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How to Lighten Paint

Wendy K. Leigh
Some paint colors appear darker on your wall than on the paint swatch.

When you choose a color for the interior of your home, is it as much a personal choice as it is a challenging one. Sometimes you just get it wrong. This does not mean that you must abandon that huge bucket of paint staring you in the face; find a way to work with it instead. If the shade you so courageously picked at the paint store ends up blinding you with its intensity -- or boring you with deep dullness -- just lighten it up a shade or two.

Paint Composition

You can easily lighten the color of your paint before applying it to walls, furniture or anything else in your home. Start by identifying exactly what kind of paint you have to work with. Paint for interior use comes as latex, acrylic or oil-based. Note the sheen applied to the paint, which includes flat, matte, semimatte, semigloss or high-sheen gloss. Other terms sometimes include eggshell and satin. You essentially add new paint to existing paint to lighten the shade, so make certain to use paints with compatible compositions.If you plan to use paint found in the basement or were given by a well-meaning friend, double-check to ensure that the paint contains low or no volatile organic compounds or chemicals. You do not want your children exposed to noxious fumes or toxins in the paint.

Color Theory

Old-fashioned color wheels once ruled the color universe, serving as a visual gauge for interior design concepts. Just because online resources eliminate the need for actually spinning a cardboard wheel does not mean that the same principles do not apply. Use online color galleries to decide if the paint hue you have actually complements the rest of the room; then view exactly what lighter shades of that color will look like. A simpler method is to identify your existing color on a paper color strip at your local paint store; then look at the other bars above and below it. The top bar typically represents the primary color; with lighter strips beneath revealing the transformation that occur with lightening.


Once you confirm that the paint you have can be successfully blended into the lighter shade you want; then start experimenting. The quick and easy way to get a lighter tone is to simply mix it with white paint of the same composition. Start with a very small amount, paying attention to the ratio so that you can reproduce the shade you like once you find the right blend. Start with a few tablespoons of white paint in a small container; then keep adding your existing darker color until it reaches the look you want. Mix the paint thoroughly to get a true representation, and to avoid white and dark streaks later when applying it.


Before using the formula to transform the entire bucket of paint, try it out on a small section of the wall or furniture you plan to paint. Depending on the foundation it is applied to, the color can take on varying appearances. Colors also look quite different once they are dry, so be patient and wait for the final result. Make notes about what measurements and paints you used so that you can recreate the mixture in the future when needed for touch-ups or for painting additional items in the same room. Add a label to the paint can's lid that identifies the mixture or ratio used.

Proper Surface Preparation

Before applying color over any existing paint, always check for peeling or cracking layers, which could indicate sub-layers of lead-based paints in homes built before 1978. If you suspect problems with lead exposure through old paint, hire an inspector and a qualified lead-based paint removal specialist to prepare walls, windows and other surfaces. Fetuses, infants and children are more vulnerable than adults to lead exposure, as well as to fumes from any type of paint, so keep this in mind when planning your painting project.