No, we’re not making margaritas (although that might be interesting)…We’re going to Whitewash the coop! When someone mentions whitewashing, a long wooden fence and kids toiling away at painting under the direction of the infamous Tom Sawyer is what usually comes to mind. However, traditional whitewashing has long been a standard for maintaining wooden structures…and fencing. Now, you may be asking, “What exactly is traditional whitewashing?” Unlike the modern trends of diluting white latex paint with water to get that “whitewash look” for furniture or interior surfaces, traditionally, whitewashing is done with a mixture of lime, salt, and water – specifically a combination of hydrated lime, a powder derived from limestone, and salt to improve adhesion mixed into water for application.
Lime is used in many applications from kitchen uses like pickling and preserving eggs to industrial & agricultural uses like mortar additive and soil amendment. For 100’s, if not 1,000’s of years, people have used a whitewash mixture to preserve, sanitize, and brighten up wood structures – especially on the farm. We have whitewashed several of our smaller chicken coop/hutches for a few years now, and we have been pleased with the results. Whitewashing provides antibacterial properties along with repellent properties.
The best part? Whitewash is completely non-toxic for your animals – they can even lick it off the wall with no harm…Of course, there may be reason for concern with a chicken licking the wall, but that’s another issue…Plus, no heavy, fumes or off-gases to worry about – the chickens can come right back in the coop. Or, if they’re like ours, get right in the middle of it while you’re trying to paint.
There are a few downsides to using whitewash. The biggest problem is that it is water-soluble, so it will not work well for outside or an area that may get wet frequently. Another small problem is that it does rub or flake off over time. If you rub against a whitewashed wall, you’re likely to have white on your clothes or skin, but it does not stain and washes out easily. Unfortunately, this means that it has to be redone every year or so. However, it doesn’t take long to do during an annual “spring cleaning” of the coops and is really worth the little bit of extra work.
There are lots of “recipes” online, and most call for 3:1 or 4:1 lime salt ratio mixed with approximately 1 gallon of water. You can review several links below for additional information about whitewashing, as well as the recipes used. Mama Mo frequently wings it on many things with “according to preference” directions; so for our first small projects of the spring (the small extra rooster hutches) we just dumped a cup or two of old pickling lime in a bucket, added water until it was a good consistency, and got to work. When we whitewash the large coops, we will add the salt and be a little more conscientious with amounts used.
We have ordered a large bag of hydrated lime in preparation for more spring cleaning as soon as the weather gets nice again…crazy Alabama weather.
Below is a photo of the dried whitewash interior of the Rooster Hutch. It dries much darker than it looks when it is being applied, so don’t let that discourage you from painting the whole thing!
Here are several links to great resources regarding whitewashing:
- Use Whitewash instead of Paint for Traditional Look and No Toxins: Grit article by Blogger Brian Kaller (original article posted here).
- Amish Whitewash: 5 Acres & a Dream blog post by with lots of great details
- Whitewash: by Fias Co Farm
- How to Whitewash Your Barn or Chicken Coop: The Prairie Homestead blog post
- Whitewashing: The Benefits, Recipes, How to Pain, and Everything Else You Need to Know – Morning Chores blog post
We recommend a quality hydrated lime like First Saturday Lime: A Monthly Organic Pest Barrier – safe for kids, pets, and organic farming.
Wishing you all great spring cleaning success!
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