Wanna know how you can instantly feel like a homesteading rockstar?
Learn how to whitewash something.
I say this because:
(a) It’ll make all your friends give you a weird look (I always enjoy that)
(b) It’s delightfully old-fashioned
(c) It actually does provide some benefits to your barn/coops (besides just making you feel cool)
Whenever I think of whitewashing, my mind instantly goes to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. But before we dive into a bucket of whitewash and learn how to whitewash, let’s talk a bit about why this is something you’d even want to mess with.
What is Whitewash?
Sometimes you’ll hear people referring to “whitewash” as simply painting something with white paint, but in the most traditional sense of the term, whitewash is powdered lime (lime as in limestone, not the green fruit!) mixed with water.
Whitewashing has been a favorite paint/sealant in farms and homestead for centuries because it is effective, simple, and cheap. It’s also safe for animals, and you don’t have to worry about paint fumes.
It’s important to pay attention to what type of lime you are using in your whitewash–be sure to select hydrated lime (also called mason’s lime)– NOT dolomite lime or garden lime. We were able to find ours at our local building supply store, although you might check feed stores too. Hydrated lime is different than the type of lime you spread on the ground/garden, so make sure you have the right stuff!
Whitewash is the perfect coating if you want a bit of old-fashioned charm, but it also has some practical applications too. The main reason I chose to whitewash my chicken coop is to brighten the dingy, dark wood. Whitewash also has some antibacterial properties, which makes it a handy option for sealing tough-to-clean surfaces against bacteria and insects.
The biggest downfalls to whitewash is that it is water-soluble, so it will have to be re-done every so often. It’s not a great option for surfaces that are going to be exposed to the elements, so stick to whitewashing indoor walls/surfaces only.
How to Whitewash Your Barn and Coop
You Will Need:
- 6-8 cups hydrated lime*
- 2 cups salt
- 1 gallon of water
* Also known as builders lime or masonry lime. This is different than the garden lime that you might sprinkle on your barn floor.
1. Combine all the ingredients in a bucket and mix well. (A wire whisk worked the best for me.)
2. You are looking for the whitewash to be the consistency of pancake batter, so add more lime or water if you need too. Don’t get hung up on exact measurements—I sure didn’t. Sometimes letting it sit for an hour or two will help it to thicken a bit.
3. Use a paintbrush or roller to apply it to the wooden surfaces of your coop, barn, or milking parlor.
4. Let it dry (it will turn white as it dries) and enjoy the fruits of your old-fashioned labor!
Hydrated lime is a natural substance that is highly caustic. There’s no reason to be scared of it, but it’s important to take the proper precautions while handling it. Wear a dust mask when you are scooping out the dry lime to avoid getting any into your lungs, and safety glasses and gloves are highly recommended too. If you get a bunch on your skin, it will make your skin feel super dry and kind of icky, but it’s simple to wash off with water or neutralize with a bit of vinegar.
- When I first learned how to whitewash and applied my first whitewash, I was pretty disappointed as it appeared as though it was barely covering the wood. However, I was shocked when I walked back into the coop several hours later to find it had dried into a gorgeous, bright white.
- Whitewashing is far cheaper than paint (I only paid nine dollars for a fifty pound bag of lime–that’ll make a whole lot of whitewash!), and you don’t have to worry about any paint fumes.
- This is most effective when used inside a structure. I’m afraid it would wash off after a few rainstorms if you were to apply it outside.
- I love the look of “whitewashed” furniture, but I would opt for watered-down white paint to create that look instead of lime. I’m thinking this recipe wouldn’t be the best option for furniture, since it will rub off over time.
How to Whitewash Your Barn and Chicken Coop
- 6–8 cups hydrated lime *Also known as builders lime or masonry lime. This is different than the garden lime that you might sprinkle on your barn floor.*
- 2 cups salt
- 1 gallon of water
- Combine all the ingredients in a bucket and mix well. (A wire whisk worked the best for me.)
- You are looking for the whitewash to be the consistency of pancake batter, so add more lime or water if you need too. Don’t get hung up on exact measurements—I sure didn’t. Sometimes letting it sit for an hour or two will help it to thicken a bit.
- Use a paintbrush or roller to apply it to the wooden surfaces of your coop, barn, or milking parlor.
- Let it dry (it will turn white as it dries) and enjoy the fruits of your old-fashioned labor!
Looking for more natural, old-fashioned recipes and tips like this one?
