The Real Reason Farmhouses Are Usually White

If you conjure up a picture of Americana in your head, chances are you’ll see a big red barn, a grain silo and a little white farmhouse. But have farmhouses traditionally been painted white? It actually comes down to a very practical reason.

According to the Daily Press, the story starts with whitewashing, which was used in colonial times both inside and outside the house to prevent mildew and other unsavory things. The main ingredient in whitewash is lime and was often instrumental in disinfecting, disguising odors, repelling insects and a myriad of other purposes. Remember that mildew prevention? Whitewash was especially useful for homeowners living in hot and humid climates. Also, whitewash has mild antibacterial properties that made it a popular choice on dairy farms.

Whitewash was cheap, easy to use and dries quickly. It could instantly spruce up the look of everything from farmhouses to fences—just like Mark Twain described. The simple and attractive look of whitewash also probably contributed to its popularity. According to This Old House, white houses were a symbol of cleanliness and purity. And so cheap and easy whitewashing as a fad was here to stay.

Whitewashing became such a common home-improvement technique that the very word began changing to reflect that. Now, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it can also mean “to gloss over or to conceal faults.”

Whatever the definition, we’re glad the trend stuck around. Is there anything prettier than a white farmhouse? We think not.