Choosing the Best Colors for Color Washing Your Walls

Color washing is a decorating technique that can be used to create different effects of color. A range of options from soft to bold are available. The colors you choose for color washing will determine what your walls eventually look like. A color wash is a very thin layer of paint that’s applied over a base coat of paint. How you choose the colors is vital for this. It's also important how you apply the color wash.

Paint Chips

When it comes to choosing colors for color washing walls, the paint swatches you can get from paint stores and hardware stores are invaluable. Each one will contain several shades of the same color running from light to dark. This makes it very easy to find complementary colors.

Complementary Colors

The simplest solution is to go for a color that’s two shades lighter than the color you eventually choose for the base color on your wall. That way, the base shows through when you’re color washing the wall but there are still gradations of color.

You don’t need to limit yourself to two colors. You can achieve very subtle effects by using three shades of the same color, the two lighter ones being used for color washing over the base color.


As well as complementary colors, color washing based on contrasting colors can be effective and very dramatic. Where complementary colors are usually soothing, it must be remembered that contrasting colors need to be loud and bold and should usually match your upholstery.

Again, the paint chips can give you an idea of what will work together. A deep burgundy red can go very well with green and gold to create an effect on the wall that will be very arresting. Make the base color your brightest, loudest color, then wash with lighter colors to create a very strong effect.

Earth Tones

Earth tones are very popular for color washing, irrespective of whether it’s in shades of brown or green. These can be achieved by color washing with lighter shades over the base. However, in both cases, the base color can’t be too dark or the room itself will seem dark and enclosed. With browns, start with a clay color and have your color washing in lighter, sandier shades all the way through to white in it's different forms. This can open up a small room a great deal.

Middle Tones

It’s vital that you don’t mix shades of color that are too close or are all medium shades on the paint chips. If you do this, you won’t achieve either complement or contrast but something that ends up as a muddy mess. You always need to go at least one shade lighter for the color washing to be effective and the color should be applied very lightly. Each color you use when color washing should be a different shade on the paint chip to create the proper effect on your wall. Remember that color washing a panel can be as visually powerful as color washing an entire wall.