How to Make Wood Look Whitewashed

Whitewashing lends character without hiding grain.
Whitewashing lends character without hiding grain. (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Whitewashing is a simple way to give wood such as oak more character without sacrificing the natural beauty of its grain. Even plain woods such as pine can be whitewashed to good effect. Also known as pickling or liming, whitewashing is the process of applying a thin coat of white or pastel color to bare wood, then removing most of that coating before it dries. The amount of color left behind can vary depending on the effect you're looking for, from just a hint of opacity to a deep haze.

Things You'll Need

  • Sealer or pre-stain conditioner (optional)
  • 320 grit sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • White paint or opaque pastel stain
  • Paint brush
  • Paper towels or wiping rags
  • Clear top coat

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Apply a sealer or pre-stain conditioner if you are using a water-based paint or stain. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Sand the wood with 320 grit sandpaper. Remove all traces of dust with a tack cloth.

Apply a liberal coat of white paint or opaque pastel stain to the wood using a brush, paper towels or a wiping rag. Brush or wipe with the grain. Work quickly on one section at a time so that the color doesn't dry out before you can wipe it off. Watch out for build-up in tight corners or crevices, unless that is the effect you want. Utilize a clean rag to wipe off the paint or stain, again working with the grain.

Move on to another section and repeat the process. Apply a coat of color to the entire piece before trying to add more to any one section; you can always go back and apply another coat.

Allow the first coat to dry thoroughly. Inspect the piece to be sure you're happy with the overall effect. Keep in mind that a clear top coat will tend to slightly lessen the opacity of the whitewash effect. Apply another layer of whitewash if desired, but be careful not to obscure all of the grain.

Finish the piece with a clear top coat when the whitewash is completely dry.

Tips & Warnings

  • On pine, use a natural tone stain first to give the wood some color before whitewashing.
  • Water-based clear acrylic works well as a top coat for whitewashed wood because it dries clear and tends not to yellow. White-tinted shellac can also be used as a top coat to accentuate the whitewashed effect.


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