How to clean and maintain your brick house
Brick makes for an attractive facade for any home, creating a classic yet rustic appearance. Brick is also extremely practical — another reason it’s long been a popular building material. It’s eco-friendly, fire-resistant and resilient, holding up well in all kinds of weather. As a result, brick homes tend to be relatively low maintenance.
However, brick houses still require routine cleaning and maintenance. Proper upkeep will ensure your brick house looks its best and will help prevent long-term damage. The below guide explains how to clean and maintain your brick house.
How often should you clean your brick house?
Brick is extremely durable and able to effectively withstand snow, ice, wind and rain. You can basically clean your house as often as you want to without worrying that overzealous cleaning will cause damage. That said, you don’t want to spend more time than you have to on basic upkeep.
Follow the below guide to homeowners maintenance for brick exteriors and you probably won’t have to clean your house’s facade more than once per year. This is how long it will take for noticeable moss, mildew, pollen and other dirt to accumulate on the brickwork after cleaning. If you do a thorough job according to these steps, an annual cleaning should be plenty.
What to look for when inspecting your brick house
Before you start cleaning, take the time to do a thorough inspection of your brick house. This is an opportunity to check for signs of damage, like cracked or crumbling bricks, as well as plant growth. Catching signs of problems early will allow for prompt fixes and prevent more serious issues from developing. Here is what to look out for as you inspect your home’s facade.
Mold, moss and mildew
The porous surface of brick makes it easy for water to stay on it for a long time, contributing to mold, mildew and moss growth. This is especially true for parts of the facade that get little or no sunlight. If you find mold, mildew or moss, it’s important to remove it promptly using a solution of bleach and water.
Before you start, soak the area you plan to treat thoroughly with water. Why? You want to saturate the porous brick, or it might soak up the water-bleach solution and become discolored. Wear protective gear when mixing and applying the bleach-and-water solution. To make the solution, combine one gallon of water with one cup of bleach.
Soak a synthetic scrub brush in the solution and use it to scrub away the mold, mildew or moss. Don’t use wire brushes, which will likely leave steel traces behind. When the steel mixes with moisture, it will corrode and leave rust-colored stains on the bricks. Rinse the area with plain water afterward to avoid potential stains.
Plants and vines can likewise cause damage to your brick home. They adhere to the face of the brick with their roots and tend to erode it over time. Hardier plants may even grow their roots into small cracks or holes in the brick or mortar, creating small fissures as the roots grow.
Such cracks may allow moisture to penetrate the brick’s interior. This becomes especially problematic in winter. Moisture can enter a small crack and then freeze. Since water expands when it freezes, this may then expand the crack. The continuous freeze-thaw cycle over an entire winter can cause considerable damage, resulting in cracked mortar joints and bricks.
The key to plant removal is to kill off the plant completely. With vines, cut them off at their life source, close to the soil. They will then die naturally and fall off. Small plants should be removed manually (remove the root, not just the green part of the plant).
Water damage can occur for various reasons. One common cause is splash back, which happens in areas that get a lot of rain. As the rain pounds down on the surface, it soaks the bricks and the mortar that holds them together. The excessive moisture can ultimately cause the bricks or mortar joints to crack.
Another reason for water damage is rising dampness. This occurs when water creeps up from the ground below (for example, from the dew that gathers on grass). You may be able to see how far up your house the rising dampness creeps, as it will leave behind a “tide line.” Although the moisture will evaporate, it will leave behind salt crystals, which erode the mortar and brick.
This damage will be accelerated in cold weather, thanks to freeze-thaw cycles like those described above. Cracks are a telltale sign of water damage. In case of cracks, replace bricks and mortar as soon as possible, preventing fissures from worsening and spreading.
If you see damaged mortar (cracks, holes or crumbling), fix it promptly. This process of renewing the brick-mortar joints is known as repointing. You can use new mortar to patch water-related breakage and prevent more water from seeping in and worsening the damage.
First, you will have to use a chisel and hammer to chip away the old mortar (wear protective eyewear). After you’ve removed the unwanted mortar, remove superficial dirt using a whisk broom and then rinse using a garden hose. Allow the bricks to soak up the remaining moisture, waiting until the area is completely dry. You can then apply the mortar.
Cracked, broken or old bricks should be replaced at the same time as the original mortar. Once you’ve chipped away cracked mortar with the chisel, as described above, you should be able to manually dislodge the bricks that need replacing.
Clean the cavity left behind and then dampen it with water. Place the wet mortar where you plan to lay the brick. Once you place the brick on top, you can apply the surrounding mortar. Make sure the mortar joints are well-sealed to ensure water can’t get through.
Check the weep hole
A “weep hole” is a small hole in the brick wall that allows water or moisture to escape from inside the wall. It’s essential in preventing water damage. You want to make sure the weep hole is unobstructed and functioning efficiently. Check that it’s not plugged or clogged with leaves, sticks, rodent nests or other debris.
How to clean your brick house exterior
Once you’ve done a thorough inspection and taken care of any necessary repairs, you can go ahead and clean your facade. The below steps explain how to clean a brick house exterior.
Prep the surrounding area
You don’t want the plants growing at the base of your house to be damaged in the cleaning process. Before you begin, cover them with plastic sheeting. This will protect them from any cleaning solutions you use.
Mix a cleaning solution and prepare your supplies
You can create an all-natural cleaning solution consisting of vinegar and water (a 1-to-1 ratio), mixing it in a large bucket. You will also need a large sponge, a hard-bristled brush or whisk broom and rubber gloves to get the job done.
Wet a small area of the brick wall and apply your cleaning solution in a small spot using the sponge. This will allow you to understand how well the cleaning agent works and to test the brick absorption rate. You don’t want to alter the brick’s natural hue with the cleaning solution. You can then determine how much solution you’ll need to clean without causing discoloration.
Wet the area
Saturate the area you want to clean with a garden hose. Work from the top down to avoid unsightly streaks. When cleaning, likewise work from the top down. If you clean an area above a dry section of the wall, the dirty solution will run down the wall and ruin what you’ve already cleaned.
Apply the solution and scrub
Apply the vinegar-water solution generously. You can scrub particularly grimy spots with a broom or hard-bristle brush. Again, avoid steel brushes. The steel will corrode with moisture and leave rusty streaks.
Finally, rise the solution thoroughly. Again, work from the top down. You can use a pressure washer for this part. However, don’t hold it too close to the wall or you risk damaging it. A garden hose will do the trick.
Protect your home from costly repairs with Cinch
Brick homes are beloved for their classic appeal, as well as practical elements like being energy efficient and having durability. Inspecting and cleaning brick houses annually helps ensure their longevity. The steps above explain how it’s done.
A home warranty may cover the cost of such repairs. Cinch Home Services can offer homeowners peace of mind with home protection plans to help cover the costs of repairs or replacements for major home systems and appliances — from washing machines to plumbing and electrical systems. Find out how we can help you protect your home today.