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Lime wash and artex are dead, long live Artex

Listed under Blog, 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. Despite their demise in the decorating market mix, the two products still “pervade” hundreds of thousands of homes, and cause major issues for painters and decorators.

Artex has scarred millions of square feet of ceilings and walls with stipply swirly “cake icing” stalactites, and limewash, the choice of decorators as a wall finish, before artex was invented, has turned chalky and rubs off on anything or anyone who touches it.

Fortunately, artex is a decorator’s friend, ideal for getting rid of limewash and ugly textured ceilings and walls!

Lime wash is the olde worlde version of modern latex emulsion, ideal coating for lime-based plaster surfaces. It is easy to focus on the negatives, like, chalky finish, and poor colour range, but lime wash is breathable, and it has an interesting non-uniform appearance. And when lime wash is removed, the fabric of the house loses a friend and we have to adopt different methods to absorb moisture and allow plaster to breathe.

Regardless of the advantages, marketing forces have banished lime wash to a product for the specialists, and made latex emulsion the primary coating of choice on plaster. That shift has caused major headaches for painters working in older properties, where they discover that latex peels when in contact with even small traces of lime.

Artex is a modern texturing product that came along with the dry-lining craze. It is a slow-drying version of plaster that can be applied by brush or roller to 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 limewash, artex has become a victim of fashion, and 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 Llewelyn Bowen’s opinions?! So, with everyone turned off of artex by the interior design police, those swirl, comb and stipple patterns had to go, causing another headache for painters – over-caulking, replastering or re-boarding and skimming….

Artex on lime wash

Ordinarily, you don’t want Artex anywhere near a lime-washed surface, because one does not adhere to the other. However, on the plus side, you can use the bad adhesion to lime to your advantage and use 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, where you inevitably get scalding paint running down your arms and dripping in your eyes.

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

The best sealer is Classidur, which is an inert coating. Spray it on, it will sealed and forgotten.

If anyone wants to hang wallpaper in the future on limewashed walls, forget sealers, removal is the only safe bet to avoid a real nightmare in the future!

Artex on 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.

The hardest option is to steam stripper the artex off, or god forbid, sand it smooth.

The only professional options I would consider are caulking out (skimming smooth with artex), or over-boarding and skimming with thistle type plaster (a favourite.)

Skimming an artexed ceiling with artex is pretty clever in that if you lay wet artex on dry, it softens up the dry artex and in a manner of speaking, the new combines more easily with the old, making it easy 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 without being a master plasterer.

Compare that to skimming new plaster over old plaster. Gypsum plaster isn’t reversible and is a lot more unforgiving and does require a skilled work person.


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

There is a difference between the traditional paints, and many times, myself included, limewash is confused with soft distemper. Lime wash is lime based, soft distemper is chalk based. These two behave similarly, but the real danger one is casein or oil-bound distemper. This could be breathable and play fair with modern emulsions, or it could be a hybrid mix that is wipeable, but fails with any coating applied 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 a lot of extra wages. He didn’t make that mistake again!

Artex may be out of fashion for decorative purposes, but don’t let it disappear off the shelves, at least not until the world’s textured ceilings are all skimmed over.

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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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