DIY Dirt Rubbed Books for Decor/Display

6 Materials
1 Day

So I don't know if you're on Instagram or not, but I've seen a ton of DIYers updating old vases with this "dirt rubbed" effect! I've been wanting to try it out, but don't have any vases or planters that I'd like to update. I did, however, have some old books lying around! I actually purchased these very used books on eBay, as I installed some shelves in my living room recently and have been adding some decor to them here and there. I've been meaning to paint the books, as a way to update them so they'd fit in with the neutral/grey color scheme of my living room. I did end up painting them, but I also "dirt rubbed" them too, as I've been wanting to try this technique and figured why not give it a shot on these books!

Now, for those of you that are not familiar with this "dirt rubbing" technique, you're pretty much doing what it's called - rubbing dirt. From the tutorials I've seen and the blogs I've read on it, (mostly being done on vases, lamps or planter pots) the piece is first painted, dried, then you literally grab some dirt and start rubbing it onto the piece. Once you let it sit for a little while, you then go in and wipe away the excess, and ta-da! You have a chic, aged, antique/rustic looking item! It's actually a very cool technique! I haven't seen it done on anything other than anything ceramic, so I wasn't sure this would actually work!

Choose your paint color!

Chalk paint is the easiest to work with, I think! So I recommend using a chalk paint of your choice. I had this one already, but it was too dark for what I was going for. I also already had this white paint, so I added a little bit of it to the chalk paint to lighten it.

Book Before

What my book looked like before I started painting it.

Also, I made sure to cover the pages, as I didn't want to ruin them. I put a plastic bag around the pages of the book. You could also use a Ziplock bag, painter's tape, or just secure some paper towels around them.

Start Painting!

Start painting light, even strokes, up and down.

Painting Done!

This is my book done with two coats of the paint. You can do as many coats as you'd like, depending on what color you're using and what look you're going for! I liked the streaky-ness!

Now for the Fun/Messy Part - THE DIRT!

I let my book dry for a couple hours, only because I painted it then ran some errands! It should dry for about an hour though. Drying time will also depend on how many coats you've applied too! You can always test an inconspicuous spot with your finger to see if it's dry! I put my dirt into a cup and added a little bit of water. I then applied the dirt with my hands. (Gloves highly recommended!)


I rubbed the dirt in the same direction I painted - up and down. You don't have to put too much muscle into this, as you just need to lightly rub the dirt onto the book. I then let the dirt sit for the rest of the day. You probably don't need to let it sit for that long, but I was just over the mess!

P.S. I had dirt everywhere!  Definitely recommend doing this outside if you can! LOL

Wipe off the excess!

Once I felt like my dirt was set, I then grabbed a paper towel and dampened it slightly. I used the damp paper towel to lightly start rubbing off the excess dirt. I kept wiping until I was able to rub my hand against the book and I had little to no dirt residue on my hands.

Apply a Clear Glaze!

After I got rid of the excess dirt, I decided I'd put a glaze on the book so that I wouldn't have any dirt particles or fall out on my shelf. I had this Krylon glaze on hand and I just sprayed a light coat on the entire book. It dried pretty quick too!

The Finished Product!

Voila! You now have an antiqued/rustic looking book!

I really love how it came out! Although the book would've looked nice with just flat paint, I feel like the dirt really added some texture and interest to it! I want to dirt rub everything now!!!

Suggested materials:

  • Chalk Paint   (Home Depot)
  • Dirt   (Anywhere you can grab a cup of dirt!)
  • An Old Book   (eBay)
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Frequently asked questions

Have a question about this project?

  2 questions
  • Brigidbythelake Brigidbythelake on Aug 18, 2020

    Awesome idea for all the old Reader's Digest books I see at the thrift shop! Instead of dirt do you think you could use the contents of a used tea bag?

  • Sue Sue on Sep 06, 2020

    When Americans say “dirt”, do they mean “soil”?


Join the conversation

5 of 9 comments
  • Bek Bek on Aug 17, 2020

    While something in me CRINGES at the thought of doing this to a book, my local used book store has a "freebie" bin, books with pages missing, etc. Looks like I'll be stopping there next time I go! What a wonderful way to give a book destined for a landfill a new lease on life!

    • See 1 previous
    • Alana Alana on Aug 18, 2020

      Thanks so much for your comments, ladies!

      I realize this project is not for everyone, as many other projects/DIYs are not. However, in painting the cover of the book, I don't feel that I've ruined the integrity of the book. I protected the pages while painting, as I didn't want to ruin them, so I could absolutely read the book if I choose to. I definitely wouldn't purchase a brand new book and do such project on it. I recommend doing this on books that have been loved and used, and otherwise could have possibly been thrown out or (hopefully) donated. I purchased this used book, along with five others for a low price, with the intent to only use them as display. Some of the covers have been loved quite a bit, as some have stains and other spots. I'm also not sure what the person selling them would have done with them, had they not been purchased. I only wanted to "update" the covers, and as Bek said, give them a new lease on life, but in a nonconventional way.

      If you're looking to do some updating on a cover of a book, but without the paint (or the dirt), you could do a cover made of fabric or paper instead. Wrapping paper or brown paper would look great, as well as recycled newspaper. Even using an old t-shirt or leftover scrap fabric would also do the trick. With these options, you're not only able to change out the cover every so often if you wanted to, but you could hide any imperfections on the original book cover, without actually doing something to it you feel may be ruining the cover.

  • Bob Schulenberg Bob Schulenberg on Aug 18, 2020

    I must have about 1000 books and the various original colors of the spines in the shelves of my pine-walled Library give such a rich look to the room and echo the colors of the oriental rugs that this wouldn’t be appropriate at my place but the idea is a wonderful one and I want to try it on something - but without the paint.

    Possibly new terra cotta pots! CONGRATULATIONS!

    • Alana Alana on Aug 18, 2020

      Thanks so much for your comment, Bob! Your library sounds absolutely beautiful!  This type of project is perfect for terra cotta pots! I've seen some tutorials where people have done the same and they turned out amazing! That's definitely something I'm adding to my DIY bucket list!