Brightening a Stone Wall

Dear NH,
I need suggestions on the topic of my natural stone fireplace. I want to know how can I effectively lighten the stones, possibly without painting them. The fireplace is very large, from floor to ceiling, and is the focal point of the living room. It is not dirt or soot, it is just that the stones are quite dark, and my living room is on the southwest side of the house, so during the daytime the room is dark. I have painted the walls, bought new furniture, curtains, etc., and I feel that lightening the stones would really bring the room to life. I was going to whitewash them, but my husband had a fit. He said that they are natural stones and that painting would ruin them. He may be right. But my living room is still so dark. Let me stress that the stones are not sooty or dirty, just naturally dark. Would appreciate some feedback.
PM from Charlotte, NC

Your husband may be right depending on the type of stone. However, whitewashing is not intended to be a temporary fix... it is supposed to be a permanent change to the stones. Done correctly, it offers highlights and contrasts... not a head-snapping dose of white paint!

It may be possible to lighten the stones somewhat by treating them with a masonry cleaner containing either oxalic or phosphoric acid. These relatively mild acids will clean any unnatural discoloration from the stones, but I really can't guarantee you what the result will be. It could be a minor improvement or no improvement at all.

Any clear coatings you might want to apply will have either a neutral effect or cause a slight darkening. I am unaware of any coating that will brighten stone. Add a slight gloss, yes, but brighten... no. There are slate and stone sealers available at most paint, hardware and home stores.

So if you really need the wall to be brightened up more than a touch, a professional whitewashing might be the way to go. Since the results are permanent (unless you want to get involved in a very messy and/or dusty paint removal job), I would suggest having a few professional painters with experience (and references) in this type of work take a look and offer suggestions. Perhaps, through more knowledge, a middle ground can be found between your desire for more brightness and your husband's understandable concerns.

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