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How to Upcycle Old Vases With This DIY Terracotta Paint Hack

Using items you likely already have on hand.

September 10, 2020
Photo by Caroline Mullen

If you asked me six months ago where my DIY project inspiration came from, the answer would be pretty obvious: Pinterest, YouTube, and DIYers I follow on Instagram. Now, with the uncertainty of a global pandemic, an unexpected chunk of time at home, and a desire for escapism, I’m big into TikTok. Like, really big.

I’ve found a ton of inventive ideas on the app. While my roommate or teenage brother likely have a completely different looking feed, mine is loaded with home decor tips, cleaning hacks, and all things organization. It is, of course, also how I found the magical little appliance that is the Bissell Little Green Upholstery Cleaner.

My new favorite discovery? 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. 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
  • 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 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 chip relatively easily, but the ease of this project (and therefore any touch-ups) made it totally worth it. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a food-safe project, so any painted items should be used for decorative purposes only.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“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?”
— moliver105

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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mindy Zody Dowling
    Mindy Zody Dowling
  • June
  • moliver105
  • Steff D
    Steff D
  • Linnea Pearson
    Linnea Pearson
Caroline Mullen

Written by: Caroline Mullen


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!