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How to Whitewash Wood

Whether you’re revamping an old piece of furniture or treating bare wood, a whitewash finish is the perfect way to lighten the look while still maintaining a hint of the wood grain. 

What is the Difference Between Whitewash and Paint?

Whitewash is a semi-opaque finish applied to an existing finish or bare wood with the goal of allowing the base coat or wood grain to show through. Paint is applied and dried as a solid coating that does not allow the wood grain to be seen through it.

Using Premixed Whitewash vs. Making it

Steps for mixing whitewash.

To achieve the look of whitewash, you can use a premixed option or make your own by mixing water and white paint. In this video and tutorial, I am going to be mixing one part water with one part of white water-based paint.

Steps for Mixing Whitewash

  1. Stir the mix, and then brush it onto the wood. Wait a minute for it to soak in, but not so long that the paint starts to dry or feel tacky.
  2. Using a cloth, wipe away the excess. Wiping lightly with a slightly damp cloth will leave a more opaque finish while wiping several times with a dry cloth will create a more transparent finish.
  3. For an even more opaque finish, allow the paint to dry and then apply a second coat.
  4. Another option to increase or decrease the opacity is to change the ratio of water to paint.

Tips for Applying Whitewash to Wood

Once you know the basics, try these variations:

  • Apply water to a board to raise or “pop” the grain. Apply the whitewash solution, and then scrape it off with a putty knife to highlight the grain.
  • Next try applying a layer of gray paint mixed with water to a wood that would typically have a yellow undertone, like pine, to mute the color.
  • Once dry, apply a whitewash finish to complete the look.
  • Lastly, apply dark stain to a rough wood. Once dry, apply a whitewash and then scrape off the excess for a weathered rustic look.