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mortar color
It’s essential to control many variables—the type and amount of mortar
materials, mixing procedures, joint tooling, and cleaning techniques

By Carolyn Schierhorn tion and proportioning of mortar Cement Association (PCA) recom-
ingredients to the cleaning tech- mends the use of mineral oxide
nique used. pigments because they are com-
rchitects specify colored patible with cement and lime and

A mortar to enliven or differ-

entiate masonry buildings
for only a modest increase in cost.
Controlling materials
All of the materials used to pro-
duce mortar can affect its color
provide color stability in the fin-
ished mortar joint. In contrast,
carbon black pigments should not
Available in a wide range of colors and should be controlled. be used in exterior masonry, since
—with buffs, reds, browns, and Pigments. Mostpigments used they exhibit poor color stability
grays most often selected—col- to color mortar today consist of when exposed to weather (Ref. 1).
ored mortar may be chosen to blends of red, yellow, or black iron Pigments are available in either
match, complement, or contrast oxides, which meet the require- powder or liquid form. According
with the masonry units (see “Us- ments of ASTM C 979 (Pigments to one pigment manufacturer, liq-
ing Color as a Design Element,” for Integrally Colored Mortar/ uid pigments are used less fre-
Masonry Construction, August Concrete). Other mineral oxides quently for mortar because they
1993, pages 348-350). produce more unusual mortar are about 15% more expensive
Because inconsistencies or colors, but these are less often (Liquid pigments are common in
flaws in joint color can ruin the specified because of their higher colored concrete block produc-
look of the finished masonry wall, cost; cobalt oxide, for example, tion, however). The main advan-
good quality control practices are yields a blue mortar pigment. tage of liquid over powder pig-
essential. This involves managing In the Trowel Tips publication ments is that they don’t disperse
many variables, from the selec- titled “Mortar Color,” the Portland dust when added to the mix.
Accurate pigment measure- Control the
ment is essential for consistent amount of sand
mortar color. At one time, labor- in a mortar mix
ers had to measure out pigment by using a cu-
on-site from bulk packages—a bic-foot measur-
tricky practice that frequently re- ing box to add
sulted in inconsistent color. But sand to the mix-
modern packaging and distribu- er or periodical-
tion practices have made this ly to check the
procedure unnecessary. required shovel
Today, mortar pigments usually count. Slight
are preblended in the cement or variations in
distributed in premeasured “add- the amount of
a-bag” packages that can be sand have little
added easily at the jobsite. Both impact on mor-
methods can produce desirable tar color; but
results as long as other variables using too much
are controlled. sand will cause
John Melander, masonry spe- color inconsis-
cialist for the PCA, favors the use tency (Ref. 2).
of preblended colored cements Water. The
because the manufacturer expert- amount of wa- A change in both the type of cement and sand used in the
ly controls two variables in the ter added to the mortar produced the joint color differences shown here.
plant—the pigment and the ce- mix also influ-
ment. At the jobsite, slight varia- ences mortar color. “Mortars hav- achieved (Ref. 3). To ensure color
tions in cement color may go un- ing higher water-cement ratios consistency, one manufacturer
noticed. tend to be lighter in color than recommends loading 3⁄4 the re-
Cement. Avoidchangingbrands those having lower water con- quired amount of water and 13⁄
of cement or hydrated lime dur- tents,” Melander observes. Ex- the required amount of sand be-
ing a project, Melander warns. cessive water also creates micro- fore adding the cementitious ma-
The dry powder appearance of scopic bubbles on the surface of terials and the pigment (if not al-
unpigmented cementitious mate- the mortar, which diffuse light ready blended in the cement).
rials belies their impact on mor- and affect the color (Ref. 2). The balance of the sand and wa-
tar joint color (Ref. 1). Units. Variations in the initial ter are then added.
As mortar is mixed, the cement rate of absorption (IRA) of clay “Retemper colored mortar cau-
and water form a paste that coats brick masonry also can a ff e c t tiously to avoid color changes,”
