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The History of Whitewashing

Whitewashing Origins

The oldest house paint in history was a sort of whitewash, but even though it has been used for thousands of years, its origins are hazy. We know it must at least go back to ancient Mesopotamia (roughly between 4000 and 3000 B.C.), as the famous White Temple derived its name from the whitewash coating its inside and exterior. Furthermore, archaeologists discovered that whitewash was used to coat Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb (which stands to reason, considering whitewash paint has antibacterial properties). There are more famous structures that have been whitewashed too, including the Greek Acropolis and the Roman Colosseum. There is even mention of whitewash in the Bible, from a metaphor Jesus uses about the religious leaders of the day.

Whitewashing has managed to survive the test of time, for both its practical application, and aesthetic value. As such, whitewashing has a rich history. From Greece, to England, all the way to the United States, people have made use of whitewash paint for many of their needs.


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 Medieval Whitewash

This technique persisted from ancient times. to the medieval England. The Kingdom of England had been plagued by two fires in the Middle Ages, one in 1135 which leveled many buildings, and another in 1212, which supposedly killed 3000 people. In the 1300s, townsfolk were commanded to whitewash their homes as a precaution against fire.



Whitewash was made in a variety of ways throughout history. In Tutankhamun’s tomb, the whitewash was made with milk, while other times, lime was a common ingredient. Still, sometimes it was made with egg, oyster shells, or even flour. People utilized whatever could help keep its look and texture.

Colonial Whitewash Paint and 19th Century Whitewash

Whitewashing seems to have been most common in the Colonial Period. In Colonial Times, whitewash paint was a necessity for barns, houses, and churches, interior and exterior. The main reason for its popularity was because it served as mildew prevention. The coating was not only antibacterial, but also discouraged pests from making a home inside their houses and barns. As such, the kitchen was commonly whitewashed, not just as a measure against vermin, but as a disinfectant and a means against odor. Furthermore, making whitewash was far cheaper than making regular paint. Not only was it cheap, but one did not have to be a skilled laborer to apply it. There is a famous scene in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, there is a famous scene where Tom tricks his friends into whitewashing a fence for him. There is some truth in the fiction, as back then, whitewash was left in the hands of children due to its simplicity to apply.

Whitewash also provided an aesthetic value to people’s buildings. Barns and homes could have a simple but clean finish that made them far more attractive to have on one’s property. When applied to the interior, whitewash paint brightened the room, and made it appear more spacious. The former was important for helping people get around their homes in the dark before the advent of electric lighting. It did not peel like regular paint, either, and if it was damaged, touching it up was an easy and inexpensive task. Basically, it was a cost-effective way to make one’s house look beautiful. Back then, people took it as a sign of cleanliness. Even buildings of richer people began to have some whitewash on them. In fact, when the White House was first built, it was coated with whitewash. More importantly, under the harsh weather conditions in certain regions, having some sort of protection from the elements was crucial, and whitewash provided just that.

20th Century Whitewash Paint

Even with the increase of industrialization, whitewashing was still a popular practice. It was still a necessity for the same reasons it was before, but for dairy farmers in the mid-20th century, whitewashing became standard practice. The antibacterial properties were vital when dealing with dairy products, so often the whitewash would be touched up annually. When it was reapplied, the dairy farmers would blow away loose flakes with compressed air, as this would also remove any debris that had collected on the brick surfaces beneath it. By this point, reapplication was even easier, as it now could be sprayed onto surfaces in lieu of painting it on by hand.

Whitewashing Today

Nowadays, whitewashing is still used for some practical application (such as in chicken coops), but it is still loved for its rustic aesthetic appeal. Stone and bricks, for example, can be whitewashed to make them look more pleasing to the eye. Joanna Gaines notably has helped continue the trend. For both practical purpose, and purely visual appeal, whitewash is a simple, time-proven method. Despite being thousands of years old, it remains today as a way to bring an old-world charm to one’s property.