How to Whitewash Wood

Whitewashing furniture is a great way to give new life to old pieces of wood furniture. In this post, we’re sharing how to whitewash wood using the easiest method.

Get more painting furniture tips and ideas here!

before and after whitewashed wood

Whitewashing is becoming a popular technique for finishing wood.

It’s a great way to add interest to a project without creating an excessively heavy or dark finish.

In this blog post, we’ll cover the basics of whitewashing wood and break it down into 6 simple steps, so that you can try this technique on your next project.

What is Whitewashing?

Whitewashing is a finishing technique where wood is coated with diluted white paint or white stain.

This type of finish can be used to brighten up a space or add an antique look to a piece of furniture.

Whitewashing is also a good way to salvage damaged wood—knots, dents, and scratches can all be blended with a whitewash finish.

That is what these nightstands looked like when we got them.

2 modern nightstands with 3 drawers in brown paint

Supplies for WhiteWashing Wood

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Get our list of the top 10 supplies for painting furniture here.

Cleaning Furniture

I know it sounds like a joke that you need to clean the finish before taking it off, but it’s honestly really important, especially if you’re sanding.

I wouldn’t say that it’s super important if you’re stripping, though. And here is why.

As you’re sanding, the surface that you’re sanding gets hot.

When wax, grease or oil gets hot, it tends to melt, which then makes it easier to spread everywhere and easily falls down into the natural wood.

So you could end up with grease spots in your fresh wood.

And to make matters worse, the sealer may or may not stick in those spots.

So it’s best to spray your whole piece down with something like Krud Kutter that will clean those problems up before they become and issue.

Learn more about How to Clean Furniture Before Painting here.

How to Strip Furniture

Okay, there are two options here. I will say that I ended up sanding these ones completely without any stripping agent. But the smartest route is always to strip.

If your piece is completely solid wood with no wood veneers, and it doesn’t have any details or curves, you’ll be alright to sand.

But if there is any chance (and that chance is really likely) that there are wood veneers on your piece, then you run the risk of sanding right through the very thin veneer, and into wood that is a different color, or worse, MDF or particle board.

If you strip with a chemical first, the risk is much lower because the stripper gets rid of 90% of the finish, and you just have to lightly sand the rest.

Chemical stripper also can get into details, corners, and around curves really easily.

Even the tops on these nightstands were a little bit iffy with the power sander.

sanding the brown paint off

If you’re dead set on sanding, here are the Best Sanders for Furniture.

Here are some great tips for Sanding Furniture.

Stripper really isn’t as bad as a lot of people make it sound. I would say that it’s faster, especially around details and corners.

And you have a lot of downtime between putting the stripper on and taking the stripper and the finish off.

Learn everything you need to know about How to Remove Wood Stain or The Easiest Way to Remove Paint from your Old Wood Furniture.

sanded, raw wood nightstand

Once the stripping and/ or sanding is done, vacuum off the dust and wipe everything down.

I like to use a tack cloth to wipe away any dust after vacuuming.

Learn more about the best tools for removing paint from wood here.

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How to Bleach Wood

After you have sanded or stripped, if the wood is still not very light, you can bleach the wood to make it lighter!

You can use regular household bleach or wood bleach.

Check out this post on how to bleach wood to see how homemade bleach can make wood lighter!

How to Seal Raw Wood for Durability

This part kind of hurts. Not in a physical way, but after seeing that really pretty freshly sanded raw wood, it’s tough to put anything on it.

But, we have to seal the raw wood, or else it will easily stain and scratch when you use it every day.

I personally love to spray on the poly topcoat.

But the next best thing is to use a sponge.

I just get the sponge damp, pour a little bit of poly on a paper plate, and then dip the sponge into the poly.

You’ll probably want to wear gloves if you don’t want poly all over your hands, but the sponge helps prevent the streaky foggy finish you get with a brush.

Just remember to work fast and only touch the poly once or twice once it’s on the furniture.

Learn more tips and tricks about Topcoats for Painting Furniture here.

Or you can go the easy route and spray it on.

Learn ALL of my tips and tricks on How to Spray Polyurethane here!

Or you can even get poly in a spray can if you want to spray it but you don’t want to buy a paint sprayer.

raw wood sealed with waterbased polyurethane

Whitewashing Furniture

If you want to make the sealed raw wood finish light again, don’t worry!

I have you covered.

A simple white glaze or whitewash will lighten up the wood to imitate the freshly sanded raw wood coastal look you just had to cover up.

It’s not going to be the exact same, but it definitely helps!

Just make sure to properly seal before whitewashing the wood.

