The pastel base coat shines through a complementary glaze like a watercolor.

Rag-Off Techniques & How to Choose Colors

by Anya Deason

Ragging-off is the opposite of color-washing: Instead of adding on different colors, you take them off in parts. Rag-off glazes give furniture or walls a time-worn look, simulating the aged patina and darkened crevices that form over time. Your kids will be relieved that you like the look in case they were responsible for any distressed areas. Select your eggshell base coat and glazing color at a paint store. For the topcoat, mix 1 part dark color to 4 parts glazing medium. An effective option includes a pastel base color and a dark glaze with a complementary undertone. The glaze's undertone -- or underlying hue -- is the base coat's color wheel opposite -- or complement.

Consider a pastel green-blue, like robin's egg blue; a purple-blue, like cornflower-blue; or a pale blue-gray. Choose a complementary brown glaze color with an orange-red undertone, such as chocolate-brown or burnt-umber. Apply two layers of base coat or a primer and base coat, then distress the furniture by selective sanding, especially on protruding edges; on walls, lightly distress the base coat across the broad expanse. Apply glaze with a flat brush, then rag it off with damp, cotton sheet strips. With a folded sheet strip's flat edge, wipe the glaze off broader areas; use its corners to edge the glaze into recessed furniture grooves.

Select a base color in cool pink or a warm orange-pink, such as light adobe. Use a complementary dark olive glaze, substituting green-earth or greenish raw-umber for subtle tonal shifts. After the base coat dries, brush on the dark olive glaze with old cloth diapers, which are malleable and virtually lint-free. Wad the diapers, ragging-off the glaze in a semicircular motion. Avoid ragging-off too much glaze, allowing it to gather in intricate, scrolled grooves on furniture; for walls, apply and rag-off the glaze in sections, varying the direction of your semicircular strokes across the walls' broad surface.

Opt for a base color in cool mint-green, warm pastel olive or pale green-gray. Choose a glazing color with a red-brown undertone, such as burnt-umber, sepia or chocolate-brown. Refrain from sanding and distressing your piece, using a base coat with a built-in primer and then glazing only the recessed grooves, which is a simpler technique that leaves your base color mostly intact. Apply the red-brown glaze to linear grooves with a small brush or sponge brush, then wipe with a damp cloth. Gently edge the glaze toward the point where one plane meets another, producing irregular glazed edges rather than mechanically perfect edges.

Opt for a creamy lemon-yellow with a greenish undertone or choose a pastel orange-yellow base coat, antiquing it with a dark, complementary purple-gray glaze; or for subtle tonal shifts, consider a glaze in the same hue family. Over a green-yellow base coat, a greenish raw-umber glaze gently enhances details, while orange-brown subtly enhances orange-yellow. Apply the glaze with a flat brush, or if using a purple-gray glaze, consider applying it only to furniture grooves. Use damp paper towels for a disposable and low-maintenance rag-off technique, which is better suited to small pieces of furniture than larger pieces or walls.


  • For best results, sand and wipe down your entire working surface prior to application of the initial base coat or primer layer.
  • Allow each base coat layer to dry thoroughly before applying another base coat layer.


  • When sanding and applying paint, wear a mask to prevent inhalation of toxic dust and fumes.

About the Author

Based in Franklin, Tenn., Anya Deason has more than 15 years of decor-related experience, assisting leading interior designers and owning a custom frame shop. While working at Lyzon Gallery in 1999, she wrote descriptions of artwork for Sotheby's online auctions. Deason holds a Bachelor of Science from Tennessee Technological University.

Photo Credits

  • Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images