Elbow grease is essential in cleaning exterior brickwork
Bricks can lend a stately aesthetic to a home, whether they are used in a patio, walkway, chimney, or even as the key exterior element. As with other types of construction materials, it's helpful to do some regular upkeep on brickwork to keep it looking its best.
When they are exposed to the elements, bricks can easily become stained or discolored. Periodically cleaning them will keep them looking attractive and can also help prevent damage.
A simple wash is usually enough to remove any dirt that has built up on the surface of the brickwork. Georgia Madden, writing for the home design site Houzz, says you can apply a water and detergent solution and scrub the grime away with a fiber or soft bronze bristle brush.
This method is typically enough to remove efflorescence as well. Efflorescence appears as a white crust on the bricks when evaporating water in the bricks leaves salt deposits behind. The General Services Administration says a stiff, nonmetallic brush can loosen up these deposits, which can then be rinsed off with spray from a garden hose.
Try to remove efflorescence as soon as possible. Although the deposits are not harmful to the brick, they can react with atmospheric carbon dioxide to form carbonates. These are not water soluble and can only be removed with chemicals.
If the bricks are located in a shadier part of your property, they can develop mold, moss, or mildew. The home improvement professional Bob Vila says this problem can usually be addressed by wetting down the bricks, then scrubbing them with a solution of bleach and water.
A variety of other stains can also form on bricks, such as minerals leaching out of the brick or rust emanating from a metal home feature. Old House Web, a resource on maintaining historic properties and other older homes, says grease removers can sometimes be effective in removing these blemishes. Acids should be avoided if possible, since these can discolor the brick, etch glass, or damage other parts of the home.
A pressure washer can be used to clean dirt and stains from bricks, but you should be careful how you use this tool. Keep it at a moderate setting, since high pressure can damage the brick. Old House Web says pressure washing sprays should not exceed 3,000 pounds per square inch.
Whenever you clean brick, it helps to saturate the surface ahead of time and rinse it off once you're done. Madden says the first step will help localize any cleaning solution, while the second will rinse away any excess solution which might stain the brick if left in place.
Brick near a barbecue or fire pit might be stained with soot or ash. Some of this material can be vacuumed away, and a solution of sugar soap will be effective in removing any remaining stains.
Cleaning the bricks will let you see if you need to take any additional steps to keep the material in good condition. Vila says you may need to repoint some areas of the brickwork, or remove any crumbling old mortar and renew it to prevent water damage.
Protective coatings can also be useful in preventing water damage and other problems with brickwork. Old House Web says these coatings can fill cracks in the mortar and bricks to help repel water; penetrating applications are long lasting, able to seal brick for a decade or longer.