What Happens if You Use Normal Modern Paint on Lime Plaster?


Lime plaster has been used for centuries to construct and repair traditional buildings. This is due to its breathable and flexible properties. When it comes to painting over lime plaster, choosing the right paint that complements and preserves these unique characteristics is crucial. Using normal modern paints on lime plaster can cause problems that may affect the look and finish of your walls and the health of your home.

Breathability is one of the key features of lime plaster. It allows moisture to be absorbed and released from the wall surfaces, helping to avoid issues associated with trapped water and mould growth. Modern paint types, such as standard emulsions, can inhibit this breathability. This can trap moisture within the wall and potentially cause damage over time. Therefore, selecting a suitable paint specifically designed for lime plaster is very important.

There are several options for breathable paints that can be used on lime plaster. These include natural mineral-based paints, clay paints and true lime paints like limewash. When used correctly, these paints can enhance the appearance and longevity of your lime-plastered walls while allowing them to breathe and function as intended. Making an informed choice about the type of paint to use can help you preserve the unique qualities of your lime plaster. This ensures the proper function and aesthetic appeal of your walls in the long run.

The Properties of Lime Plaster

Moisture Management

Lime plaster is a breathable material with excellent moisture management properties. Its ability to absorb and release water vapour helps regulate the moisture levels within your space and prevents excess moisture buildup. This natural moisture absorption and release prevents mould growth and ensures the durability and longevity of the plaster, requiring less maintenance in the long run.

Eco-Friendly Attributes

Lime plaster is an eco-friendly option for your walls because it is made from natural materials with a lower carbon footprint. Lime plaster production emits less CO2 than cement and gypsum-based plasters, making it a sustainable choice for those concerned about the environment. Additionally, lime plaster is flexible and can accommodate minor building movements, reducing the chances of cracking and the need for frequent repairs.

To maintain your lime plaster’s breathable and eco-friendly qualities, it is important to use paint that complements it. Modern paints can seal the lime plaster, making it waterproof, which hinders its ability to manage moisture and decreases its durability. Breathable paints are a must for lime plaster, as they allow moisture to pass through and help maintain the plaster’s benefits.

In conclusion, using normal paint on lime plaster can negatively affect the plaster’s moisture management and eco-friendly attributes. To preserve lime plaster’s benefits, choosing breathable paint alternatives compatible with its unique properties is crucial.

Stunning room finished with lime plaster.

Related article: Lime Vs Cement Plaster: The Differences Explained

Problems with Using Regular Paint on Lime Plaster

Non-Breathable Paint

Using modern paint, such as latex or acrylic, on lime plaster walls can cause some issues. One significant problem is that these paints are mostly non-breathable. Lime plaster is a porous material that allows moisture to evaporate from the surface. This helps to regulate humidity in your home and prevents damp, mould, and condensation. However, when regular paint is applied to lime plaster, it can act as a barrier, trapping moisture within the wall.

As a result, the trapped moisture can cause the paint to peel and blister. It can even lead to more severe issues like structural damage or health problems from mould and mildew growth. To maintain the breathability of lime plaster walls, it is essential to use moisture-permeable paint. The best option is traditional limewash paint.

Related article: What is Limewash? An Overview of This Traditional Paint

Altering the Texture

Another issue with using modern paint on lime plaster is that it can alter the texture and appearance of the wall. Lime plaster has a unique finish that can be smooth or slightly textured. It is often valued for its aesthetic qualities. When regular paint, like latex or acrylic, is applied to lime plaster, it can create an uneven and inconsistent surface.

This alteration in texture can detract from the character and visual appeal of lime plaster walls. Moreover, once the paint is applied, it can be challenging to restore the original appearance of the wall without the need to reskim or replace the plaster entirely. On the other hand, if you use a specialist paint or treatment specifically designed for lime plaster, you can preserve its natural beauty and avoid altering the texture.

To maintain your lime plaster walls’ breathability, appearance, and texture, use a specialist paint or, even better, a traditional limewash instead of regular paint. This will ensure the longevity and performance of your walls while preserving their aesthetic qualities.

The Advantages of Limewash

A beautiful white limewashed cottage.

As you venture into the world of lime plaster, you’ll quickly realise that it needs a special type of paint. Normal modern paints might not adhere properly or could even cause damage to the lime plaster. This is where limewash comes into play. Due to its unique characteristics and advantages, Limewash is a highly suitable option for lime plaster.

Firstly, limewash is a natural, eco-friendly option. It’s made from mature lime putty mixed with water and natural pigments. This environmental advantage sets limewash apart from many conventional paints, which often contain harmful chemicals and release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air.

The texture of limewash is another notable feature. It has a chalky, nuanced finish that beautifully complements lime plaster surfaces. As limewash cures, it maintains its porous nature, allowing your walls to breathe and helping to regulate humidity levels in your space. This can contribute to a healthier living environment, reducing the risk of mould and mildew growth.

