Barns are a common site as you drive practically anywhere in the state of Indiana which isn't surprising seeing that more than 80% of the state's land is "devoted to farms, forests, and woodland," according to the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. While you may see a barn painted white or brown, or not painted at all, it seems that the majority of them are red. When you hear the word, "barn," chances are the color you picture in your head is red. But, why red? Was it to keep people off a farmer's property like a stop sign? Or maybe the color was meant to be a deterrent to certain animals or pests? It turns out, painting a barn red wasn't a conscious choice. It just happened to be the color that was created when farmers mixed what ingredients they had around the farm to make the paint.

Farmers Can Thank Chemistry for Their Red Barn

Paint in some form has been around for centuries, although not in the way we know it today. Ancient civilizations couldn't just walk to the Sherwin-Williams store, Home Depot, or Lowes and buy a can of paint to use for cave drawings or pottery. They had to make the "paint" with whatever natural resources they had. In many cases, that was oils from plants and blood from animals among other things.

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Fast forward a few thousand years and not much had changed for farmers. Without much money, they used what they had around their farmland to paint their barns. The most common ingredient was linseed oil harvested from flax plants, according to Farmer's Almanac. This helped seal the wood to protect it from the elements, most notably, rain. The oil itself had a natural orange color to it, and they would sometimes add milk and lime. Over time they found that while this concoction did keep out the moisture, it didn't prevent mold or moss from growing on their barns, so they added another ingredient they had plenty of, rust.


Rust, also known as ferrous or iron oxide, not only prevented mold and moss from growing on the barn but because of its reddish-brown color, it changed the color of the homemade paint when mixed with the other ingredients.

Why Many Barns Are Still Red Today

Walk into your local hardware or paint store today and there are so many colors to choose from it will make you go cross-eyed. Should you go with off-white or eggshell white? Nutmeg Forest or Sandpiper? Gratefully Grass or Eastern Bamboo? (All of those are real color names on the Home Depot website, by the way.) But even with the thousands of choices available, farmers seem to still choose red (or some shade of it) for their barns. The belief is the color is chosen to honor the tradition started out of necessity by early farmers.

So, there you have it. Next time you're driving along an Indiana highway seemingly in the middle of nowhere, feel free to wow your road trip companions with that tidbit of knowledge to help pass some time.

[Sources: Indiana State Department of Agriculture / Farmer's Almanac]

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