All you need is one or two coats, but the sealer really helps you be able to manipulate the whitewash before it dries up or soaks into the wood too heavily.

Whitewash Paint

Whitewashing wood is super simple. I used a white glaze that I had on hand, Country Chic Paint’s Clear Glaze mixed with a white chalk paint called Simplicity.

Check out my list of The Best White Chalk Paint for Furniture here.

Once it was mixed (per the label) I watered it down just a touch so it would go onto the nightstands thinner.

You can also make up a simple whitewash with watered down Simplicity (probably a 3 parts water to 1 part Simplicity). 

There is also a premixed whitewash wood stain that’s easy to use.

How to Whitewash Wood

I used a cheap paint brush to get the glaze into the corners and to brush it everywhere else.

I let the glaze sit for about 30 seconds, and then I wiped it all off with paper towels.

Normally I wouldn’t use paper towels, but since I was working with white glaze, any lint that was left behind blended in with the glaze.

It would be best to use an old white cut up t-shirt though.

For the drawers, I just dipped a paper towel into the glaze and then I wiped the paint all over the drawer, making sure to wipe with the grain.

Once it was all on, I made sure that it was all even by wiping it with a cleaner paper towel.

This method applied it really thin and I loved it.

But the body of the nightstands were too big for this method and the glaze dried too fast.

Speaking of drying too fast, make sure to stick to small areas, like one drawer or one side of the nightstand at a time.

And if it’s still drying too fast, water down your paint a little bit more.

closeup of whitewashed nightstand

Once all the glaze was on and dry, I lightly sanded everything down with 400 grit sandpaper again to make it completely smooth and to bring out the grain a little bit.

Then I vacuumed and wiped it down.

How to Seal Whitewashed Wood

Just like before, I want to protect my hard work and finish from getting ruined with every day use.

So I applied 3 final coats of waterbased polyurethane to my nightstands.

Here’s How to Apply Polycrylic to Painted Furniture.

I sprayed mine on again, but applying the poly with the sponge or the spray can are great options too!

Check out the Best Polyurethane for Furniture here.

It’s done!!

And there’s nothing like a coastal whitewashed wood finish to admire all day long.

Now the question is.. would you have left it sealed or added whitewash to it??

side view of whitewashed wood nightstand
pair of nightstands in whitewashed wood finish with clear knobs

More Before And After Makeovers

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

before and after of matching nightstands

How to Whitewash Wood

whitewashed wood furniture

Whitewashing wood is a great way to lighten it up and create a coastal, bohemian look. Here's how to whitewash wood furniture.

Instructions

    1. Clean it with a degreaser to make sure oils, grease or wax aren't on the old finish. You don't want to heat it up with a power sander and push it further into your wood.
    2. Strip it with Citristrip or Sand it with a power sander. Be careful with the power sander to not take off too much and go through what might be a wood veneer top!
    3. Vacuum up and wipe off the dust
    4. Seal it with water-based poly to protect the wood from everyday use. Oil based poly will amber over time, so be sure to use water- based poly.
    5. Apply the whitewash. The sealer will deepen the wood tone, but whitewash will bring the wood closer to its natural look.
    6. Seal it again to protect your new whitewashed wood finish.

    Notes

    The first step of sealing the wood is optional. But it helps create a barrier, so the wood doesn't soak up the whitewash so fast, making it hard to remove excess whitewash.

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    5 Comments

    1. Christine says:

      There is a finish that doesn’t darken raw wood. Found it by accident and I’m currently using it on practically everything! I’m veneering cabinets and using it to preserve the gorgeous white oak grain.
      Anyway…
      Pick up some dark paint base. You know, the can they put the pigment into? Get DARK (for navy, charcoal, black, etc) Exterior, FLAT, latex. It goes on WHITE OH NO! But it dries so incredibly invisible you have to mark where you left off. Absolutely no change in the raw wood underneath. It’s smooth, and the wood shouldn’t oxidize under it because of the UV protection, water proof-ness, etc. It’s beautifully sealed against water and other bad things.

      I just smooth it and give things a 2nd coat for sealing.
      A bonus: If you use this over chippy paint, it glues it down without the gummy look of polys. Again, invisible, but you can’t pick the chips off with your fingernail.

      You have so many tools in your tool box, I thought you might enjoy another one I find brilliant!

      Beautiful job on this nightstand!

      1. Hey Christine! Thank you so much for the info! I’m not sure I’m exactly understanding what the product is though.

        1. This is late, but I think she means to pick out flat latex paint that is meant to be tinted dark colors – but then don’t tint it. It will dry clear.

    2. Your nightstands turned out beautiful!!! The difference in the before and after is like night and day. I would love to know what product she was talking about too.

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