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How To Whitewash Wood

Wood is one of the greatest materials we have! It’s so versatile – it can be used to build almost anything! Houses, furniture, musical instruments, toys – even the tools with which these are built often have some wood in them!

How To Whitewash Wood

Likewise, the finishes that we can put on wood are so varied! Paint and varnish are perennially popular ways to cover and seal wood – but another long-popular method is whitewashing!

Perhaps you’ve never thought about whitewashing before, or don’t know where to start? Don’t worry – this quick and handy guide will tell you all you need to know to get started whitewashing!

Why Whitewash?

Painting is great, but often it just doesn’t have the right texture or finish that we’re after. Paints can tend to cover a little too evenly for certain looks – after all, that’s what you want a good paint to do! It wouldn’t be any good painting something and not getting an even finish.

Likewise, varnishing is a tried and tested way of sealing and covering wood – but if it’s not the look you want, then it’s just wrong for you!

Whitewashing is a long used way of brightening a wooden surface – but without the complete even coverage that a paint can give. This means that the grain of the wood can show through a lot more easily, which really brings out the texture of the wood!

Whitewashing is great for giving wood a vintage, rustic look, while the natural imperfections of coverage lend to a lived-in, homely look to the wood!


Before we start work, we’ve gotta do a little preparation. The first thing to do, as with almost anything with wood – some sanding! Well, actually, even before sanding – check for any raised nails or screws, and get them out!

You don’t want these around your hands or your tools when you’re sanding, as you could end up having a very nasty accident! Make sure you inspect the work thoroughly for anything like this before you start work.

Now, onto sanding. Why sand? Well, the wood you’re whitewashing might have some paint or varnish on it already – in which case, it’s gotta come off. Likewise, any dirt or stains on the surface of the wood can be removed with a bit of light sanding.

This can be done by hand with a simple sanding block, or some sandpaper wrapped around a wooden block. However, depending on what you’re sanding, and how much of it, this might be a very time and energy consuming process.

Sanding can really take it out of you – so if there’s a lot to do, or you just don’t particularly feel like tiring your arm out – invest in a power sander! You can buy one outright, if you feel like you’ll get plenty of use out of it – and they needn’t be very expensive either!

You may also be able to rent one too if you’ve got a really big repurposing job in mind. Home Depot and Lowes usually have higher quality units than consumer grade tools too – so while renting a few times might work out more expensive than buying a sander for yourself, you’ll likely be using a higher quality tool when renting.

Using A Rag Or Paint Brush

The simplest method to whitewash uses some very simple things! You’ll need some regular white paint, something to dilute the paint, and a rag or a paint brush! Surely it can’t be that simple? Actually, it is!

First off, to dilute the paint, you’ll need either water or turpentine. If your paint is water based, use the water to dilute it. If it’s oil based, you’ll need the turpentine. Make sure you use the right stuff for your particular paint!

How much to dilute the paint? Well, that all depends on individual taste – what look are you going for? If you want a thick coverage, then two parts paint to one part thinner should do the trick.

If you’d prefer a thinner coverage, then go 50:50 – half paint, half thinner. Or, to thin even further, you can use two parts thinner to one part paint.

If you have a scrap of the wood you’ll be whitewashing, then we’d recommend you use it to do a paint test – try out different ratios and see what works for you!

After this, simply dip your rag or brush into the diluted paint, and wipe it evenly on the wood. Let the wood dry, and add additional coats as necessary! Rags are great for whitewashing, as they don’t leave brush strokes!

Using A Scraper

You can also apply whitewash using a scraper! This gives a less even coverage, which can give a great rustic/weathered look.

Simply pour some paint onto the wood, and then use a plastic scraper to apply the paint as evenly as possible to the surface of the wood, much as you would a paintbrush!

Because the scraper is rigid, unlike a rag or brush, it has less give – some dipped areas in the wood won’t get the same coverage as other more raised areas! This lets the whitewash enhance the natural texture of the wood!

You might find you need a different consistency to your whitewash than if you were using a rag or a brush – your paint may need to be thicker, or not even thinned at all.

Again, it’s important that you experiment with some scrap wood wherever possible!

Using A Candle

For an even more weathered look, you can use a candle before you whitewash! Simply rub a wax candle on the wooden surface at random raised spots. Don’t try to cover the entire piece of wood, but take a rough approach instead. Then, whitewash as normal.

After the whitewash is dry, and you’re put as many coats on as you’re happy with, take a clean rag and wipe down the surface of the whitewashed piece.

Use a little bit of pressure, and you’ll find that the paint simply lifts off in some areas – the areas where you previously applied candle wax! Again, trial and error are your friends here – so don’t be afraid to experiment with some scrap wood!


Whitewashing is a simple way to do something different with your wood! Hopefully, this guide has helped you learn how you can apply this technique, and maybe given you some great ideas for whitewashing!

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