Limewashes have long been used as surface finishes on buildings and other structures, on both the interior and the exterior. As limewash slowly dries, it reacts with the carbon dioxide in the air, carbonating and creating a tough finish. During the height of limewash’s popularity, prior to the industrial age, the knowledge and skills needed for effective application were passed on from craftsman to craftsman. The basic ingredients, lime and water, were readily available in every community. Additives used were commonly available and often varied from place to place.
As the popularity of limewash waned in the U.S. and modern paints began to be used widely, experience with limewash recipes and their application began to fade. Today, instead of every community having someone knowledgeable in limewash, experienced craftsmen are spread thinly across the country. The waning popularity of limewash did not result solely from the rise in popularity of modern paints; other factors were the increased cost of labor and creation of more durable, inexpensive materials that did not need a finish for protection.
NOTE: This publication originally appeared in APT Bulletin: Journal of Preservation Technology, 38:2-3, 2007