Limewash is highly versatile, as it can be tinted with various pigments to achieve desired colours and shades. These pigments are often natural, derived from mineral sources, further contributing to their eco-friendly appeal. Additionally, limewash can be applied with different techniques to achieve various effects, from a uniform appearance to a more distressed, aged look.

Lastly, limewash paint is extremely durable. Withstanding the test of time, it has been used for thousands of years on various surfaces, from historic buildings to modern structures. Its longevity is due, in part, to the fact that it chemically bonds to the lime plaster. This makes it resistant to chipping, peeling, and fading, unlike modern paints that sit on the surface.

To summarise, opting for limewash when painting lime plaster surfaces offers numerous advantages. You’ll benefit from its eco-friendliness, unique texture, versatility, and impressive durability. In combination with lime plaster, limewash provides the best option for those looking to create a healthy, beautiful, and long-lasting finish in their home or workspace.

Related article: 6 Reasons to Choose Limewash Over Modern Paint

Other Breathable Paint Options

Several breathable paint options are available if you’re considering alternatives to limewash paint for lime plaster. They allow lime plaster to retain its beneficial properties. By choosing eco-friendly, natural paint, you can preserve the breathability of lime plaster and reduce the risk of moisture and dampness issues in your home.

Clay Paint

One option is clay paint, made from natural clay and aggregates. This type of paint is highly breathable, allowing moisture to pass through while still providing an attractive finish. Clay paint is ideal for use with lime plaster, as it enhances the plaster’s ability to absorb and release water vapour, ultimately improving its durability. It should be noted clay paint isn’t usually suitable for exterior use; limewash or breathable mineral paints would be best for this purpose.


Another suitable paint for lime plaster is distemper, an ancient paint made from natural ingredients such as chalk, powdered pigment, and glue or binder (these can be natural or artificial). Distemper is known for its soft, matte finish and excellent breathability, making it compatible with lime plaster. Moreover, it is generally eco-friendly, containing fewer harmful compounds than modern synthetic paints. Fun fact; distemper is an early form of limewash!

Mineral Paints

Mineral-based paints are also recommended for lime plaster surfaces. These paints are made from natural, inorganic minerals and typically offer high breathability. Mineral-based paints can be applied directly to lime plaster, providing a durable, breathable finish. This allows the plaster to maintain its moisture-regulating properties.

The breathable paint options suitable for lime plaster include limewash & most other lime-based paints, clay paint, distemper, and mineral-based paints. When choosing your paint, consider the eco-friendly and natural nature of the product. This will ensure it aligns with your project’s goals and the specific benefits you aim to receive from using lime plaster. By selecting a breathable paint option, you’ll enable your lime plaster to perform at its best while also creating a healthy and comfortable living environment.

Cost Considerations

When considering using normal modern paints on lime plaster, it’s important to know the potential costs and compatibility issues. Lime plasters require breathable paints that allow moisture to pass through without becoming trapped behind the surface easily. Using a non-breathable paint can lead to moisture retention and damage to the lime plaster.

Limewash is generally far cheaper than most modern alternatives. In addition, limewash must be painted very thinly, although many more coats are usually required. This means the main cost of limewashing is generally in the labour time. This, of course, can be saved if you decide to give limewashing a go yourself. DIY limewashing is one of the cheapest ways of painting!

Related article: Is Limewash Paint Expensive? Cost Breakdown and Comparison

Breathable paints, such as clay paints or other eco-friendly options, may be more expensive than conventional modern paints. While the initial investment might appear higher, it is essential to consider the long-term benefits of using a compatible paint for your lime plaster. These paints will help maintain the integrity of the lime plaster, preventing potential damage and costly repairs in the future.

It is also worth noting that some paint brands claim to be environmentally friendly or “greenwashed”. They might not actually be suitable for lime plasters. When selecting a paint for your lime plaster, verifying that it is vapour permeable and specifically compatible with lime-based materials is crucial.

Although the cost of suitable breathable paints may be higher than conventional paints, using the proper paint for your lime plaster is a worthwhile investment. Remember to consider the compatibility and characteristics of the paint carefully. This will ensure a harmonious and long-lasting finish for your lime-plastered walls.


In conclusion, lime plaster is a breathable and flexible material used for centuries in traditional buildings. When it comes to painting over lime plaster, choosing the right paint that complements and preserves its unique characteristics is crucial.

Using normal modern paints on lime plaster can cause problems that may affect the look and finish of your walls and the health of your home.

Breathability is one of the key features of lime plaster, and using a suitable paint specifically designed for lime plaster is essential.

There are several options for breathable paints that can be used on lime plaster, including natural mineral-based paints, clay paints, and true lime paints like limewash.

Making an informed choice about the type of paint to use can help you preserve the unique qualities of your lime plaster and ensure the proper function and aesthetic appeal of your walls in the long run.