Maintenance Masonry and Stone

Bungalowners, please put down the paintbrush and step away from your limestone.

Spring cleaning has been on my mind lately, perhaps because it’s finally, almost, maybe, possibly about to be spring here in Chicago.

I mean… if I didn’t just jinx us all by typing that aloud. (Sorry in advance).

Today, we uninstalled the handrails on our front stoop and… wow! The front steps feel so much bigger! I’ve been wanting to remove the rails since we bought the place… and now they’re gone!

Aside from the usual spring stuff that I have neglected to do for the last two springs (gardening, lawn care, etc.) something else usually happens in my neighborhood around springtime…


*wait for it*



A bungalow with painted limestone accents.

I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not I should address this trend. But it seems to be slowly growing in popularity, and while it may seem like a matter of opinion and taste, it’s actually a destructive practice… to the original aesthetic of the bungalow AND the actual limestone.

Full disclosure, I am a preservationist and purist and I believe in stewardship over ownership. So to say that I have very strong opinions about this trend is an understatement. If I could start one campaign in Chicago it would be the “Please don’t paint your limestone!” campaign.

I understand why people think they should… I liken it to the trend of painting your woodwork white (shocker, I’m not a fan of that trend either).

It looks clean, it provides contrast to the brick, and it makes the accents stand out.

But it’s also wrong. The limestone accents on your Chicago bungalow were never meant to be painted.

Consider this: limestone is a soft and porous stone. While painting may seem like a good idea to protect it from the elements, you may actually be causing more damage by sealing moisture in. By leaving it unpainted, you’re allowing any moisture the stone absorbs to naturally evaporate. (Keenan & Sanders, 2005).

Not only is painting harmful to the stone, it takes time and energy to touch up year after year as it peels, and it unnecessarily increases your homes yearly maintenance costs.

Yes, painting equals more money out-of-pocket for an aesthetic choice that gives you literally zero return on investment… and could potentially damage your bungalow.

I realize that some bungalow owners can’t avoid it. Maybe you bought a bungalow with painted limestone and you like it that way. Or maybe you don’t but you’re not quite sure how to remove it.

I know how you feel. The limestone caps on my stoop were painted by a previous owner and I’ve spent the better part of two years or so seriously researching how to remove the paint without damaging the stone. Unfortunately, I haven’t found much in the way of a straightforward method for removal.

My stoop sans handrails now, which highlights the peeling paint on my limestone caps. Thankfully, the other limestone details on the front were left untouched.

But I have found a lot of bad advice in general.

(I’ll share that bad advice here to spare anyone else the confusion.)

Limestone is a soft and porous stone (yes, I did just repeat myself). Soft as in, if you use any strong chemicals or acidic cleaners on it you risk etching or severely and permanently damaging the stone. Which means:

DO NOT USE bleach, citrus paint strippers, vinegar, sandblasting, wire brushes, metal scrapers… hopefully you get the idea.

Cleaning limestone, however, is pretty straightforward and inexpensive: start with a mild soap (make sure it doesn’t have bleach in it) diluted in water and a soft bristle brush. For really grimy and neglected stone you can try pressure washing, but be careful not to go above a certain PSI. I’ve also read that alkaline cleaners work well, but in order to make sure you’re using the right product always consult a professional. I won’t endorse anyone here because I have yet to go that route, but the CBA provides a list of referrals on their website if you need a place to start.

And if you would like the CBA’s official word on masonry and limestone troubleshooting and maintenance, here it is. They’ve also provided resources from one of the their masonry repair seminars with Chicago’s Henry Frerk Sons.

If you’re desperate to get your limestone details back to their original state, I’d again recommend consulting a professional and also asking about resurfacing or less invasive methods of paint removal.

I’m going to start with the soap and water method and see where that gets me. I’ll provide updates on my paint removal journey as it progresses… slowly… just like all of my other projects.


Keenan, Lawrence E. AIA, PE and Sanders, Arthur L. AIA. “Repair and Maintenance of Historic Marble and Limestone Structures.” Hoffman Architects Journal, Issue 1/2005, Volume 22, Number 1. 2005. Web.

2 replies on “Bungalowners, please put down the paintbrush and step away from your limestone.”

I have considered painting the caps as well as the steps because some nut thought it would be a good idea to add astro turf to the caps and steps instead of fixing the cracks that are appearing. I have a hard time pulling the aging astroturf off but am hesitant because it is full of some sort of black adhesive. I doubt it can be removed without damage to the limestone. I fear my only recourse may be to cover it up with new astroturf and more black gunk. :0(


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