Faux Finishing - Color Washing

Woman applying blue paint to a wall.
  • 2-10 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 50-300
What You'll Need
Latex paint (base coat and wash color)
Paint tray
Paint roller
Putty knife
Joint compound
Drop cloths
Painter's tape
Paint brushes
Color wash applicator

Color washing is a popular faux painting technique that can make a remarkable change to a room's appearance. The actual process involves covering a base coat of colored paint with a second light coat containing a mixture of another color and glaze. This second coat allows the base coat to show through, but the glaze mixture on the surface softens it.

Obviously, color washing is a two step process - first you apply the base coat and then the glaze mixture. One benefit of color washing is you can create various visual effects depending on what you use to apply the glaze. Commonly brushes, sponges or cloths (regular cotton, cheese cloth) or even paint mitts but you can even use old panty hose if you want. It sounds complicated, but in reality it's easy to do, inexpensive and a DIY'er can achieve great results in a weekend.

Getting Started

The first step in color washing is applying your base coat and this process is just like painting a room. Start by clearing all the furniture out (or move it into the middle and cover it with drop cloths or plastic sheets), take down any pictures and remove all switch plate and electrical outlet covers.

Prepare your walls as you would for any other paint job. Fill any cracks or nail holes with joint compound and when that's dry sand the walls with a fine grit sandpaper (100 or 120 grit) to provide a "tooth" for the new paint. Next give the walls a light wash with clean water to remove any dust (a sponge mop works well) and once they're dry, it's time to paint.

Spread drop cloths on the floor and apply your base coat. Latex paint is easier to work with than alkyd (oil) paint (less smell and easier to clean up) but you can use either. Also, low sheen or eggshell finish provides a better base color than semi gloss or high gloss paints.


blue faux paint in bathroom

After your base coat is dry, prepare your glaze mix by combining your glaze and your secondary color in a four to one ratio, (four parts glaze to one part paint). The way you apply your glaze mixture determines how it ends up looking. A sponge will give you a textured appearance, apply it with a cloth and the texture will be less noticeable while a brush will produce noticeable lines.

When using sponges or a cloth apply the glaze mixture with a circular motion - as if you were actually washing the walls.

When applying the glaze with a brush use short random criss-crossed strokes. You can minimize the brush lines by feathering the glaze with a dry brush (one that hasn't been used to actually apply the glaze) across the wet glaze.

It's a good idea to practice various techniques and applicators on a piece of scrap wall board or even cardboard to figure out the wash texture you like best, before you actually start on your walls.

Depending on how ambitious you are, you can combine different applicators to achieve your own unique design or even apply a second glaze coat of a different color once the first coat is dry.


Be sure your base coat is dry before you start applying your glaze coat, and if you are putting on a second glaze color, give the first glaze enough time to dry as well.

Work in diagonal sections rather than up and down when applying your glaze coat to minimize the appearance of any vertical lines. It's also important that once you start applying your glaze coat you finish the entire wall. If you stop and go back later your finished wall will have a noticeable line where you stopped and then started again.

You can protect your color washed walls with a coat of clear varnish.

Once your walls have dried all that's left to do is pick up your drop cloths, move the furniture back into the room and wait for the compliments to come rolling in on your unique and beautiful walls.