the sand particles. As the cement mortar color. During hot-weather advises Melander. “The key is not
hydrates, the paste hardens and construction, if it’s necessary to to change the water-cement ratio
dominates the color of the mortar. prewet high-IRA clay brick, make dramatically. Sprinkle a little wa-
“The color of the hardened paste sure all units are subjected to the ter, then mix it up on the mortar
is influenced by the inherent color same procedure (see “Preventing board.”
of the cement, or cement and Hot-weather Construction Prob-
lime, plus the water-cement ratio lems,” Masonry Construction,
i nt h ep a s t e , ”M e l a n d e rs a y s . June 1994, pages 244-248). To Workmanship is critical
Sand. Similarly, all sand used minimize joint color variation Always important, good work-
on a job should be from the same from the use of both wet and dry manship is even more critical on
source. Masonry contractors that units, cover brick and block walls with colored mortar joints.
receive multiple shipments of stored at the jobsite. To avoid having to clean off hard-
sand, even from a single source, ened mortar smears and drop-
should inspect each shipment to Mixing colored mortar pings later on, spread mortar and
make sure that sand color and To minimize the need to retem- lay units as neatly as possible.
gradation have not changed sig- per mortar that has dried out Joint tooling greatly affects
nificantly. Sand gradation affects and stiffened, plan ahead: Deter- mortar color by drawing the pig-
the texture of the mortar joint mine the size of the mortar batch mented cement paste to the sur-
surface and the water demand of needed to lay a specific number face, while pushing the sand
the mortar. A small quantity of of units. down. Consequently, all joints
sand from the first shipment may C o l o re dm o rt a rs h o u l d b em i x e d must be tooled the same way. Be
be kept in a sealed container for in a mechanical mixer for at careful not to overtool the joints,
comparison with later shipments least 5 minutes, until a uniform which can darken mortar color by
(Ref. 1). color and desired workability are bringing more of the fine pigment
and cement particles to the sur- cure sufficiently before cleaning be- tion with the job.
face (Ref. 2). gins—generally seven to 14 days.
Tool joints when they’re thumb- Avoid acid cleaners when pos- References
print hard. Tooling mortar that is sible. Using muriatic acid or a 1. “Mortar Color,” Trowel Tips, 1995, Port-
land Cement Association, 5420 Old Or-
too soft lightens the joints; tool- highly concentrated masonry chard Rd., Skokie, IL 60077.
ing mortar that has set too much cleaner can degrade the mortar 2. Rod Keehn, “Using Mortar Color Suc-
darkens them (Ref. 4). In addi- surface, resultingin a light,grainy cessfully,” Masonry Construction, January
tion, cover masonry walls at the joint with exposed sand particles. 1992, pages 27-29.
end of the day to help prevent Instead, apply a commercially 3. “Mortar and Masonry Grout,” Spec Data
prepared proprietary masonry 4, February 1991, Solomon Grind-Chem
water absorption and resulting ef- Service Inc., P.O. Box 8288, Springfield, IL
florescence. cleaner, following the directions 62791.
for the weakest solution recom- 4. Christine Beall, “Coloring Mortar,” Ma-
Clean with caution mended by the manufacturer. sonry Construction, October 1989, pages
Nine times out of 10, colored Test cleaner on sample area. 446-449.
mortar problems result from im- Be sure to test the cleaner on a
proper cleaning, according to one small trial area of the building. Al-
pigment manufacturer. low the test area to dry before ex-
High-pressure cleaning devices amining the mortar joint surfaces
or strong acid solutions may wash for evidence of etching or discol-
the cement out of mortar joints, oration (Ref. 1).
exposing sand particles and light- Prewet the wall. To prevent
ening the joint color. Avoid dam- damage from chemical cleaners,
age to the wall by using the least prewet a masonry wall with water
aggressive cleaning technique before cleaning and rinse it imme-
possible, consistent with the unit diately afterward.
manufacturer’s recommendations. Controlling as many variables
Don’t clean walls too soon. To as possible on a masonry project PUBLICATION #M960033
prevent the cement paste from be- will promote mortar color consis- Copyright © 1996, The Aberdeen Group
ing washed away, allow walls to tency and your overall satisfac- All rights reserved