Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Salt & Hairspray Weathering Tutorial

For the past year or so, I've seen a lot more people talk about using salt & hairspray to achieve a weathered/aged look for their vehicles - since I had a whole mess o' Ork vehicles waiting to be painted for my Freebootas, I decided to give it a shot.

To start with, you paint your model with what you want the "weathered" color to be (a rust color, in my case):

I used a can of Krylon "Ruddy Brown" primer - I think it was around $4 at Wal-Mart.  The label says it's for "Metal - Wood - Wicker - More".  Unfortunately it doesn't say anything specifically about whether or not it's safe for plastic.  I've never had a problem with Krylon in the past, but to be sure, I grabbed a model that I wasn't particularly attached to (a Warbuggy I got in a Craigslist lot):

After spraying it & waiting for it to dry, I didn't notice any adverse effects - so I grabbed the rest of my models and let 'er rip:

I sprayed them from several angles to get good coverage:

After they dried, I was ready for the next step:

This was the cheapest can of hairspray I could find - I actually had to dig around to find a can that wasn't four dollars or more.  I finally found this one at the store on the very bottom shelf, in the corner, for 97 cents.

Then I grabbed some salt:

This was free, 'cause I grabbed it out of our pantry.  IMPORTANT: YOU MUST USE KOSHER SALT FOR THIS TECHNIQUE.   Regular table salt (AKA "iodized" salt) will not work.  Why?  Well, if you look at "iodized" salt under a magnifying glass, it looks like this:'s almost a perfect cube.  The shape of the salt is going to determine the pattern of the weathering - unless you live in a world where rust spots form in perfect geometric squares, it's gonna look terrible if you use iodized salt.

This is what "kosher" salt looks like:'s irregular, random-sized, broken pieces (this is due to how it's manufactured).  That's what we want.

I dumped some of the salt into a bowl to make it easier to work with:

Then I sprayed my models with the hairspray:

...and sprinkled the salt over them:

I worked in sections - I would do the tops of the models first, then after that dried, I did the sides, etc.

Then I gave the models a coat of GW Chaos Black:

...about this time, I heard something going on outside my patio: lawnmowers!  Crap!  The gardeners for my complex had come to mow the grass - threatening to get grass clippings all over my wet models!  I stood by until I was pretty sure the first coat of black had dried, then I rounded up the models and stashed them in my kitchen:

Later that afternoon after the gardeners had left, I took the models outside and finished spraying them black.  Again, I sprayed them from several angles to get complete coverage:

After the paint had completely dried, I took the models inside, held them under lukewarm water, and scrubbed the salt off with an old toothbrush:

It will take a while for the salt to come off - it seems to be easier once the model gets thoroughly "saturated" with water.  (I have a suspicion that submerging the whole model in a bucket of lukewarm water would be effective, but I wasn't willing to try it).

Here's the result after the salt is scrubbed off:

(click to embiggen) can see that the rust-colored paint shows through where the salt was covering the model, leaving a "flaky rust" effect.

Some random thoughts on the process:

-It uses a lot of paint - I used two cans of primer & two cans of Chaos Black (of course, I did five Battlewagons, three Trukks, five bikers, three Deffkoptas & a Warbuggy).

-Getting all the salt off can be a pain - I scrubbed until I thought it was all off, let the model air dry, then had to go back again to get some spots I missed, and to get rid of the white, salty "film" that was left in some spots.

I wish I had used more salt - I read through several tutorials on the Internet beforehand, and a common mistake on the first attempt was using way too much salt, so I used it sparingly.  Unfortunately, I think I underestimated how much salt fell off while I was turning the model during painting, as well as their unscheduled trip back into the house, even with the hairspray holding it on.  There was one model where I was afraid that I used way too much salt, and it came out the best out of all of them.

-This is not a "one-step" solution to weathering; the model is going to need some traditional weathering done before I wam completely happy with it.

-This method can be kind of rough on your models - three or four of my vehicles needs parts re-attached that broke off in the scrubbing.

So would I do it again?  Probably, although this method is usually presented as a time-saving method, and if you're doing seventeen vehicles at once, it still takes a lot of time - pretty much my entire day off...


  1. I did this same technique last year and put up a tutorial on my blog also. Yours is nice and without the mistake I made, spraying over the hairspray too early, causing cracking. And I used to much warm water, to early causing some of the paint to come off in spots larger than salt. I also went over the salt with an airbrush instead of spray can, so it was thinner coat and salt was easily removed, sometimes to easily.

    Yours look good, and it is tough to find a good thorough tutorial online for this method, even though it is very cheap, easy and effective.

    Check out my attempts at


    The second one shows my favorite part about the hairspray method. You can use a toothpick and rub the edges to easily weather the corners.

  2. I haven't had a chance to try this technique out with salt+hairspray, but I have used latex masking fluid instead, and I think that it provides a better result, as you can apply it with much more control and precision. All you need is some torn foam and the latex, and dab it on where you want, like you would for painted on shipping effects, and then spray over and scrub off.

    I don't have any pics, but the guys at the painting corps did a video recently:

  3. Sorry, that's not the post I thought it was, though it does go over painted on shipping effects. I cannot for the life of me find the post I was thinking of... Just spent an hour trying to find it and ended up really hating blogger for not having a decent way to search for posts in your blogroll.


    That post shows the technique, though it wasn't exactly what I was looking for.

    Also, sorry for the triple posting...


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