Traditional Paints – Limewash and Distemper
Posted 5th March 2020
Limewash and Distemper have a beauty hard to match with modern paints. They possess softness of texture and purity of colour lacking from their modern equivalents. They are based on natural binders, fillers, and earth and mineral powder pigments and are characterised by a lack of uniformity with subtle variations of colour and tone.
Limewash and Distemper are vapour permeable and allow the building to ‘breathe’ and are therefore suitable for use in traditional buildings, and particularly appropriate for the decoration of porous building materials – lime plasters and renders, limestone, soft brick, cobs and daubs.
When properly applied to appropriate surfaces, they do not dry with a powdery finish and do not readily brush off on clothes.
Traditional paints are made with natural sustainable ingredients and are environmentally friendly products containing no VOCs, lead, or petrochemical based ingredients.
Limewashes are used both internally and externally. When used externally, casein or tallow is added to improve the ‘water-shedding’ properties. Casein, a natural glue derived from milk, improves adhesion and Casein Limewash is also used internally on less porous hydraulic lime plasters and masonry. It is also less likely to rub off than Pure Limewash. Limewashes can only be applied to previously painted surfaces if the existing paint is limewash. They should not be applied to previously distemper or emulsion painted surfaces.
Distempers are matt finish water-based paints for internal use only. Three types are available – Soft Distemper, Casein Distemper, and Oil-bound Distemper. Soft Distemper is the most permeable of the three and normally used on ceilings and moulded plasterwork. It is used on walls, but generally in ‘low-usage’ areas, as it can be washed off with a wet sponge. Casein Distemper and Oil-bound Distemper are normally used on walls as they are more hard-wearing and more difficult to wash off. Oil-bound Distemper, the least permeable of the three, should not be applied to new lime plaster as there is a potential reaction between the linseed oil and uncarbonated alkali lime. Oil-bound Distemper is the least uniform with the most tonal variation.
Distempers are normally applied to porous building surfaces but will also adhere to modern gypsum plaster and previously emulsion painted surfaces.
Limewash, due to the thin consistency, can be ‘messy’ to apply and protections must be provided. Face and eye protection and overalls must be worn and applying limewash to ceilings is particularly hazardous and for this reason a distemper is often chosen for the decoration of ceilings. Indeed, many choose to use distemper in preference to limewash for the internal decoration of walls and ceilings.
Distempers are available in all our colours, and most colours are available in limewash. Pigments can be supplied separately for those wishing to mix their own colours.
We produce modern paint types for situations where limewash and distemper are not suitable. These include permeable emulsion paint, oil paints and non-permeable vinyl and exterior grade emulsions.
These modern paints retain much of the variety of colour and tone of the traditional as the same powder pigments are used in all paints.