Two or more colors can be used to create color-washed walls

How to Use a Sponge to Color-Wash Walls

by D Ann Kross

Color-washing is a technique used to create subtle tone-on-tone frescoes or dramatic contrasts on walls. Use an assortment of natural sea sponges to achieve marbleized swirls of color that you can stylize with a variety of techniques. Color-washing can have also have structure, such as a cloud color wash. It can be used to disguise minor wall damage, or add depth to an existing wall color. Start with a dark or light wall color. The colors chosen for your base and topcoats should be at least two shades apart on a paint color chip. Extreme contrasts create a stronger color-wash statement on your walls.

1 Apply one coat of the base color with a paint roller to all wall surfaces. Cut in as needed with a paintbrush in corners and around windows and doors. Use the base color to also paint a large board or piece of sheetrock for a test surface for your color washes and techniques. Allow all surfaces to dry completely. Your walls may require a second coat if the original color bleeds through after drying.

2 Measure and blend small amounts of the faux base and topcoat color to create several color wash samples, stirring thoroughly. Make note of each ratio for future mixes. Use a dry sponge to apply small amounts of each mixture to a portion of the sample board. Add more glaze to lighten the wash or increase the amount of the topcoat color to intensify the effect. Experiment with a few sponges to perfect the application technique on the test board. Use a dry sponge to blot excess glazing mixture with delicate strokes. Let each sample dry, repeating the process until you achieve your desired effect.

3 Blend the desired proportions of glaze and topcoat in a small bucket for wall application. For best results, work with 4-by-6-foot wall sections at a time. Use a combination of large and small sweeping clockwise and counterclockwise strokes, rotating and changing sponges to create a diverse, random color wash. Or use a more controlled application method to stylize clouds or to define a corner or architectural feature. Strive for creating a subtle patina of interesting tones and patterns that enhance the room's features. Follow behind with delicate blotting movements to absorb excess paint mixture and prevent runs. Let walls dry completely.

4 Add a third color wash to a clean, dry sponge, and apply the glaze mixture with random, delicate blots. Avoid large sweeping strokes to prevent heavy application, peeling or filmy appearance. If creating a blue and white sky fresco wash, add small accents of light gray or pale yellow wash to bring depth and realism to your clouds.

Items you will need

  • Base color latex flat paint
  • Topcoat latex flat paint
  • Faux glaze finish latex base
  • Clear measuring cup
  • Paint stirrers
  • 5 or 6 assorted size sea sponges
  • Testing board
  • Small bucket
  • Ladder
  • Dropcloths
  • Paint rollers
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paint trays


  • Large, porous sponges create interesting effects, such as clouds and distressed-wall faux finishes. Use small sea sponges for an artistic application of your third color wash or when all-over, intricate and repetitive designs are desired.


  • Always exercise caution when working on ladders.

About the Author

As an allied ASID member, D'Ann Kross co-owned and managed an Interior design business serving the greater New Orleans area for 20 years, and has been the lead designer for a major home furnishings franchise. She has published several articles as a contributing editor for "Gulf Coast Woman Magazine."

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images