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The DIY Terracotta Paint Hack That We Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Seriously, I probably use this method once a week.

February 10, 2022
Photo by Caroline Mullen

If you asked me two years ago where I get my DIY project inspiration from, the answer likely would have been Pinterest, Youtube, or DIYers I follow on Instagram. But fast-forward to 2022, and some of the most innovative and talented creators are reaching whole new audiences on TikTok, which has rapidly become my favorite source for ideas (and okay, a time-waster, too).

I’ve found a ton of fresh and inventive ideas on the app, which is likely a result of the hyper-personalized homepage algorithm. My feed is loaded with home decor tips, cleaning hacks, and all things organization. This is, of course, also how I found the magical little appliance that is the Bissell Little Green Upholstery Cleaner.

One of my favorite discoveries on TikTok to date? A nifty little trick to turn mismatched glass, plastic, and ceramic items into textural “terracotta” pieces that look like they’re plucked right off the window display of your favorite home store. The technique, popularized by DIYer Geneva Vanderzeil, has a wide range of applications. I’ve used this paint mixture to transform odds and ends, give thrifted finds a new life, create textured wall art, and lots more. The beauty is that textured paint covers up all kinds of imperfections, sticks exceedingly well to glass and plastic, and the matte finish really looks expensive.

What’s even better? The technique could not be simpler—and the payoff is huge.

Assorted containers in search of a new life. Photo by Caroline Mullen
...And now completely unrecognizable. Photo by Caroline Mullen

What you'll need:

  • (Approximately) 220 grit sandpaper
  • Acrylic paint (I used this terracotta color, this off-white, and a mix of the two)
  • Baking soda or baking powder
  • Cups to mix in
  • Paint brushes
  • Assorted ceramic, plastic, metal, or glass objects

What you'll do:

  • If you’re working with plastic, or anything that already has a finish, you’re going to want to rough the surface up a bit with sandpaper to ensure the paint sticks. This isn’t an exact method, just do your best to give the item a scratched-up texture.

  • Mix your paint to the color (or many) you desire. I went with three: a classic burnt orange, off white, and a mix of the two.

  • Add baking soda or powder (they have much the same effect) to your paint—I used a 1:1 proportion, but the consistency is really up to you—and stir until the mixture is fully incorporated and a little bit fluffy (science!).

Photo by Caroline Mullen
  • Give each of your pieces a first coat and let them dry completely. This drying step is even more important than usual, because the wet paint and baking soda mixture lifts off very easily if it’s still wet. You’ll know it’s completely dry when it’s matte and a lighter hue than when you began.

  • Add a second coat, and a third if you need it. The pieces I worked on only needed two coats, since the mixture was thick and pretty high-coverage.

Photo by Caroline Mullen

Remember: Be gentle with your finished pieces—I found that they can chip a bit (though definitely less than with regular paint), but the ease of this project (and therefore any touch-ups) was totally worth it. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a food-safe or water-proof project, so any painted items should be used for decorative purposes only. If you want to make them a bit more water-resistant, try adding a coat of matte Mod Podge on top to seal the whole thing in.

Are you a TikTok DIY enthusiast? What projects have you been tinkering with? Tell us in the comments below!

This article was updated in February 2022 to sing even more praises for this paint method.

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Caroline Mullen

Written by: Caroline Mullen

13 Comments

Baruch N. March 7, 2022
I have no idea what Mod Podge is. Of course, I've googled it. Ok, it's a brand. And they have "an all-in-one, glue, sealer, and finish for long-lasting durability for all your projects". Now, what I have to buy when I'm not in your country and such a thing doesn't exist?
 
Mindy Z. February 8, 2021
How do you rough up glass or is it necessary? Thanks
 
June December 11, 2020
These look great! Wondering about the purpose of the baking soda? Does the soda change the texture?
 
moliver105 September 16, 2020
Hi- I love this! Wondering what plants/stems you use in the Instagram final photo. Did you dry them yourself or purchase them like that?
 
Author Comment
Caroline M. September 16, 2020
Thank you! I actually was on the hunt for dried stems I liked for the longest time... the "bunny tail" ones are actually from Trader Joe's, and the wheat-looking ones I found at Home Goods!
 
Steff D. September 15, 2020
Hi! These are gorgeous. What colors did you use to get the lighter green on the right? Or a color combo of...?
 
Author Comment
Caroline M. September 16, 2020
Hi! I used the two paints linked in the supplies ("chestnut" acrylic craft paint from Apple Barrel, and "chiffon cream" Rustoleum chalked paint) in various mixes, and I realize I also mixed the Rustoleum one with a gray paint for the tiny middle vase! Hope that helps :)
 
Linnea P. September 12, 2020
You should credit the lady who started this technique trendand the #trashtoterracotta tag Geneva Vanderzeil.
 
Author Comment
Caroline M. September 12, 2020
The video is linked in the copy!
 
Taylor M. February 9, 2021
In her video, she uses baking powder and you call for baking soda. I'm guessing either will work?
 
Aja A. September 11, 2020
This is AMAZING!
 
Hedge September 10, 2020
Is the finished product waterproof? I'd love to try this with some flower pots but I don't want it to wash off when I water the plants. :)
 
Author Comment
Caroline M. September 10, 2020
Hi there! They’re unfortunately not waterproof, but I would suggest a layer of matte Mod Podge on top to make them so!