vigorous scrubbing. You want to work that fireplace cleaner in and allow the pumice to scour the surface. Once all is scrubbed, rinse in the same manner as mentioned above and enjoy your nice clean fireplace brick.

Natural Brick Cleaners

jug of oxycleanOxygen bleach.In the main section of this article I mention and explain the use of oxygen bleach as a perfectly safe and natural brick cleaner. This stuff works wonders for outdoor patio brick or brick paths and is a fantastic alternative to chlorine bleach which can and will damage or kill any plants you have around your patio or along your walkway. Although OxiClean is the best-known oxygen bleach brand, any of them will do just fine.

bottle of seventh generationSeventh Generation Dish Soap. Besides the fact that Seventh Generation Dish Soap is made from 100% natural products and is completely biodegradable, it’s also clear. This is an important quality for a dish soap to have when it’s being used to clean bricks and mortar, as you don’t want to inadvertently stain them with the dyes found in colored soaps.

artgum eraserArt gum erasers. Not just for the classroom anymore, art gum erasers can be used pretty successfully for cleaning soot from brick and mortar. While it will be a somewhat lengthy process and you may burn through several erasers, I think you’ll be surprised at how well it works. If you don’t rely on your fireplace for heating the home, you might want to consider doing a little bit every day until you have a clean brick fireplace. You can order Art Gum erasers from Amazon.