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Brick Fireplace Restoration

The original brick fireplace had been painted over at least 3 times in its life. One of my first projects was to restore it. I began by removing the ugly brass screen. I read that you shouldn't use a sandblaster on masonry and that the best way was to just use old fashioned elbow grease and paint stripper. After about 10 hours of scraping and scrubbing, I was getting nowhere. I kept thinking "there has to be a better way". I searched the internet and came across someone's advice of "soda blasting". Instead of shooting sand, this machine shoots baking soda, a non-abrasive alternative to sandblasting which doesn't cause damage to bricks or mortar. I did some research and found that it was used to clean the statue of liberty and that it is used a lot for paint removal from bricks of historic buildings, and to clean fire damage. After watching some videos of soda blasting in action, I was sold. I purchased a soda blaster (which is just a sandblaster with a different feeder valve). After getting fully geared up, with earplugs, respirator, paint suit, gloves, and hood, I was ready to go. In about 2 hrs of soda blasting, I almost completely cleaned off about 17 bricks and the mortar between. One 50lb bag of baking soda lasted a bit over 2 hrs and cost around $20.

I had to remove EVERYTHING from the living room and seal it off. Open the windows for ventilation, and put an exhaust fan in the window. The room became a giant cloud of dust in no time. After a while, it looked like I was standing on a white sandy beach, as baking soda covered the entire floor.

After many hours with my air compressor, which could barely keep up, I gave in and rented an industrial compressor. Then I started flying through the bags of soda. I could get through a 50lb bag in less than a half hour.

I had tested some Peel Away 1 on one brick to see if that would work better than soda blasting. It seemed like it would take way too long, so I opted to continue with soda blasting. When I blasted the test brick, I noticed it came cleaner MUCH quicker. So I decided, at that point, to do the whole fireplace with Peel Away.

I covered the entire fireplace with Peel Away 1 and waited for about 12 hrs. I peeled off the paper, scraped as much excess Peel Away off the brick as I could, then scrubbed it all down w/ water...BIG sloppy mess. That still left a lot of Peel Away residue on the bricks, and some spots of paint left here and there. I then used the big compressor to clean all the faces of the brick.

If I were to do it over, this is what I would do. Get a bucket (or 2) of Peel Away 1. Put it on (USE GLOVES!) really thick (1/4" or so) and get into the mortar good. Cover it up with the Peel Away paper (you'll have to buy extra packs) -Sherwin Williams. I'd probably wait a week. Remove the paper and scrape as much of the Peel Away as you can. Here's the tricky part. If you already have nice floors, I wouldn't recommend this. I tried everything, plastic, towels, masking tape, and towels to keep the water from the hardwood floors. It didn't work. Luckily, I still need to refinish my floors, so it's not that big of a deal. But supposedly Peel Away 1 will darken hardwoods, so that concerned me. I don't want the area around the fireplace to be darker than the rest of the floor. So now you get bucket after bucket of clean water, and a scrub brush (try to find one w/ long stiff bristles), and scrub the Peel Away off the brick and mortar. Let it dry. Then soda blast. SunBelt Rentals carries the compressor and some even have a nice soda blaster to rent (which I would have done, had I known ahead of time).

This project took me a year on and off and cost me around $1200. It was the biggest mess on earth, my entire house had baking soda in it, even though I had tried to block off the living room as much as possible. It got into the ventilation system and redistributed all over the entire house. But in the end, it was worth it, the fireplace is beautiful now.


  1. Very nice.

    A lot of people poo poo sand blasters but we use ours all the time.

    It is just a matter of the right pressure, the right aggregate, and the right nozzle.

    I've sandblasted brass before and needed to do just a little bit of buffing to make it very very shiny.

    The trick is to keep it moving.

    Looks like you did a fine job.

  2. Is this a wood burning fireplace?

  3. I know your pain!!! I used Soy Gel and Peel away paper with great success. Still a long and tedious project! POO POO to those who paint brick!!!!

  4. Well done! Are you going to point it now? A nice mortaring job will be the crowning touch to those beautifully exposed bricks.

    Why did you use soda as the blasting media and not sand? Would sand be too harsh on the brick face?

  5. A couple tips;

    1) Never media blast brick. A brick is like a loaf of bread is a piece of cast Aluminum where it has a hard protective outer shell attained from the curing process. A brass brush is aggressive as you should go.

    2) You can collect water in a trough. You can cut plywood 12 inches wide and place against the wall so it has an apron and make a rim with 1x2s. Then you can rinse the wall and the water will go into the trough and out the door or into a bucket. You should line the trough with plastic. The plastic can be taped to the lower bricks if duct will stick or you can press the plastic into the mortar gap and fill over it with mortar (if you plan to repoint) or drywall compound if you just want to clean it out later. You can then place towel on the ground when you remove the paint from the bottom bricks. This could apply to repointing as well if you do that.

    3. You really want to go with the 36-48 hours of 'uncure' time. There is a real sweet spot time wise. It never came off as one nice sheet like the name 'peelaway' implies but when your timing is right it scrapes off very cleanly.

    4. After you scrape it off, I would use a brass bristled brush. Steel is too harsh and nylon is not effective enough. Also the most important thing I found was to make sure you are scrubbing the brick with the brass brush while the brush is in the stream of the rinse. If you scrub a spot, then rinse it with the hose it will not come off very well.

    5. With masonry, especially old masonry (prior to 1930) which is more vapor porous, you must follow the Neutralizer instructions exactly. Specifically the part about letting the wall completely dry out for 2 full days. If the brick does not dry out completely, it will not suck the Neutralizer (water mixed with acetic acid) into the brick. The strong base from the Peelaway get sucked into the brick so you need to pull the acid into the brick. It most likely will take several treatments.

    6. If you plan to repoint masonry prior to 1930 please google; natural hydraulic lime

  6. I love your fireplace now. I wish I'd had the energy to deal with cleaning the paint off ours. In the end, we just ended up painting it gray (the approximate color of the original cement stones).


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