Why Were Family Homes and Other Buildings White?

Think back to old vintage homes, medium to smaller ones, not always those considered huge mansions, most were white. Such vintage houses weren’t painted as we know it today. Instead, they were whitewashed, a process of coating a wooden (or brick) surface with a combination of water, hydrated lime, and salt mixed with various ingredients (like molasses, pine rosin, or alum depending on the recipe). Whitewashing, also known as lime paint or limewash, is considered temporary today (just 5 to 7 years), but can actually last decades if applied correctly.

It is applied as thin coast, so generally, 3-4 coats are put on and each allowed to dry slowly. It proved to be a good method to prevent mildew from growing on the walls and also pest would not make their home inside walls of homes with the whitewash.

The mixture is thick and creates a barrier between the wood and the elements of nature. In this way, the whitewash preserves the wood for a long time. This method was also much cheaper than using regular paint. Another good item was the whitewash was not toxic to animals. The house owner or a farmer could whitewash the chicken coop and no vapors were produced to harm the chickens. Paint decades ago contained lead, very harmful if ingested.

The whitewash method was also used inside for interior walls. It created a safe environment free of mold, bacteria and fungi since those items could not grow on a whitewashed surface. Even roofs would be whitewashed, making the house 10 degrees cooler than a dark roof.

Back in Colonial America, whitewash has been used.

The color itself – white has always been popular even now with paint mostly used.

So study any family photos with a farmhouse, home or barn and see if it has whitewash.

Photos: 1880s whitewashed frame house; whitewash over brick and a whitewash house.

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