In Natural Homestead, you’ll find everything you need to create a more natural homestead, garden, and barnyard including:
- How to put together a natural supply cabinet
- If pumpkin seeds, garlic, diatomaceous earth, baking soda, vinegar, and kelp are merely old wives’ tales or are truly beneficial
- Tips for managing parasite loads, how to identify wormy animals, and breakdowns of natural dewormer alternatives
- How to use essential oils in your barnyard and garden
- How to mix up grain-free, corn-free, and soy-free rations for your flock
- How to keep your facilities clean, minus the use of harsh chemicals such as bleach
- How to battle bugs, fungus, and weeds without using chemicals that are toxic to you, your kids, or your critters
There’s 40+ recipes, 60+ full-color photos, and lots of old-fashioned wisdom!
Grab your copy in Kindle, PDF, OR paperback here.
Now that you learned how to whitewash, will you be whitewashing your barn and/or chicken coop? Tell me about it!
More Homesteading Resources:
- 70+ Homesteading Hacks
- Does this Homesteading Thing Really Matter?
- Practical Ways We Save Time On Our Homestead
- Cheap Milking Equipment for the Home Dairy
- 6 Strategies for Fly Control in the Chicken Coop
I just purchased your book, and I LOVE IT! Great job and very inspiring! Thank you so much!
nancy strong says
I’m looking for the recipe that has flour in it. Used for Outside barns and such that lasts 30 years, they say. Have you run across that one?
Try this website
I would like to find that too. Any good news?
Charlotte Moore says
I like whitewash. Looks good to me.
Where did you find the hydrated lime for $9. I am having trouble locating any.
We have wooden beams along the ceiling of our house that some fool PAINTED dark brown, not stained. They are awful. I have been wanting to repaint them white/whitewash them, and with the brown underneath I was thinking it would look great “antiqued”. Do you think this technique would cover the paint or would work on the beams?
Jill Winger says
I think it’d be worth a try! You might do a test spot first, but a coat or two should do the trick.
Hi Jill. The ebook is $9 but the paperback book is $60+ on amazon. Why such a huge difference. Would love the paper copy to pass on in our farm library. 🙁
Two years ago I whitewashed the interior of my chicken coop. It looked great. This spring the inside of my coop still looks like I just whitewashed it. I love it.
This is a neat idea! I’m definitely going to have to try it with our chicken coop soon.
Maria @Ten at the Table says
Wow Jill, I will be trying this!!
Have you ever tried to make milk paint? That is something I would love to know how to do!
Whitewash. I completely forgot about that. When I was young and living at home, my dad always whitewashed our trees. I never understood why, but I guess he liked the way the white looked on the dark base. Brings back fond memories
Jill Winger says
I think whitewashing trees helps with insects–cool huh? 🙂
Dark wood absorbs heat; white not so much. This matters when that extra warm gets the sap flowing but it is cold enough at night to freeze the sap. The sap expands as it freezes which splits the bark of the fruit trees. The splits weaken the trees by allowing insects and microorganisms in. It might weaken the trees directly also.
Virgil Ferguson says
He did this to protect the trees from insects. Insects will damage the bark and will also attract woodpeckers.
This is so wonderful. I can’t thank you enough for sharing this information. My son is the one with the farm and chicken coop, so I don’t know if I’ll get to do this or not.
Dale Griffith says
How long do you believe whitewashing lasts in comparison to latex paint techniques ?
Jill Winger says
My whitewash in my chicken coop is still pretty decent, and it was applied 3+ years ago. Keep it mind it’s not exposed to the elements, and isn’t perfect, but I’m impressed with how well it has lasted.
Mike Justmike says
A quick google search or two will inform you about “lime” (not the fruit). Whitewash is calcium hydroxide, also called “slaked lime.” You get, “slaked lime,” what you call hydrated lime, by adding water to “quick lime,” what you call garden lime is also known as calcium oxide. My point is, it is all the same substance in different forms and getting from one to the other is as simple as adding or subtracting water. Our rural forebears were simple people, best to keep it simple.
JohnLee Pettimore says
You have to be careful adding the “quick lime” (CaO) to water. The hydration process releases a bit of heat. This doesn’t happen with the “hydrated lime” because it’s already hydrated.
Jesse Steinke says
You didn’t mention one of the best reasons to whitewash barns and chicken coops. The alkalinity of lime neutralizes the acidity of the manure from the animals. I’ve seen how acid from pig manure would eat away pressure treated lumber over the years and regular white was or stucco was about the only way to prolong the life of the lumber.
