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Typical Ghoul Next Door
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Wanted to know if you could comment a bit more about the wet look? I read the baby oil and dish soap suggestions.
I’ve got a grouping of costumes for a 2 night run of a show (Les Miserables) plus some dress rehearsals),where my actors play members of a very hard worked chain gang and later will need to be clean, well dressed people. I will be distressing their costumes and also need to have their hair/faces/arms look dirty and sweaty. I‘ve done some theatre makeup and costume distressing before, but have not had to do much sweat - not skin anyway.
Any suggestions would be helpful!

Hi Jwkile!

Your makeup/special effects for living people (actors) is likely going to need some rethinks from the tips and tricks in this thread. Most of these applications are for static non-moving props, not people. So using something like baby oil or KY jelly isn't likely to be a great stage effect since the actors will have to wash off ALL their makeup/greasepaint and redo for any later scenes that need them clean and non-grimy.

I was a theater minor many moons ago, and worked in props/stage effects and what we used for super sweaty looks was a fine mist spray bottle filled with equal parts glycerin and water, shaken up really well right before the actor(s) are due to go on stage, and spritz them. Have a nice fluffy towel as soon as they exit and advise them to blot (no RUBBING!) carefully and then check their greasepaint for any touchups before their next scene.

We always tried to keep the makeup changeups to a minimum (since reapplying greasepaint needs both time and $) and used COSTUME effects to get the "hard working covered in dirt" effect across. It's MUCH easier and cheaper for the production if the costumes are used to carry the scene across than physical makeup changes/effects, unless you need truly crazy effects like animals, wounds, etc.. of course!

1 Posts
Hey guys, so this isn't technically a step-by-step DIY, but I thought I'd share some secrets from my times on set for quick ways to make your costumes look dirty without really getting them dirty. This is perfect for costumes where things are supposed to be dirty, old, distressed, worn down, and or just generally nasty (zombies are the perfect example!)

First thing first. When I go onto a set where I know I'm going to be getting people "dirty" I always pack my dirt kit. You can buy professional grade "dirt" (Called Schmere) but it's not only hella expensive (deluxe kits can be purchased for upwards of $75), but it actually carries warnings right on the items that it's made with nuts and should not be used by anyone with nut allergies.
I've worked with enough actors who are deathly allergic to peanuts that this makes me nervous...which is why I've made my own "dirt kit." For a whopping $20 (and most of that was for the cooler bag I carry it around in) I made my own kit.



I've had people ask me about spray paint which is fine in a pinch, but has a tendency to make fabric stiff and crack. You can also use specific fabric spray paints, but they sometimes splatter and can also be expensive. I prefer using this stuff over anything else...plus, it smells much better!

Now, just a heads up, this can get messy, so if you can...do the initial ageing somewhere you don't mind getting a little grubby. I prefer my bathtub...but outdoors works well also.

View attachment 218505
This was for a western we shot last year. The director wanted it to look like my cowboys had been on the trail for weeks without a shower...but of course, nobody really wants to wear clothes that dirty and or stinky...so what I did was fake it with a little kitchen magic.
View attachment 218504

For the dried on sweat look I filled a spray bottle with water and some instant iced tea. You can make this as light or as dark (weak or strong) as you want. It will leave a nice yellowish tint to anything you spray it on. Make sure you use UNSWEETENED tea. If you use sweet tea, the sugar will gum up the spray bottle and you'll end up with a clogged nozzle. THIS WILL STAIN CLOTHES so make sure whatever you're spraying is okay with being a permanent tan color. Soaking fabric in tea is often used to make whites more "vintage" as well...it's also called "teching" and helps to ensure that the bright white won't 'blow out' on camera.

For wet/fresh sweat I like to use baby oil. It will remain "dark" like real sweat for hours. Like the tea it will stain. You can also use clear dish soap which WILL wash out...just make sure you don't add in extra detergent when you wash it in the washer or you'll end up with a foamy mess. There is also the ever popular KY Jelly which also works well but will get you some strange looks when you walk into the drug store and buy thirty bottles at once. I suggest spreading it out over a few stores.

Here's another shot using the tea/baby oil sweat from another film we did...
View attachment 218506

I like to use a mixture depending on what type of dirt I'm recreating. I use what I call "dirt puffs" which is just whatever dirt I need mixed up and poured into an old nylon doubled up. Tie the top of the nylon and it becomes an easy way to "pouf" dirt onto whatever you need. You can bop it against just about anything and get a nice dirt look or even shake it over for a light dusting.
To get your dirt fine enough to sift through a nylon and to ensure it's well blended, I like to pulse my dirt ingredients in an old coffee grinder before nylon bagging it.

MAKE SURE YOU'RE BEING SMART WITH THIS STUFF...even though it's all kitchen items, it's still not healthy to breathe it in, so make sure as you're "pouffing," that you're not inhaling a ton of it either.

DUST: Baking flour
DIRT: Instant coffee and or tea
RUSTY DIRT: Instant coffee and cinnamon
SANDY DIRT: Instant coffee and curry
MUD: flour, instant coffee and any of the above ingredients mixed to a nice slurry and then spattered or slapped onto whatever you want.
GREASE: Shoe polish. You can either break off pieces and use them like a crayon and just scrub the clothes with it or you can actually light it on fire (in the tin), let it melt a bit, blow it out, then scoop up melted polish on an old rag or sock and rub that onto the clothes as well. Just remember to blow it out before you scoop it up.


Need to put holes in something? I prefer using a combination of methods but for a fast shred, nothing works faster or better than the "Bad Cat."
View attachment 218507
Technically referred to as a "leather rougher," this thing is MEAN! When you use it, I STRONGLY suggest using it on a surface that either A) you don't care about, or B) won't easily get scratched. Whatever you do, do NOT use it on something you are wearing...it will TEAR YOU UP! I call it the bad cat because it's like being licked by Satan's feline... I got mine at Tandy's but they can also be ordered online.

Just a few passes with this thing will shred just about ANYTHING...

Not feeling brave enough to use the cat or just can't find one? A power sander (I like the Black and Decker Mouse) or just plain old sand paper works as well.
And then again, there's always the cinder block method...which I've used sometimes, but don't always recommend. Basically you drive out to a dirt lot, take a cinder block and put it on whatever clothes you want to quickly destroy, tie the block to your bumper, and drag the clothes all over the lot while they're under the cinder block. Super fast but you never know what you might be driving over so LAST RESORT...

Of course, nothing works better than a quick pass with a lighter (or small butane torch) but make sure you've got water nearby just in case...

So, in a quick little nutshell, that's my crash course on ageing and dying. I hope this helps anyone looking for a fast way to make things look grubby...

I love helping people out, so if you have any questions or need a specific look, just ask...if I can't figure it out, I'll find someone who can and together we'll both learn something new!

Happy haunting!

This is so great! Thank you!

I have one question. I was wondering if you knew if this type of dirt was prone to stain clothing? I'm assistant costume designing a staging of King Lear and we want to dirty up some people and their clothes. It's theater so of course, we have to be able to clean and progressively dirty them for the show for multiple performances. It's an independent student production at a university so the budget is low and we are trying to avoid getting multiples of costumes where we can.
So yeah, are all these methods easily washable, or is there one that is better for my circumstances than others, or might you suggest a different method entirely?

Thank you so much!

PS Sorry for posting this twice. Still figuring out this website. I think I did it wrong the first time.
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