DIY Whitewash Dresser

Learn how to turn your old dresser into a raw wood / whitewashed beauty with this step by step tutorial. Here’s our DIY Whitewash Dresser Makeover!

Get more DIY dresser makeovers here!

dresser before sanding and whitewashing

Here’s what the dresser looked like when we bought it on Facebook marketplace. The previous owner removed most of the damaged veneer before she sold it to me. 

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She was probably completely worn out by the time she got it to this point. I can’t blame her though, if you don’t know the trick, removing veneer can be a huge pain!

Since she already did so much work, I decided to roll with all of the raw wood.

Thankfully I recently learned the easiest way to remove veneer from furniture, so I was able to easily finish removing the veneer on the top.

I wanted a raw wood look for this dresser, basically exactly how it looked when I was done sanding.

scroll down to see the after photos

Supplies Used for This DIY Whitewash Dresser

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How to Whitewash Raw Wood

First, I got to work sanding off the old finish that was left on the dresser.

sanding old finish off dresser

This old antique dresser sanded down pretty fast since the old finish was dry and pretty thin.

Removing Old Finish By Sanding

I started by sanding it with 100 grit sandpaper to get most of the finish off as fast as possible. I used my favorite little SurfPrep sander, but you could sand with any ole sander for the most part.

Check out our SurfPrep vs Festool sander reviews to help you if you’re deciding to get a sander.

using the surfprep sander to remove the old finish
using the surfprep sander to sand the turned wood legs

I love this Surfprep sander because of the foam sandpaper I can use with it, and because it’s a rectangle, so I can get right up to the edges and in the corners with it.

Learn more about the SurfPrep sander along with my honest review here!

If you use an orbital sander, you’ll need to hand sand the corners and edges. You can also learn about the best sanders for furniture here.

After everything was sanded with 100 grit, I sanded everything down with 150 grit sandpaper and then with 220 grit sandpaper.

I used 150 instead of jumping straight to 220 to help avoid any sanding marks that come from using a power sander. Learn about sandpaper for furniture and which one to use here.

I also tried to sand slower, without applying very much pressure to the sander to help avoid those sanding swirls.

For the details at the bottom, I just folded a piece of sandpaper in half. Then I removed some of the dark stain, but left most of it to show off the pretty details.

sanding the details at the bottom of the dresser with a folded up piece of sandpaper
closeup of dresser after sanding

I ended up sanding the entire thing, even the drawers and top, with 220 grit sandpaper before moving on.

Check out my guide on how to sand down wood to learn more.

And then I removed the dust that was left behind with a vacuum and then with a tack cloth. (Tack cloths are amazing at picking up all the little specks of dust left!)

But, if you want to skip the tedious step of sanding off the old finish, check out this post on how to change wood color without sanding.

using a hose shop vacuum attachment to remove dust from the dresser
using a tack cloth to get the dust off of the dresser

Optional: Remove the Old Finish With Chemical Stripper

You don’t have to be limited to only sanding to remove the old finish though! Sometimes the old finish is hard to remove by sanding. In that case, a chemical stripper is the best option.

Check out this post to learn about how we used a (not harsh) chemical stripper to remove wood stain. Also, here are the best tools for removing paint or old finish from wood.

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Seal The Raw Wood

Then I wiped a coat of poly all over the raw wood to keep the whitewash from soaking into the wood too much.

using a sponge to apply waterbased polyurethane to dresser
can of varathane waterbased polyurethane in satin

Notice how much darker the wood gets from just one coat of poly on it!

I wiped the poly on with a foam sponge. I love the painting sponge from Country Chic Paint to apply poly by hand, but the ones I have right now have been used and abused.

So I tried this tile grout sponge out and I was super happy with the results!

yellow tile grout sponge

Since the 1 coat of poly is so thin, it only acts as a barrier to keep the whitewash from soaking in too much (and making it so you can’t wipe it back off). And since the whitewash is such a thin coat, it has no problem adhering to the 1 coat of poly.

So the poly gives you more control over the whitewash, and the whitewash lightens up the sealed wood. Find out what the best polyurethane for furniture is here!

Optional: Staining

For some reason, the wood on the top drawer and the wood on the top were different than the rest of the dresser.

wiping brown waterbased stain onto the top drawer

Everything else was a lot more orange. So I tried to stain the wood to a closer shade of what everything else was before I moved onto whitewashing.

