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This slave cabin from Helvetia Plantation in The Cabin's Courtyard has some old whitewash on the side

This slave cabin from Helvetia Plantation in The Cabin’s Courtyard has some old whitewash on the side

It wasn’t so long ago that whitewash was the most common, and really only way, to treat the exterior of a building. It was a cheap and simple way to effectively coat a building or fence (cue images of Tom Sawyer tricking all the boys in the neighborhood to whitewash a fence for him). Even though whitewash had to be applied every 3-5 years, it was still quite cost efficient. Many of the buildings at The Cabin Restaurant and in The Cajun Village still have some of their original whitewash on them. Below is a little information on whitewash and a recipe for how to apply it to wood.

This standard includes guidance on the preparation of whitewash paint.  It also includes general information on its composition, characteristics, advantages and uses.

COMPOSITION:  A water-based paint. Composed primarily of water and lime mixed to form a thin paste. Binders are often added to improve the durability and chalking resistance of the lime-water mixture.  Some of these binders include salt, sugar, flour (rice, wheat, rye or buckwheat), starch varnish, glue, skim milk, whiting, brown sugar, vegetable oil plasticizer, casein, formaldehyde, borax or sulphate of zinc.

Indigo and bluing were popular additives in counteracting the tendency of some binders to yellow (this is how Southerners were able to paint their ceilings light blue).

Whitewash can be tinted; historically, they were tinted with earth pigments, brick or stone dust; currently, lime-fast pigments are recommended.


–    Adheres best to rough porous surfaces.  It does not adhere
well to smooth porous surfaces.

–    When applied to a surface, the mixture forms a thin opaque
film of calcium carbonate (plaster).


–    Fairly easy to make.

–    Non-yellowing (because there is no oil binder).

–    Less expensive than other finishes.

USES: Historically used on the exterior to reflect heat. Also historically used to protect fruit tree trunks from frost and insects.


–    Make the lime paste by soaking 50 lbs. of hydrated lime in 6 gallons clean water – OR – slaking 25 lbs. of quicklime in 10 gallons of boiling water.  Either combination will make about 8 gallons of paste.

–    Dissolve 15 lbs. of salt or 5 lbs. dry calcium chloride in 5
gallons of water.

–    Combine with lime paste and mix thoroughly.  Thin with fresh
water as necessary.


– Before whitewashing any surface, gently wash the surface with

– Be sure that brushes and pails are clean; be sure to strain
the wash.

– Always slake the lime with boiling water and cover container
with sackcloth or burlap to keep in the steam.

– Never let the lime dry up – when the lime has broken up, keep

– When the lime has thinned to the right consistency, add 2
tablespoons of salt to each pail of wash.

– Add pigments to achieve desired color.