Jill Winger says
Thanks for chiming in, Jesse!
I’m getting ready to whitewash a rough cedar interior wall…I plan on using watered down paint method, however I’m going to use your method…I am very excited!!! This wall goes down my steps…steps that are carpeted…if any whitewash dripped on the carpet what would be the best method of cleanup, little soap and water?
Jill Winger says
Hey Patti– I don’t know if this would be a great fit for a interior wall– I’m afraid it might rub off too easily?
Diane Hash says
Thank you for this tutorial. I’m excited to whitewash my chicken coop. Wondering how much the mixture would cover?
Would the whitewash be too caustic for the animals to walk on? We have a chicken coop given to us that I’d like to clean up and also cover up any previous chemicals used in it, so I’d like to try it.
Jill Winger says
I think it’d be ok– although probably not a great option for a floor as it would rub off quickly I think.
Harold Baker says
HI Jill !
Would you know where to buy a sprayer for putting on lime , Also what dose salt do for the lime ?
Harold Baker or habie
The specific chemical name of “hydrated lime” is Calcium Hydroxide – Ca(OH)2 (the 2 should be a subscript, but I don’t know how to make that happen in this comment). CaO is “lime” (you can see that hydrated lime has a water molecule added).
It’s always bugged me that some names are used to describe multiple materials that are only loosely related. “Lime” is one of them. The other is “lye”.
I am wanting to whitewash a limestone basement wall. I am confused by the comments ” not dolomite or garden” and it is mason type. I find the mason type and it says it is dolomitic. I just want to be sure I get the correct product. Help please. Thank you.
Inside the hen house or barn works great. And if there are buggies crawling around you can spot them easily and use what you need (non-toxic, of course) to rid the area and animals of the pests! I always used rubber gloves to keep my hands from the drying effects. (when mixing the lime and water, avoid breathing in the lime dust.)
Moved to our new home last November. I have painted wooden shingles on my coop. While cleaning it to get ready for habitation I noticed many dead stink bugs falling out of the shingles on the door. I want to take the shingles off and treat the inside to prevent bugs from setting up camp. I have been thinking of using something without harsh chemicals. This may be perfect.
R?ght here is th? perfect ?ebpage for anyone who wants
to understand this topic. You realize a whole lot its almost tough
to argue with you (not that I personally will need to…HaHa).
You definitely put a new spin on a t?pic that’s been writt?n about for years.
Wonderful stuff, just wonderful!
Jill, where did you get a 50lb bag of lime for $9?
JohnLee Pettimore says
Go to any feed store. It may even be cheaper than that. I just paid $3.50-ish for a 50# bag of hydrated lime.
Hi. I am building my first coop and want to whitewash the inside of the coop. How long should I let it dry before it is safe to put the chickens inside? Also, do you recommend whitewashing the wood floor, as well?
tom alex says
Thankyou for sharing.
keep it up
John Lee Pettimore says
When I hear “garden lime”, I think of the stuff that you’d use on your lawn, which is crushed limestone, which is calcium carbonate.
As someone commented, there’s a lot of stuff called “lime”.
CaO – Calcium Oxide (quick lime, burnt lime)
Ca(OH)2 – Calcium Hydroxide (hydrated lime, slaked lime)
CaCO3 – Calcium Carbonate (lime, limestone, agricultural lime, crushed limestone)
Wow, great idea! Thankyou! Maybe my chicken coop will look like new again! Also i was thinking…i bet it would be beneficial to use DE and paint that on too…to help with any bugs in coop. Just like people paint DE on fruit trees! 🙂
Your shwd kit could make thee easily assembly even easier, so there is
no need to worry. Storage sheds for backyard use appear inn different
styles, so chkose the best one for you. I remember my own grandparents
always being forced to pull me away from their garden shed.
My grandmother used to whitewash front steps (made of concrete) and they looked beautiful, if it rained she would apply the whitewash again and so on.
The Whiting Powder was purchased in a cardboard pack from the grocery store, I want it now to whitewash inside an unused fireplace to look good.
Hello, Im a fairly new chicken lady I’ve only had my flock for a year and half, I have never had to deal with mites or lice. They obviously have some sort of critter because they have all the tell tale signs of tiny critters BUT I can not find anything on my birds. I only have 16 hens and 2 8×10 coops (garden sheds turned coops).. I have gutted out all the bedding and nest box pads have thoroughly cleaned them and sprayed everything down with scalex. The hens aren’t great at dusting but i see they are getting better…. oops long story short…. would whitewashing my coops help with this? and would putting it on the floor help too I’ve they are covered in shavings?
