Why Are So Many Farmhouses Painted White?
When Aunt Polly tasks Tom Sawyer with whitewashing the fence in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, she’s not merely trying to spruce up the property with a little redecoration scheme.
As Simplemost explains, whitewashing a surface isn’t exactly the same as just painting it white—though it does bleach that surface bright white. Whitewash is a slaked lime-based liquid that prevents mildew, fights odors, repels insects, and even works as a mild antibacterial substance. It’s also inexpensive, quick-drying, and easy to apply—making it a perfect chore to delegate to your young, mischievous nephew. Because of all these factors, whitewashing farmhouses and fences became a popular trend among colonial homeowners, especially those who lived in humid climates.
According to the Daily Press, all it took to create your own whitewash was water and lime (a white powdery compound also known as calcium oxide). When combined, the mixture would bubble up and emit steam before settling into a white, paint-like substance. Rural families often had sacks of lime on hand, since it was also used as a disinfectant, an ingredient in livestock feed, and a way to temper soil acidity.
Despite its many advantages, whitewash had one drawback: It wasn’t especially long-lasting. As time went on, wealthier people transitioned to using regular white paint, which didn’t require frequent touch-ups and eventually came to serve as a status symbol.
It may have been extra common for farm owners to take advantage of the cheap, efficient method of painting their property, but they weren’t the only ones. The White House was originally whitewashed, too, which inspired its now-official nickname.
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