There are 2 common reasons why people choose to do a labour intensive task like cleaning reclaimed bricks.
Firstly, they want to build an extension for their house and, at the same time, they want continuity in the design of the extension. Secondly, they may also be constructing a new property and the neighbourhood council demanded that the new house should follow the style and look of other houses in the area.
In both cases, people source reclaimed bricks to achieve the look they want. Specialty companies supply reclaimed brick and they can be bought cleaned or uncleaned.
Cleaned bricks, although more expensive, have had their mortar and unsightly stains removed. Their uncleaned brothers and sisters are more affordable, but you’d have to dispense some elbow grease to make them reusable again.
Here’s a pro tip! If you’re going to buy uncleaned bricks, try to look for bricks with lime based mortar, since they are easier to clean compared to sand and cement based mortars.
The first method of cleaning reclaimed bricks is through using a hammer, a bolster, and a wire brush.
Find a stable base to do your task. This could be an ordinary work table or a specialised craft tool like Black and Decker’s Workmate.
Before you can start with your DIY project, put an old carpet or a similar material at the base of your surface and look for a solid item which can steady your brick. These items will help prevent the brick from falling apart, while you are scraping and striking the mortar off it.
After preparing your workplace you can now clamp your bricks using a G-clamp or ratchet clamp. Make sure that you position the brick in a way that the mortar will be facing up towards you.
The next step is to take your bolster and position it at the base of the mortar on top of the brick and hold it at around a 25 – 30° angle. Continuously strike the bolster with a hammer until the mortar comes loose. It’s important to always strike at the bolster at a 25 – 30° angle so you won’t split the brick.
After removing a considerable portion of the mortar with a bolster, you can now scrub the surface of the brick with a wire brush to remove any stubborn mortar.
The other method of cleaning reclaimed bricks is through a muriatic acid solution.
I don’t recommend this method for a number of reasons. You’ll need a ton of this solution to remove mortar if you didn’t follow the first method I explained. Moreover, muriatic acid is very potent and may burn you if you are not careful.
However, I can say that dousing bricks into a solution is a last resort for really mortar bits.
In using muriatic always read the manufacturer’s instruction on how to use it. After reading it, wet the brick with clean, fresh water and then brush the muriatic acid on the brick. Leave it on for a few minutes, the brick will fizz when the acid starts to react with the mortar. then rinse off, again using clean, fresh water. Be careful not to leave it on too long as it will start to dissolve the brick itself.
In both cases, don’t ever forget to wear protective gear before starting. I have more DIY tips to share, so don’t forget to check in regularly!