Stacie Ratcliff says
I had a mite/lice problem this year, and I actually lost my young rooster to it! I’ve read that whitewashing will kill and help prevent mites from living in the wood and other porous surfaces in the coop. I’m definitely whitewashing the coop this year! I also use food grade diatemaceous earth and/or garden and poultry dust (permethrin) in the coop. I’ve also started using using stall dry (PDZ or pelletized DE) in the run to help control odor and bugs.
Hello… can this method be done on galvanised metal sheets ?
Stacie Ratcliff says
I plan on whitewashing the inside of my coop this year. How long does it take to dry? I had a mite problem this year, so I want to whitewash the roosts too. If I do it early in the day and use a fan to speed up the drying process, will it be safe for my chickens to sleep on that night?
Can I use hardwood ashes? We have a wood burning fireplace and often substitute these for Lyme in the garden…just wondering if they could sub for the store bought stuff here too?
sheila hall says
Hi i was wondering if i could put it in a sprayer, i would like to white wash the inside of the gazebo, it is pretty tall, love the idea!!
Jacalyn Tarbox says
my husband has an older sand blaster I saved the old nozzle part and put the hose that should be in sand in the bucket of white wash then hooked it up to the compressor. My hen house was done quickly and completely in less than an hour. a sprayer clogs up much too quickly. I figured if it could spray sand it could spray white wash and it does. oh my hen house is 10 by 12 and has an 8 foot ceiling. If it helped me it could help some of you
Can anyone tell me if the leftover white wash can be stored in a plastic container with a lid? Hoping that’s the case so I can use it again and not waste the remains. Denise
Heidi @ Broad Meadow Farm says
What is the purpose of the salt?
I went to a builders store to purchase hydrated lime to make a whitewash for our chicken coop. They gave me a bag of high calcium carbonate field marker (Mississippi Lime CalCarb AFM athletic field marker). They said it is what they sell to the masonry workers in the area. I told them I wasn’t sure that it was the same thing, but they insisted it is the same. Are they correct or do I need to look elsewhere.
Christina Spych says
My husband and I finished building our first coop in early September. I used your recipe to whitewash the inside walls. Our humidity has been low and yet I have MOLD growing on every inch of the 125sf coop. Any idea why this happened? There is a ton of ventiliation, and the coop never feels humid. I thought the point of me doing this was to prevent things like mold and insects. It seems like I have invited it to thrive. I did not whitewash the ceiling. My husband had already painted it with regular white exterior paint, so I skipped whitewashing it. It is the only thing that is not covered in mold right now. I’m so disgusted that I have to redo this now, less than two months later.
Jill’s recipe is not correct. You need a “real” whitewash recipe that starts with creating a lime putty from your MASON’S lime (not garden lime). It’s not easy to find, but when you do it should be cheap. I just bought a 50 lb. bag from Menard’s for $8 or $9. That’ll probably last me the rest of my life 🙂
Thanks for posting this whitewash recipe! I used it this past spring in my workshop. The room before was dark and dingy, made of old dirty log walls with stains everywhere from old roof leaks. As dry and thirsty as they were, they probably would have taken gallons and gallons of white paint to brighten up. I got a 50 pound bag of type S bulder’s lime on the concrete aisle at Lowe’s for 11 bucks! Several cans of salt for 58 cents apiece at the grocery store, and I “painted” the whole workshop (rafters and ceiling as well) for less than 15 dollars!
With a few LED shop lights, what was once a cave has become a very bright and pleasant place to be!
Jill if your limewash/whitewash is not repelling water or rubbing off then you’re not doing it right. When prepared correctly, whitewash undergoes a chemical change as it dries. It draws CO2 out of the air in a process called carbonation (great for those worried about carbon footprints and all) and basically reverts back into limestone. When applied to masonry it bonds to the brick or stone at a molecular level. I think the step you are missing is starting out with “lime putty”.
I have 3 large (4’x10′) hot water solar collectors that heat my infloor heating. At least by June 1st I must cover them with a large tarp, which I back off in stages in the fall as the weather cools. I struggle to keep my tarps from shredding during our gusty windstorms. Because I live in a very arid area where it rarely rains, and often that is very light, I was thinking maybe I could just whitewash the glass June 1st, do any touchups as needed through the summer, and wash it off in the fall.