Check out the best wood stains for refinishing furniture and the best brushes for staining wood here.

First I used a little mix of brown latex paint and water to see if that helped, but it was definitely not even close.

fresh mustard and paint the town paint colors from country chic paint to make orange stain

I didn’t have any orange paint to try to stain the wood to match the orangey tones, so I grabbed the red and yellow paint that I have on hand, and mixed up an orange.

I mixed it with more water to create basically a whitewash, but orange instead of white. Then I wiped it onto the top of the dresser and top drawer.

Learn more about how to stain wood with paint here.

staining the top with orange wash
staining the top drawer with orange wash

When it dried it was a pretty close match!! I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty excited about how close it was! Haha

I put a coat of poly over the orange wash to seal it in and make sure everything was the same before moving on. Learn how to spray polyurethane to seal your painted furniture here.

If you want to get rid of the orange, here’s how to tone down orange wood furniture.

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How to Make Whitewash Paint

After the poly was dry, I watered down some white chalk paint I had on hand. Any water-based white paint will work for this.

Learn more about the types of paint for furniture here.

pouring water into white chalk paint to make whitewash

I didn’t really measure the water to paint ratio, but basically, you want it to look like water that is tinted white.

How to Apply Whitewash

Then I got a little bit of whitewash on my paintbrush, and brushed it on, staying with the direction of the wood grain. Check out this list of the best paint brushes for painting furniture.

I worked in really small sections so it didn’t have time to dry or soak into the wood much.

brushing the whitewash onto a drawer
wiping off the whitewash

Then I used a lint-free rag to wipe it off and spread it out a little more. I actually used the same rag for the whole dresser.

The next day when I checked it out, the whitewash was a little thicker on the top drawer than I wanted. So I sanded it down a bit and added just a little bit more whitewash to try to even it out.

Topcoat Whitewashed Dresser

When I was happy with everything, I wiped the dresser down with a tack cloth and then wiped on 3 more coats of poly.

If you have a paint sprayer, you can also spray the poly on for a more even finish! You can find the best HVLP paint sprayers for furniture here!

Each coat of poly dried in 15 minutes or so, so it went really fast!

applying waterbased polyurethane onto dresser with a sponge

I used satin poly for the first coats and then the last coat I used a matte poly to decrease the shine. I love the extra durability the satin poly provides, but the flat finish of the matte poly.

**Notice that the whitewash blended better with the raw wood after being sealed with poly.

applying waterbased poly on top of dresser with sponge

Finish and Add Hardware

To finish it up, I added these cute little dark knobs to contrast the light raw wood look. And to accent the dark stain that I intentionally left in the details. These DIY leather pulls would be super cute on this makeover too.

If you want more amazing furniture makeover ideas, check out this post for a bunch of really cool ways to give your old furniture a makeover, making your home feel brand new!

If you want to know check out other budget-friendly dresser makeovers here’s our list of refurbished dresser ideas.

Here’s what it looks like now!

closeup of DIY whitewash dresser makeover with dark knobs
DIY Whitewash Dresser with Dark Knobs

More Before And After Makeovers

Click any of these “before” photos below to view the “after” of that makeover.

full shot of whitewashed dresser
scroll up if you missed the after photos

DIY Whitewash Dresser

Whitewashed dresser with dark knobs

Give your old dresser a stunning raw wood finish. Here are the steps for this DIY whitewash dresser.


  1. Remove the old finish from the dresser by sanding it off. Start by sanding everything with 100 grit sandpaper then moving to 150 grit and 220 grit. Try to sand slower and without applying very much pressure to help avoid those sanding swirls. For the details at the bottom of the dresser, just fold a piece of sandpaper in half.
  2. Now, sand the entire dresser with 220 grit sandpaper. Clean up all the dust from sanding with the vacuum and tack cloth.
  3. Seal the raw wood with a thin coat of waterbased polyurethane. This is to keep the whitewash from soaking into the wood too much.
  4. Water down some paint to make whitewash. Basically, you want it to look like water that is tinted white. Brush the whitewash on the furniture, staying with the direction of the wood grain. Work in really small sections so the whitewash doesn't have time to dry or soak into the wood much. Wipe the excess off and spread it out a little more with a lint-free rag.
  5. The next day, wipe the whitewashed dresser with a tack cloth then seal everything with 3 more coats of poly.
  6. Attach new hardware!

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dresser after whitewash makeover

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