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How to Sponge Paint a Wall

Sponge painting is a quick, simple way to make dull interior walls dramatic. With just a sponge, a can of glaze and a few paint colors you can transform your house.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Getting started

Of all the techniques for creating special effects with paint, none is easier or yields more attractive results than sponge painting. You don't need a precise hand, expensive tools or exotic potions. You don't even have to put up with smelly, messy, oil-based paint. And, unlike other painting techniques, sponge painting is forgiving. If one part of your wall turns out too light, for example, you don't have to start over—you can just go back and dab on some darker paint.

This article will walk you through the basics of sponge painting and give you a head start on the hard part: choosing paint colors (see “Experimenting With Colors,” below).

The process we show in Photos 1 through 8 is about as complex as sponge painting gets. We used five colors in addition to the base coat and at one point scoured the walls to create a distressed look (Photo 6). But depending on the effect you want, you can use fewer colors, and do little or no scouring. You may even decide to sponge on just one color. Generally, using only one or two colors results in a bold, heavily contrasted finish, and using more colors creates a subtle, cloudy effect. Photos 1 through 8 show how the effect changes from dramatic contrast to soft, gradual shading as we add more colors.

Sponge painting isn't any faster than other special techniques. You still have to protect trim with masking tape, roll on a base color and add other colors. The time the project takes will depend on how many sponge-on colors you use, but expect to spend at least one full weekend on a medium-sized living room or bedroom. Latex paint dries fast, so even in a small room you probably won't have to wait long for one coat to dry before starting the next.

Sample paint combinations

Sample paint combinations

Experimenting With Colors

It's essential that you experiment before you sponge your walls, both to see what the results will look like and to get a feel for painting with a sponge. Experiment on pieces of drywall, hardboard or any other smooth surface. Before you start buying paints, though, narrow down your color choices by trying out paint chips or small samples, if available.

Experimenting with colors can be time-consuming and expensive, so we've provided three sample combinations. Some paint brochures also show suggested combinations of colors. There are lots of variables involved in sponge painting (including how you hold the sponge and the shape of the sponge itself), so you won't be able to reproduce our samples precisely. Still, using the colors listed will give you results similar to ours. You can also treat our samples simply as starting points, using more or fewer and brighter or darker colors than we show. Whatever you do, don't let all those choices overwhelm and discourage you. This is one of those rare projects that are easier to do well than
badly—have fun!

Tip: Examine your sample board in the room
you'll be painting. The look will vary dramatically
under different lighting conditions.

What you'll need

You can pick up everything you'll need for this project at paint stores and most home centers (Photo 1).

  • You'll get the best results with a natural sea sponge. Natural sponges are more expensive than standard sponges, but they leave a more varied, random pattern than manufactured sponges. Latex paint washes easily out of natural sponges, so you need only one sponge.
  • Latex glaze thins latex paint and gives it a translucent look. Oil-based glazes are also available, but we don't recommend them for this project.
  • We used a glaze extender, a liquid additive that thins the glaze/paint mix slightly and slows drying.
  • You'll also need a paint tray, a large plastic measuring cup, masking tape and if you want to rub the paint, a few scouring pads.

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