How To Make Your Own Clay Paint

by ziggy on January 4, 2016 -- 10 comments -- Follow

Clay paint recipe

Clay paint is very easy to make and can lend even drywall a very earthen appearance

For some reason, it’s taken me a long time to try mixing up and using a clay paint (also known as a clay alis). Whatever the reason is, after attending the Natural Building Colloquium in October and talking to several folks about the ease of applying clay finishes on drywall, I knew I finally had to try it out in our new home here in Kentucky. Clay paint has many possible applications. Perhaps one of its best uses is to give an otherwise boring interior wall an earthy pick-me-up. It’s actually quite compatible with drywall, as you’ll see.

Read ahead for a recipe and instructions for making your very own clay paint.

Clay Paint: How to Prepare Ingredients

Making clay paint is really simple: the three ingredients are clay, sand, and wheat paste. You can choose to buy bagged powdered clay, or dig up your own in the backyard. Here’s a more detailed look at the ingredients, and finally, a recipe for stirring some up. (This is just one possible recipe — you can eliminate the sand altogether, but you’ll lose a special textural quality without it.) Thanks to Eva Edleson for inspiring me and sharing her recipe!

Clay paint ingredients

Clay paint consists of clay, sand, and wheat paste, as seen here

Both the clay and sand in your paint should be quite fine, meaning that the particle sizes are very small. If you want to use bagged clay and skip the processing necessary for site-dug clay, go ahead. All you’ll have to do is stir it up with water. If you want to use your own local clay, you’ll have to screen it to remove stones and other particles. I like using local clay because it infuses a bit of very local flavor in the building. (Don’t forget, you can check for clay content in your soil with a simple test.)

Screening clay

Using a window screen to filter local clay

Once you’ve dug up some clay, add it to a bucket with some water, and use a drill with a large paddle to mix it up as best you can. You may choose to let it sit overnight to let the clay absorb as much water as possible, and then mix a second time. Once you’ve got creamy clay (it should be wet enough that it “runs”, at least as wet as chunky yogurt), you can go ahead and screen it. (If you live in an arid place, you can screen dry, crushed site clay — I almost always deal with wet clay, so that’s my bias.)

Screening clay

A fine screen will result in a very smooth, easy to use clay

The wetter the clay, the easier it is to screen. Use a window screen (which is generally 1/16″ gauge) and push the clay through, removing all the bigger stuff. A square plastic or metal edge (like a pool trowel) will make pushing the clay through the screen easier. Note: don’t forget to use a clean wheelbarrow or other vessel to catch your newly filtered material! Set the filtered clay to the side.

As for sand, there are many many options for what you might use as well. Usually, it depends highly on what you can get locally. If you want to use sand that you dig up yourself, go for it. You’ll need to process it similarly to the clay. (You do need an even finer screen than window screen, ideally, something I have yet to really find myself… actually, those grease splatter protector thingies usually have a very fine mesh). You can also buy very fine sand from a pottery supply store. I actually ended up buying “play sand” from the home center. It’s really finely sifted sand intended for sandboxes for kiddos. It’s inexpensive and works great without any extra processing.

Recipe: Make Your Own Clay Paint

The only other ingredient you’ll need is the wheat paste, which is very simple to prepare. The following recipe will net you a creamy, versatile clay paint ready for use on a variety of surfaces, including wood and interior drywall, and even drywall that’s already been painted. (More details on that below.)

  • 1 part screened clay
  • 1 part fine sand
  • 1 part wheat paste

Simple, huh? To prepare the wheat paste, follow these simple instructions.

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. While water heats up, add 1 cup white flour to 2 cups cold water. Stir well to remove chunks. Once 4 cups of water comes to a boil, add water & flour mixture, and stir well. Continue to stir over low/medium heat while the mixture thickens, and be careful not to burn the bottom. Once the liquid is thickened, remove from heat.

Clay aliz paint

The final product, ready for use

The final texture should be smooth, and the consistency should actually be quite thick, almost like peanut butter. This is not the kind of paint that you can roll on. Instead, you will use a wide paintbrush to apply the paint to your surface.

Read the next installment for instructions detailing how to use clay paint on drywall and other surfaces.

p.s. We will be doing some clay paint demonstrations in our Natural Building Essentials Workshop this year.

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  • Andrew Mottershead

    Just mixed some up for the dining room of my cabaña here in Chile…. Thank you

  • It depends largely on the type of clay, the type of sand… etc. The additives are optional of course and there are a lot of them to play with. Best way to see if your recipe works is that you make a test patch and put it to the test. If it works, it works.

  • It’s true… testing is always recommended before you go ahead and do a full wall surface!

  • Matt Wilson

    Any waterproof additive for outdoor use?

  • Olivier

    Will this stick onto older oil-based or latex paint?

  • El Barbón

    With that much wheat paste in it, is it susceptible to mold? I have plaster walls which are much more damp- and mold-resistant than drywall. I’d be afraid that if there were any humidity problems in my old house, this recipe would just be a fungus buffet.

  • Cierpisław Bobrowski

    lime instead of clay :P, maybe some boiled linseed oil but clay and water is literally slippy topic

  • So far, I’ve had success applying it over a very high gloss latex paint.

  • What about humidity in a bathroom? Linseed oil?

  • Our clay painted wall in the bathroom has not been troubled by the humidity. I wouldn’t recommend doing any kind of oil treatment until you live with the clay paint for a little while to see how it fares.

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