Whitewashing a wood surface is a relatively simple and historic task. However, I found you may need to develop a whitewashing technique when you're whitewashing bare wood and want to still see the natural wood grain. And that's what I did. Let me show you how I was able to whitewash raw wood and make it look like a whitewash stain.
A Vintage Look for A Vintage or Antique Washstand
This Antique Eastlake Washstand has been through a bit of an ordeal. I had full intentions of doing a single process and sealing it, but each time I was met with a new challenge. So, we've been on an adventure together.
In the first place, I stripped it bare of its original stain and varnish with oven cleaner. To read about that process check out this post How to Strip a Washstand with Oven Cleaner.
I was met with the reality of a very red-toned wood, from either leftover stained wood or the type of wood.
Then I thought it'd be a good idea to bleach the wood of the red tones. The second process was using Zinsser 2 Part Wood Bleach. To read about that process check out this post How to Bleach a Wooden Washstand.
It was beautiful but was obvious that the wood for the frame and the wood for the drawers weren't the same.
The third time is the charm and I do believe I was able to give it the perfect finish with a whitewash look. I was really looking to try to give it a very even tone on the whole piece.
What I really love was that I was able to give it a mostly transparent finish (opaque finish) so I could still adore the beautiful grain of the wood. Very similar to the look of a pickling wash.
Watch a Video Tutorial on How to Whitewash Wood
Popular White Wash Techniques to Achieve A Similar Look
I had some particular things to work around with this washstand, but in different circumstances, there are several other techniques that would make a great option.
5 Methods to Get the Whitewashed Look
- White Stain (White Wood Stain)
- Pickling Stain (semi-transparent whitewash type stain)
- White Wax
- Lime Wash
- 50/50 Part Water + Paint Mixture (chalk paint, acrylic paint, ordinary latex paint, milk paint, etc) - The option I chose
Reasons to Use Different Techniques to Whitewash Raw Wood
Creating a whitewash finish is extremely simple depending on a few factors. Let's take a moment to look at the reasons I chose to use a whitewash vs another type of whitewash look.
- I was hoping to achieve a look of whitewash for its opaque finish. I needed to create an even wood tone but didn't want the natural wood grain to be completely covered.
- The type of wood I was working with was raw but had the old finish still stuck in the carvings. This meant I could not simply stain the wood.
- The type of paint I had on hand was latex and I wanted this to be a no-spend project.
Tools & Supplies to Whitewash Raw Wood Furniture
The tools and supplies for this type of project are so few which makes it very budget-friendly.
To Whitewash Raw Wood:
- 1-2 Paper Towel Rolls
- 2" Angled Paint Brush or Spray Bottle
- Latex Solid White Paint - White Dove by Benjamin Moore (or a different color)
- Top Coat - Polycrylic by Minwax
- A Clean Lint Free Rag
- Bucket of Warm Water
To Strip it to Raw Wood:
- Stripper of Choice (Citristrip for paint or Easy Off Oven Cleaner for Stain & Varnish)
- Metal Scraper
- Orbital Sander + 120 Grit Sandpaper Discs
- Bucket of Warm Water
- Soft Bristle Scrub Brush
Watch a Video Tutorial on My YouTube Channel
Step One - Stripping the Piece of Furniture to Whitewash Raw Wood
For this step, you'll need an Orbital Sander, 120 Grit Sanding Discs, and Stripper of Choice.
To achieve the same look I did your first step really needs to be to get rid of the existing finish on the piece. This tutorial is based on the assumption of starting with raw wood, not a painted surface.
It is possible to get a whitewashed wood look without taking it down to the natural grain. However, I already had my piece down to raw wood already. And I like to start with a clean smooth surface.
I chose to use the Oven Cleaner Method to strip my washstand of its original stain and varnish. However, there are definitely other options you can use depending on the type of finish.
What Are My Options to Strip a Piece to Raw Wood?
- Citristrip - Antique Washstand Turned Bedside Table & Refinishing an Empire Secretary Desk
- Sand with a Power Sander
- Heat Gun + Metal Scraper for a painted finish
- Easy Off Oven Cleaner for a stain and varnish finish
- Other Products Like Minwax Furniture Restorer + Steel Wool, Smart Strip, & Klean Strip +After Wash
- Soda Blasting
How to Strip Wood Using Oven Cleaner + Sanding
This method is probably the least when it comes to hard work. And thankfully this process really does not take a lot of time either. I had my piece down to raw wood within a couple of hours, which included the drying time in the sun.
- Spray the piece with Easy Off Oven Cleaner.
- Let it sit for 15-20 minutes, the stain and varnish will start to run and bubble.
- Use a bucket of warm soapy water and a soft bristle scrub brush to scrub the old varnish and stain off.
- Spray it clean with a hose and let it dry.
- If it needs any additional coats repeat steps 1-4.
- Once it is completely dry sand the entire piece using fine grit sandpaper, like 220 or 120 grit.
Step Two - Create a Whitewash Paint Mixture
For this step, you'll need Paint, a Separate Container to Mix the Whitewash, Warm Water, and a Stir Stick.
