Limewash over emulsion paint 

I’ve been wondering how best to  redecorate a room whose surfaces are finished in old materials – clay and plaster – but which have been painted with modern emulsion. That may be creating a breathability problem.

Very modern emulsions are impermeable to moisture. Cruder basic emulsions have a certain amount of breathability, but it’s hard to tell which it is, looking at the result at least 30 years after it was last painted. So should the emulsion be removed?

That would be the ideal solution. The walls could then be distempered, which I have read is the usual treatment for inside walls in Suffolk. Distemper can still be bought.

My answer is no to stripping, because emulsion paint is pretty tightly bound to the surface and my attempts to get it off with chemical strippers or wire brushes caused significant damage. The best I could do with a wire brush was to remove loose paint flakes.

So after a year or two of procrastination, I’ve decided to limewash over it, which should not make the breathability too much worse, even if it doesn’t improve it. I ruled out distemper on top of emulsion because I don’t think it will stick very well and it is also quite prone to leave dusty traces on clothes when touched.

But will limewash stick to emulsion? My favourite paint maker, Ingilby of Glemsford, says its limewash with linseed oil can be indeed be used over emulsion, and I’ve tried it in the past on a smaller area and it’s very effective. So I’m using it to completely redecorate  two rooms. One of the rooms  is the most complete in the house, in the sense that it has walls of unplastered plain clay daub (with straw showing) and a lath and plaster ceiling.

Ingilby’s limewashes can be bought in custom colours so I took along a sample of a creamy off white that we liked, which they copied exactly (and it’s now in their list as a colour with our name on it).IMG_5858

Limewash that I made up myself using instructions from books on lime was very thin and watery, and it was not surprising that the recommendation was five or six coats. Ted Ingilby’s lifelong professional experience of paint technology – not just lime, and including marine paints  – has produced a product that fully covers even a contrasting surface in only three coats, the first diluted 2:1 and the second 1:1.

It is still very liquid on the brush and so quite messy to apply, though nothing like as runny as my trial of home made stuff. The floor must be very well covered and exposed oak timbers masked with sticky paper tape, though I’ve found (see photo above) that only the horizontal timbers need masking – Ingilby limewash is controllable enough on the brush to avoid splashing the verticals when painting the panels between them.

This has now transformed decorations which previously were very obviously modern emulsion  into a beautiful matt surface with the soft, subtle colouring of limewash. It’s not the purist’s answer – that would be to strip and distemper – but it’s the pragmatic one.

7 thoughts on “Limewash over emulsion paint ”

  1. Hi, I’m thinking of doing the same thing and wondered how successful this was? Did the limewash over emulsion stand the test of time? 🙂

    1. I did it first in 2009 in a kitchen and the coat is still fine part from 2 v small patches where I think the emulsion itself was loose. Done two more rooms since in 2014 and 2017 and both are still perfect. I brushed first very hard with the stiffest brush I could find though not a wire brush and I think that was better surface prep than in the kitchen. Only caveat is that the emulsion was 25 or 30 years old and probably trade so I have not tried it on a modern Dulux-type emulsion. If that is what you are covering I personally would test it first and wait a while but the limewash supplier would have a view. The limewash was Ingilbys of Glemsford with linseed oil. Excellent stuff. Looks great.

      1. Sounds successful! I’m just about to move into a 250 year old cottage and would love to limewash the walls, but the previous owner emulsioned them. How easy was it to apply? Did you prep the emulsion in any way? I’ll get in touch with Ingilbys and see what they suggest. 🙂

      2. Very easy to apply but messy compared with paint so you have to cover everything it might splash on especially exposed timbers. You don’t brush it out like emulsion so quicker. Only preparation of the Ingilby limewash is stirring and diluting it with water – comes in concentrated form. Their website has useful advice.

      3. I just used a very stiff brush to get the dust off and slightly roughen the surface. The room has not been used very much because the building had been empty for more than 20 of the 30 years since it was emulsioned and there was no evidence of greasiness on the walls and the surface was matt. If it had been used a lot or the walls were dirty rather than just dusty I would have prepared with a wipe over with sugar soap – same as for re-emuksioning – but it wasn’t necessary. If the surface is very porous, then you cope with that by extra dilution of the first coat of limewash. If the emulsion had been shiny e.g. satin I would have given it a light rub down with sandpaper or a wire brush, to roughen it more. Sonething to check with Ibgilbys.

      4. Thank you so much for your help. I’ve been in touch with Ingilbys and they recommended their Interlime Limewash so I’ll get some testers from them! Best wishes, Juliet

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