How to Repair Brick Steps, Step by Step
You’ve seen it many times: Brick steps that fall apart at the mortar joints. Over time, the outdoor elements can deteriorate the mortar and cause the bricks to loosen and dislodge. Broken steps aren’t only ugly, they’re a safety hazard. You can pay a brick mason or handyman to make the repairs or you can save money and make this inexpensive repair yourself.
First step is to completely remove the loose bricks. Chip off the old mortar from the loose bricks as well as the existing brickwork that’s still intact. To remove the mortar, you can use a hammer and mason’s chisel, or an air hammer. Brush away the debris with a stiff-bristle or wire brush to create a clean surface for new mortar.
Temporarily replace the bricks in the arrangement you’d like to reinstall them to make sure you have all the bricks you need.
Soak the bricks in water and use a garden hose to rinse the damaged steps. This is to prevent the dry materials from leaching water out of the mortar too quickly, which could cause the joints to cure improperly and lessen their strength. The work area should be damp but have no standing water.
Use water to mix the mortar for the repair. If you’re not experienced with using mortar, you’ll probably end up using more than you would expect. A 10-lb. bag costs about $3, but a 60-lb. bag goes for less than $6, so spring for the larger bag and spare yourself a return trip to the home center.
Mortar is easiest to mix using a drill attachment, and the mortar’s consistency should work similar to very thick cake frosting. If it’s too thin, it will push out of the joints beneath the weight of the brick, indicating you have too much water in the mix (so add more powder). A wetter mix might be easier to work with, but a drier mix will achieve a stronger bond. In some cases, you might want to tint the new mortar to match the old mortar joints.
Use a masonry trowel to apply a 1-in. thick mortar bed to all sides and the bottom of the brick cavity.
Place the first brick and tap it with the rubber mallet (or the trowel handle) until it’s flush with the adjacent bricks.
Make sure to pack the holes in the bricks with mortar so they interlock and bond with each other.
Use a bubble level and/or straight-edge to align the front and top of each brick to ensure your steps remain level. Repeat this procedure for each brick.
Press additional mortar into the joints with a tuck-pointing tool or wood dowel. Scrape away excess mortar with the trowel, then use your pointing tool to shape the mortar joints to match the surrounding structure.
On this repair, we used the old-fashioned “mud trick,” where we mixed a little black mud collected on site into the mortar for the final application to the joints. We did this to darken the color to more closely match the old mortar of the steps. Charcoal dust also works for this.
Allow the loose mortar to set until it becomes crumbly, then brush it away from the bricks with a stiff-bristle brush.
To clean away mortar residue on the steps, I saved some elbow grease by letting a reciprocating saw do the work. This quick couple-attachment from Recipro Tools chucks into the blade holder. You can then use a variety of brushes that insert with a hex end, allowing you to angle the brush for the most comfortable working position.
The completed repair should blend with the rest of the brick steps.