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Lime wash and artex are dead, long live Artex

Listed under Blog, Matthew Evans, Painting, preparation Posted Oct 01 2008

Lime wash and artex are similar in that they are both water-based, and both were extremely popular back in their day. One was a paint coating, and the other was a texturing product, both applied in hundreds of thousands, if not millions of homes. They may have both fallen out of favour in the mainstream decorating industry, but the two products are still around. Unfortunately they can cause major issues for painters and decorators with a modern take on things.

Lime wash and artex are different but symbiotic

Artex has scarred millions of square feet of ceilings and walls with stippled, swirled “cake icing”. Lime wash, the wall finish of choice decades before artex was ever invented, has long since turned chalky and rubs off on anything or anyone who touches it.

Fortunately, Artex is a decorator’s friend, ideal for stripping lime wash and the answer to ugly textured ceilings and walls!

Lime wash

Lime wash is the olde worlde version of modern latex emulsion, long considered an ideal coating for lime-based plaster surfaces. Modern painters will likely focus on the negatives: chalky finish and limited colour range, horrible to apply. But looking deeper, lime wash is breathable, copes well with damp and has an interesting non-uniform appearance.

lime wash is specified for internal and external surfaces
Video of Matthew Evans lime wash on the exterior of this property in Camarthenshire.

When lime wash is removed, the fabric of the house loses a friend and we have to adopt altogether different methods and products to absorb moisture and allow plaster to breathe.

Regardless of the advantages, marketing forces have banished lime wash to a product for the specialists. It has made way for emulsion paint, the primary coating of choice on plaster, specified willy nilly by architects, decorators and homeowners. That shift in trend has caused major headaches for painters working in older properties. How many have discovered lime wash or assorted distempers when their wall paint peels on contact.


Artex is an 80’s texturing product that came along with the dry-lining trend. It is a slow-drying version of plaster that can be applied by brush or roller to primed plasterboard or old plaster surfaces. Whilst wet, it is textured with combs and rubber brushes / stipplers. It used to contain asbestos, which explains a lot about the health of old painters. Luckily asbestos-free AX came out just as I started using it in the early 80’s, so my lungs are probably safe!

Just like lime wash, Artex has become a victim of fashion. I was surprised to learn of the speed of its downfall. A supplier who used to sell 4 pallets a month, saw sales drop to less than one pallet a year – and that collapse occurred within a year. Such is the power of TV interior designer Laurence Llewelyn Bowen’s opinions?!

Update 2019 He is still going strong. Seen here with Traditional Painter for Norfolk and Suffolk, Richard Willott.

the artex killer, Laurence LLewelyn-Bowen?

So, with everyone turned off of Artex by the interior design police, those swirl, comb and stipple patterns had to go. Enter another headache for painters. Any risk of asbestos meant that the best option was over-caulking, re-plastering or re-boarding and skimming. More new skills to learn, or dormant ones to polish up.

Artex to remove lime wash

Ordinarily, you wouldn’t want Artex anywhere near a lime-washed surface. One does not adhere to the other. However, on the plus side, you can use the bad adhesion to your advantage by using Artex to strip lime wash / distemper off of plaster surfaces.

You apply a stiff mix of artex by brush over lime wash and leave it to soak. As it soaks, the artex softens the old lime-based paint. Before the artex dries hard, you can take a scraper and remove both the artex and limewash together in one coat. You then scrub the residue off with a sponge, and leave it to dry thoroughly, ready for re-decorating.

That removal technique certainly beats struggling with wallpaper steam strippers. If you have never experienced the joy of scalding painty slime running down your arms and dripping in your eyes, you haven’t lived the decorating dream.

Specifiers say you could leave lime wash in situ and cover it over with stabilising solution or oil-based primer sealer. You can, but in my experience you have to be careful with these standard products as they only seem to work reliably if the underlying problem coating is thin. And sealing is only safe if you are aiming to paint only.

The best sealer is Classidur, which is an inert coating specified in churches and the like. Best sprayed, it will seal and act as a finish.

If you want to hang wallpaper on lime-washed walls, forget sealers. Removal is the only safe bet to avoid a delaminating nightmare in the future!