You don't need much paint to create a whitewashed wood look. In fact, I used a small portion of what I made which was probably 2 cups worth. So no matter how big of a piece you're whitewashing, you probably only need a little bit.
And although it is called a "whitewash" you could technically use this paint technique with any paint color.
Whitewash Wood Recipe
- ½ cup Latex Paint (1 part paint)
- ½ cup warm water (1 part water)
Add equal parts water and paint in a separate container and stir until mixed thoroughly.
Step Three - The First Coat of Whitewash
For this step, you'll need a Whitewash Mixture, 2" Angled Brush, Paper Towels, a Bucket of Warm Water, and a Rag.
This technique requires two separate parts of the process. Because I wanted a light finish and still be able to see the natural grain I developed this technique doing a bit of trial and error.
Because the wood is raw this first coat is going to soak into the pores of the wood very quickly. So, for the best results, you need to work fast and in one small section at a time. We're trying to achieve an even wash over the entire surface and avoid brush strokes.
Before you begin you may choose to practice on a scrap piece of wood first. Using a scrap wood piece will allow you to perfect this technique before adding paint to a piece you just worked hard to strip. I'm not going to lie, it was scary for me.
Whitewashing Raw Wood - Part 1
- In a small area (perhaps an inconspicuous area?) take your brush and apply your whitewash in the direction of the wood grain.
- Take your damp cloth (wet it in your bucket and squeeze out all the excess) and wipe it off.
- Repeat this on the entire area (top, side, drawer front, etc) before moving on to part 2 immediately.
Step Four - The Second Coat of Whitewash
For this step, you'll need your Whitewash Mixture, 2" Angled Brush, and Paper Towels.
This next part of the two-part process needs to happen pretty quickly after the first part so that it works properly. The idea is to dampen the wood so it sucks into the wood like white wood stains.
Whitewashing Raw Wood - Part 2
- Immediately following Part 1 apply your whitewash mixture over the entire surface again.
- This time use a paper towel to wipe off the excess in the direction of the grain.
- Wipe off any excess until you cannot see any strokes of paint left and achieve the opaque stain.
Step Five - The Final Step
For this step, you'll need your Top Coat of Choice, 2" Angled Brush, and a 220 or 120 Grit Sanding Disc.
When you whitewash raw wood don't forget it will need to be sealed. So, this is the time when you should pick the type of finish you'd like to use as a top coat.
Since this washstand will be dealing with water I chose to go with the waterproof topcoat of Polycrylic by Minwax.
5 Reasons I Love and Use Polycrylic
- It dries extremely fast. Most coats dry in 15-20 minutes. Heat will expedite the drying time as well.
- It's a clear coat that will not yellow over time like other options. So it will retain its beautiful whitewashed wood grain.
- Extremely easy to apply. I prefer to use a 2" Angled Brush to apply.
- Apply multiple coats in the same hour. After 2 coats it is helpful to do a light scuff sand between additional coats but isn't necessary if your previous coats were smooth.
How to Apply Polycrylic
- Open your Polycrylic can and gently stir with a stir stick to ensure it is mixed well.
- Use your brush and quickly apply a generous amount to a small section always going with the grain.
- When you finish a section do not go back over it if you can help it.
- Try to finish the entire section (side, drawer fronts, top, etc) in 1-2 minutes.
- Let it dry.
- Repeat steps 1-5 sanding between each coat with 220 or 120 grit sandpaper.
For areas that will not see heavy use 1-2 coats are proper. For heavy use areas or areas that will see water 3-4 coats would be smart.
What is a Traditional Whitewash?
To create a traditional whitewash you mix powdered lime with water. This creates a paint or sealant that is also non-toxic and safe for animals. A traditional whitewash is popular because it is a thin paint. This ultimately allows the natural wood grain to show through like a white stain.
What Style is Whitewash?
Whitewash is most often associated with the Shabby Chic style, but it works well with almost all decorating styles. A few other decorating styles whitewash would pair well with would be Farmhouse, French Country, Granny Chic, Grandmillennial, Mid Century Modern, Rustic, etc.
What is the Difference Between Painting and Whitewashing?
When you paint a surface you are covering the wood grain. In a traditional whitewashing, you would wipe off excess paint mixture to create more of a white wood stain with an opaque finish. This allows you to still see the natural wood grain.
Which is Better, Limewash or Whitewash?
Technically traditional whitewash and limewash are one and the same. However, whitewash paint provides a smoother, brighter, and permanent finish. A whitewash paint can also have a whole range of color options and works on surfaces that have already been painted.
What Paint Do You Use to Whitewash?
You can create whitewash paint using different types of paint including Acrylic, Latex, Chalk paint, and Milk paint.
With acrylic, latex, and chalk paint mix equal parts paint and warm water. Use Milk paint as a whitewash paint, but wipe off excess quickly with a dry rag.
What Different Types of Wood Work with This White Washing Technique?
You can use whitewash paint on any wood type.
Before you can whitewash raw wood or new wood you would need to sand the raw wood thoroughly with fine-grit sandpaper so you're applying it to a smooth surface.
Thanks so much for stopping by today! I hope I have inspired you to create and use your very own whitewash paint and transform any raw wood you've got!