Here’s a question from our 5/11/2019 Today’s Homeowner Radio Show.
Dean from California says, “What will take the white calcium stains left by potted plants off of the red brick caps on a planter. I have tried a lot of cleaners and a wire brush. Stains are still present.”
We say try trisodium phosphate, or TSP, to clean off those stains. Also, consider dying the brick, but try a small batch first before tackling the whole project. Joe recommends a brick cleaner by Rutland.
Listen to the embedded audio clip for the complete segment!
Read the blog from the 5/11 show and listen to the full broadcast here.
Additional Red Brick Cleaning Tips
Before you proceed with cleaning red bricks, whether it’s exterior or interior, it’s important to gather all necessary materials and tools to ensure ease of cleaning.
Wear protective or safety gear while cleaning, especially when handling chemicals or acidic-based cleaners. Wearing long sleeves and long pants is also required because splashes of chemicals may cause injuries or burns, and prolonged exposure to chemicals and other sensitive substances may also put you and your health at risk.
It’s best to start the brick-cleaning process when the temperature is around 50 degrees. The ideal day has cool, cloudy weather that won’t cause bricks to dry out too quickly, leaving discoloration and residue stains.
Step 1: Protect the Area Surrounding the Brick
Remove all nearby furnishing or other objects if you’re going to clean the brickwork inside your house to prevent any unnecessary damage to these objects. You can also cover them using plastic or a tarp to prevent cleaning solutions from seeping in during the cleaning process.
If you’re cleaning exterior brickwork, you can protect nearby surfaces like glass, metal, aluminum, and wood by placing a plastic or tarp over them. If you have plants or vegetation surrounding the area, it’s best to place them in a different location during the cleaning process or cover them to preserve them.
Cleaning solutions used for bricks can harm non-brick surfaces, so check the area surrounding the bricks first and be careful before cleaning.
Step 2: Saturate the Red Bricks With Water
Before cleaning, wet the red brick using a hose with a spray nozzle to thoroughly wet and saturate the entire surface. Dry brick will absorb the cleaning solution or solvent quickly, which can cause discoloration and fading. Rinsing first will also help remove any accumulated dirt, mold, mildew, or grime from the surface of the brick.
High-pressure power washing is not recommended because it can damage the brickwork and corrode the mortar joints, making the structure weak and porous.
Step 3: Apply the Brick Cleaning Solution
There are different types of brick-cleaning solutions you can use for your project. The suitable cleaning solution may vary, depending on your cleaning needs, preferences, and the type of brick you have.
There are also various natural and cost-effective cleaning solutions for cleaning bricks if you don’t want to use chemicals. Here are some examples you can make at home.
One of the most favored cleaning solutions for red bricks is acid cleaner. It’s easy and fast to apply, and it helps remove stubborn dirt and grime quickly without damaging the surface effectively.
Before using it, read the acid cleaner’s manual or safety instructions to know the proper ratio of the mixture to ensure you’re using the appropriate acid cleaner’s concentration level and strength needed for cleaning. Once you have the exact ratio, dilute the acid clean with water. Remember to pour the acid cleaner into a bucket of water (not the other way around) to prevent injuries like chemical burns due to splashes.
After mixing, you can put the cleaning solution in a pump-up sprayer and apply the cleaner to the brick from the bottom up. If you don’t have a sprayer, use the bucket where you mixed the solution instead, dip a bristle brush into the cleaner, and apply it in strokes.
Apply the cleaner evenly and let it absorb for about three to five minutes. After that, use a stiff bristle brush to scrub away the dirt. A metallic scraper is not recommended because it can damage the surface since acid and metal have adverse effects.
You can create a vinegar solution for cleaning bricks by mixing equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray the vinegar solution directly onto the brickwork and leave it for about 30 minutes. Then, use a sponge mop or bristle brush to scrub the area. This cleaning solution is effective at removing dirt and stains from bricks.
You can combine laundry detergent or dishwashing soap with salt and water to create your DIY cleaning paste.
Mix about 118 ml of laundry detergent with 1 oz of salt and enough water to make the cleaning paste. If you use dishwashing soap, mix 237 ml of it with enough table salt to create a spreadable cleaning paste.
Next, spread the paste evenly onto the surface and leave it for about 15 minutes or more if there are stubborn dirt and stains. Scrub the surface using a bristle brush, working your way from the bottom to the top, and wipe using a wet washcloth.
Step 4: Rinse Thoroughly
Rinse the cleaner thoroughly and ensure that you’re using a large amount of water to remove any residue of the cleaning solution from your brickwork. Remember to rinse the surface from top to bottom to prevent streaking.
Allow the surface to dry accordingly, and don’t forget to inspect the brickwork for any residual dirt or stains. If any residual dirt or stains are left, repeat the cleaning process until you’re satisfied with the outcome.
Signs Your Red Brick Needs More Than Simple Cleaning
Bricks are strong and durable building materials. However, they’re not invincible to damage, so you should look out for signs of any structural wear.
Examples of signs that your red brick needs more than a deep cleaning are cracks, damaged mortar joints, blocked weep holes, spalling, and bowed bricks. If you also see water damage, abundant plant growth or mold, mildew, and moss growth on the brickwork, it’s a sign that your red bricks need more than cleaning.
Spotting them is the key to preventing any masonry problems and avoiding expensive repair or replacement costs. For this reason, inspecting your bricks for any sign of damage every year is recommended. You can also hire a trusted masonry professional instead to ensure a more reliable cleaning process and repair for your brickwork at home.