Bricks are made from clay and other materials formed into shapes and fired in a kiln to make them strong and durable. Red bricks contain large amounts of iron, while yellow bricks contain little iron. Depending on the type of brick and what purpose it serves, there are different methods for maintaining and caring for them.
Cleaning Interior Bricks
Interior bricks may be dusted with a vacuum cleaner dusting attachment. You can freshen them periodically with a store-bought, commercial brick cleaner.
Cleaning a Brick Floor
Brick floors are less common indoors, though they can be found in some structures. More often than not, you will find brick floors outside or in enclosed patios. Because outdoor brick floors are subject to the elements, it is important to clean them regularly.
Disclaimer: Some brick cleaning solutions can damage certain types of brick. You should first spot-test your cleaner in a small brick area before you clean a larger area. If the cleaner damages the brick, stick to only dusting or sweeping it.
Bricks may be purchased unsealed or sealed. If they have not been sealed, vacuum them regularly and occasionally damp mop them with water to remove soil. For heavier soil, you can occasionally use a mild detergent solution, rinse well, and then wipe dry to maintain shine.
If the brick has been recently installed and has been sealed, there may still be a white or gray dust tracked over its surface. This dust is from the grout used in installing the bricks. A bricklayer may use muriatic acid to clean up floor surfaces when he completes the floor, although permission to use this type of cleaner on brick should first be obtained by the brick’s manufacturer to ensure it will not damage the surface. If a bricklayer cleans with muriatic acid, make sure they flush the area thoroughly with water when they are done. If they do not, the muriatic acid will continue to leach lime from the grout, causing more white dust. Today, most bricklayers use commercial products that are easier to wash off; however, they are also more expensive.
Warning: Wear protective clothing (gloves and ventilator mask) and dilute the muriatic acid in water before using it. To dilute the muriatic acid, add ten times as much water as acid.
Sealing a Brick Floor
Step 1 — Scrub the Floor
To seal a brick floor, first place folded towels next to carpet areas adjoining tiled areas to absorb water. Then, using a scrub brush or a large sponge and detergent, scrub the brick-floor surface and rinse with clear water. Be sure to remove any dirty wash water from crevices. Allow the floor to dry thoroughly.
Step 2 — Apply Brick Seal
You can purchase a brick sealer from a reliable hardware or paint store. It is usually sold in gallons, and it is a clear solution that does not change the color of the bricks and grout; it will simply add a gloss to the surface.
Paint the sealer on the dry brick, being sure to cover all crevices and cracks in the grout. Let it dry and apply a second coat.
To maintain the seal, you can apply one coat yearly. The sealer prevents dust from collecting on the bricks and grout, and it makes cleaning easy with a damp mop. Some people prefer to use a wax over the sealer. Experiment with a sample tile or an inconspicuous corner, as some waxes leave a streaky, undesirable finish.
Cleaning Brick Fireplaces
Brick fireplaces can be easier to clean if you apply a finish of penetrating sealer that contains tung oil. This oil is moisture-resistant and forms a tough coating that can be washed with soap and water.
Here are a few other easy methods for keeping a brick fireplace clean.
Warning: Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from any abrasives when cleaning brick and make sure to not get any of the solutions onto any other surfaces, as they can cause discoloring or damage. Also, keep these cleaners away from children and pets, and use in a well-ventilated area.
Soap, Table Salt, and Water
To clean a brick fireplace, mix one ounce of dish soap and one ounce of table salt with enough warm water to make a cream. Then, rub the mixture into the brick surface with a cloth. Allow it to dry for at least 10 minutes and then remove it with a stiff brush.
Naphtha Soap, Water, Ammonia, and Pumice
Naptha can be hard to find in stores, but it is easy to find online. Shave a bar of naphtha soap into a container and add 3 quarts of water. Bring the mixture to a full boil until the soap melts. Let cool.
Then, add 1 cup of ammonia and 1 pound of pumice. Mix thoroughly.
Brush the mixture into all sooty surfaces and let stand for one hour or more. Then, rub it off with a stiff-bristle brush. Rinse the grime away with warm water and then finish off with a medium-to-strong detergent. Rinse again with warm water.
Trisodium Phosphate and Water
This method should only be used if other methods aren’t working, as trisodium phosphate is a harsh and possibly hazardous chemical to work with. Wear heavy-duty rubber gloves and goggles when working with this product.
Dissolve 1/2 cup of trisodium phosphate in 1 gallon of hot water. With a stiff scrub brush, scrub the brick surface. Rinse with plenty of warm water. Repeat this process if the soot is not removed. More trisodium phiosphate may be added if necessary, up to 1 cup per gallon.
This article has been contributed in part by Michigan State University Extension