How To: Whitewash Vehicles

I have been painting quite a lot of World War Two vehicles in the last year, both for my Italian and Russian armies. This was before I joined the guys at B&B so I hadn’t done any tutorials, nor did I think I would as tanks are limited to one per army in this system.

Fortunately, Warlord Games came out with their Tank War supplement late last year, which game me a great excuse to buy a load more tanks!

I had never done a snow-based army before, so my Russians were a bit of an experiment. However, this meant that if I painted my vehicles in their regular colours they would stand out like a sore thumb. Looking at historical photographs, winter camouflage for the Russians (and indeed most armies at this point) was pretty low tech: whitewash.How-to-whitewash-vehicles


I put this off for a few months after I completed all of my infantry as I felt like it would be hard to get a decent effect. Actually, it turns out it is not that difficult at all.

As you can see from the photograph above, the main issue with replicating the whitewash effect is that it isn’t as simple as painting the tank white. The coat is uneven and has gaps where the original colour shows through, perhaps through the fact that it has worn away, but potentially because of how it was applied, too. There are anecdotes around of it being applied with mops or even tree branches!

Trawling the internet, I found a number of suggestions on how to do this. I tried a few but was dissatisfied with the results. Here’s a quick summary of what I tried them and why I didn’t end up using them.


Paint the tank white. Using a sponge, add some of the base colour on areas of wear and in small patches to the armour plates using a sponge or cotton buds.

This was by far the simplest and looked great from a distance, however, when you get close you can see that the layers are wrong- that the base colour is actually sitting on top of the white layer below. The white coat also needs washing or weathering or it is far too clean. I would say this would be great for smaller scales but at 28mm it is quite visibly wrong, up close.


This seems to be a preferred method of the internet, based on my investigations.  This involves painting the tank the correct base colour, then spraying it with hairspray. The theory is that the hairspray creates a barrier between the whitewash you apply and the colour beneath, so that you can rub off the areas where wear would naturally occur using a pan scourer or toothbrush.

I found that this was better than the sponging technique, but the paint below could also be damaged by abrading the whitewash coat. It might be the fact that I used cheap hairspray, but it did not seem to create enough of a barrier to stop the paint adhering, so abrading it on the flat panels was hard without causing damage.

A third technique I saw used salt and water, and this is the technique I used to get the below finish, which I found to look suitably battered:

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Salt and Water:

To duplicate this technique you will need:

  • 1 toothbrush (preferably old- it is going to get salty!)
  • 1 bowl of table salt
  • 1 bowl of water
  • 1 tea towel
  • Airbrush
  • Black undercoat spray/airbrush paint
  • Base colours for the tank you are painting.
  • 1 pot of Games Workshop White Scar (it would probably work better with your choice of white airbrush paint, but that’s what I have used in this example).

Prep work:

Basecoat the tank with your choice of undercoat and base colour. I would recommend sprays or using an airbrush, as it gives a rougher feel than undercoating by hand and this creates a better surface for the water and salt to adhere to.

I would also recommend a black undercoat as a slightly darker base colour shows up better against the whitewash.

Don’t worry too much about the basecoat being particularly even in tone, most of it will be covered up later. Any differences in colour will look like an effect of the whitewash. Once your tank is painted its base colour (or, if you are adventurous, in its camo-scheme), you are ready to begin whitewashing!

Step 1: Plug any holes!

You will be dunking the tank into water. Your Chimera might have the ‘amphibious’ rule but best not to test if it really works!

You can get away with this if the tanks are solid resin but plastic tanks tend to be hollow. If you don’t want your tank on the radiator for a few hours after you’ve finished, plug the holes. Blu-tac, Play-doh etc all work well!How-to-whitewash-vehicles

Step 2: Water

Dunk the tank into a bowl of water. Depending on how pristine you want your whitewash to look, let it stand to dry for a while. After 2-3 minutes, most of the water will run into the nooks and crannies of the vehicle and only cause the salt that you will add to stick into these places and so look like chips and damage to an otherwise decent job. If you want a crude whitewash with gaps and smears (i.e. like it has been put on by WW2 Russian soldiers using a tree branch) then go straight to Step 3!

Step 3: Salt

Make sure your hands are dry and rub the tank with salt. The salt will stick to all of the wet areas (which is why leaving it to dry slightly is important in Step 2, if you want good coverage). You can then use the toothbrush to brush off any unwanted coverage, if the salt is too thick. Remember, wherever the salt sticks is where the base colour will shop through. Large patches on flat panels will look odd.

The design of wheels means that they generally retain a lot of water. This is helpful as most of the wear and tear would occur in this area. If the tank is too wet, the water may completely dissolve the salt (as per below on the front track guards). In this case, sponge the water off and add salt again to taste!


Step 3: Airbrush

Leave the tank to dry for around 15 minutes. Again, longer if you want a more pristine finish.

Add your white paint into the airbrush, thinning up to 25% for a runnier, messier looking whitewash. Note, everything in these pictures has been done for a messier look.

Leave the tank to dry for around an hour.How-to-whitewash-vehicles

Step 4: Toothbrush

Once the tank is dry to the touch, roughly brush the tank with the toothbrush. This will case the salt to lose purchase on the tank’s surface and expose patches of the base colour.

If either the tank or toothbrush are still wet, this can cause smearing. Great if you are looking for messy application. Not so great if you are going for a fresh or high quality job!

Step 5: Final Clean-up

At this point, gaps will show in the whitewash, but the base colour may still be discoloured and white by the salt which has melted into the water. To remove this, wait 24 hours until the tank is bone dry. Wet the tea towel until it is damp and gently rub the tank. This will take away any remaining salt crystals without further damaging your paintwork.

In the shot below, the central tank has been sponged with the wet cloth, whilst the two at either the side have not.How-to-whitewash-vehicles

Step 6: Decals and weathering

This stage is optional. Indeed, many players would want to apply decals at the prep work stage. This allows the decals to be obscured by the whitewash too. If you want to do this, make sure to ensure there is enough salt coverage to not completely mask the decal.

In my case, I am going to assume my Russians were conscientious enough to repaint their markings and add the decals over the top. All of the B&B team know how I like factory fresh armies and what a wrench making things this messy has been for me already! Added to this, for Tank War it makes it easier to distinguish individual tanks which may have different upgrades and veteran abilities if you can easily see their numbers.


Hopefully this has been an informative tutorial and if you have followed the steps above your tanks look like mine or better!

If you have done this, please share your results with us!

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