Artex to remove artex

The easiest way to get rid of a textured ceiling is to rip the ceiling down. Unfortunately, that leaves you with a mighty big job, re-boarding and plastering. And any risk of asbestos makes this a hazardous, therefore expensive operation.

The hardest option is to remove it with a steam powered wallpaper stripper, or god forbid, sand it smooth.

The only professional options I would consider are caulking out ie over-skimming artex with more artex. A more vigorous option is over-boarding and skimming with thistle type plaster.

Skimming an artexed ceiling with Artex is a pretty clever move compared to gypsum plasters. Wet Artex softens up the dry artex beneath, making it easier to work to a smooth finish. And when the skimming is finished, you can polish it up with a sponge and get a pretty good finish. Not as fast as a master plasterer but effective.


Prior to decorating, always check every surface in older buildings for lime wash or distempers. Either a wet finger or a strip of scotch/sellotape will reveal the tell-tale powder.

Lime wash, distemper? There is a difference between the traditional paints, and many times, myself included, lime wash is confused with soft distemper. Lime wash is lime based, soft distemper is chalk based. These two behave similarly. The real danger one is casein or oil-bound distemper. This could be breathable and will play fair with modern emulsions, or it could be a hybrid mix that is wipeable, but often fails if you apply any water based coating over the top of it.

Traditional paints can cause untold grief unless stripped off. If you get caught out, it could cost you a fortune, or a very red face. I worked for a top decorator on a royal household, and he forgot to check, and it cost him a lot of sleepless nights and extra wages. He didn’t make that mistake again!

Artex may be out of fashion for decorative purposes, and unavailable, but don’t let its spirit perish. We need the world’s textured ceilings to be skimmed over.

Update 2020

The modern version of lime wash is available from Keim paints.

Keim was founded in 1878 by Adolf Wilhelm Keim who was looking to replicate lime fresco finishes in a harder wearing material. Using Potassium silicate as a binder and natural mineral pigments, Adolf Keim created the first silicate paint.

rest of article on Traditional Painter

The ultra modern version of Keim paints is from Graphenstone.

After generating new ecological, natural and sustainable coatings with a lime base, Antonio León took the process a step further by using the innovative measure of adding graphene to the formula. The objective behind the utilisation of graphene was to enhance the products properties by improving resistance, flexibility and conductivity while maintaining its natural qualities.


Alternatives to Artex as a skim coat over older textured ceilings include Gyproc Easifix coincidentally from Artex Ltd reimagined. Here’s how it all works.

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6 comments to “Lime wash and artex are dead, long live Artex”

  1. Alan Hirsh

    If traditional Lime wash is dead, how should I treat an exterior clunch wall (200 yrs old approx) that is crumbling ? If it isn’t dead how do I find a local supplier ?

  2. acmasterpainter

    [watch out!] Lime wash and artex are dead, long live Artex – via #twitoaster https://traditionalpainter.com/lime-wash-

  3. Tom Osborne

    Hi, I am a painter and decorator making my first foray into ‘traditional’ paint coatings. I have just been asked to try and fix a problem in an old property in Lydeard St. Lawrence, Somerset. The room in question has been plastered with both gypsum and lime. My customer would like the whole room to be limewashed but the previous attempt to coat the gypsum has not gone well. The limewash hasn’t covered at all on the gypsum. What would you recommend as a solution?! Can I use stabilising solution to provide a sound base for the limewash? I’m all ears! Many thanks, Tom.

  4. Matthew Evans

    Hi Tom, limewash isn’t particularly recommended on gypsum I would have used a casein paint to get an even finish over the two substrates and maintain a high degree of breathability for the lime plaster. Is the problem purely the opacity of of the limewash (how many coats are on there) or is the adhesion failing?

  5. Tim

    Modern paint does not hold a candle to limewash in terms of appearance. If you’re painting a plaster (lime) wall, there is nothing more suitable or beautiful. I would not even think of covering up my plasterer’s work with crap house paint! The lime wash dyes the plaster and can be finished to a glass like smoothness. Try that with paint.

  6. ray colgan

    Does skimmed artex on walls breath like lime plaster ? .
    Thank You.
    Ray colgan.

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