How to Sponge Paint a Wall

There are countless reasons why homeowners might want to forego traditional paint and opt for sponge painting instead. The most common may be in older homes where the walls show some irregularities and dings in the finish – sponge painting blends everything into a seamless whole and hides all blemishes. But sponge painting is also popular among cutting-edge designers in brand new homes, and with good reason – the technique lends depth, texture and interest to flat surfaces of any size. Even longtime homeowners looking for a bolder finish to compete with new design ideas often find themselves drawn to this handsome effect.

How does it work? If you have ever watched home improvement shows before, you may have noticed just how quickly it can be done. Sponge painting involves the application of glaze to an existing base coat of paint using a variegated surface – usually a sea sponge. The glaze and paint are usually mixed separately in a fixed ratio (often four parts glaze to one part paint) to create a mixture that will apply evenly. The sponge is then dipped into the glaze, blotted and pressed firmly into the wall in repeating patterns. Using this technique, it’s not unusual to have a bedroom wall done in about an hour.

Even within sponge painting, a number of popular variations have been cultivated over the years. One of the most common is to use more than one glaze in succession, giving each time to dry before the next. In this way, you can add colors and striations to your wall for a far deeper look – something closer to granite than fabric. Add in metallic glazes for “mica” and a solid topcoat and you can create stunning effects with little more than a few days’ work.

A second popular variation involves using something other than a sea sponge for different effects. Designers have employed everything from chiffon to steel wool in this regard, and the number of compelling options seems to be expanding each year. If you want a more uniform appearance, you can even use a cheap kitchen sponge from the local store! The point is to create texture that suits the room – finer compresses suit traditional décor, while more porous materials may be desired for an edgier look. (The kid in you may even want to add a UV layer for wholly unexpected constellations under the blacklight.)

The most common mistake when sponge painting is to let the glaze spread to your hands, elbows and other tools. The smudges that result are harder to repair than you may imagine, as it is difficult to remove a layer of glaze without also dissolving the base coat beneath. This is why most DIY home painters recommend wiping your gloves and arms repeatedly during the process, paying particular attention to any part of you being used for stability against the wall. That said, it may not be the end of the world if you smudge a section or add a streak – often the very same sponging techniques you used to apply that glaze can be employed to remove it as well. Go with a dry or moist sponge and work slowly and patiently to remove excess material until you are satisfied with the fix.

Finally, you want to be careful about mixing different paint materials without proper preparation. Many older homes come with oil-based paint on the walls, while the vast majority of glazing substrates are latex-based. In such cases, you will need to apply a primer to ensure solid bonding occurs – otherwise you may be aghast to find that latex glaze peeling within a few weeks’ time! Latex is also notorious for saturating sponges entirely; effectively undoing the mottled effect you want. Rinse often and thoroughly to ensure you get a nice array of contact points with each press.

With a little practice and a good sense of what you want, sponge painting can be an exhilarating improvement. Look for similar colors for a uniform appearance or mix and match for something innovative – it’s your choice. You should come away with rooms that invite comment and admiration, instead of just a passing glance.


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