How to Whitewash Wood For a Vintage Look

Whitewashing wood is an easy and affordable way to give new life to old furniture or wood surfaces in your home. It creates a washed-out, weathered look that adds vintage charm and character. With just a few supplies, you can transform the look of wood to achieve a coastal, farmhouse, or shabby chic style.

Supplies Needed

To whitewash wood, you will need:

  • White interior paint – Latex or chalk paint works best.
  • Paintbrushes – Foam brushes or chip brushes are ideal for whitewashing.
  • Sandpaper – 120-150 grit to lightly scuff the wood surface.
  • Clean rags
  • Water
  • Bucket or tray
  • Drop cloth
  • Protective gear – gloves, dust mask, glasses

Prepare the Wood Surface

Proper surface preparation is key to achieving an even whitewashed finish. Follow these steps:

  • Clean the wood thoroughly with a mild detergent to remove any dirt, grease or residue. Allow to fully dry.
  • Lightly sand the wood using 120-150 grit sandpaper to rough up the surface. This allows the paint to adhere better.
  • Wipe away any sanding dust with a clean, dry rag.
  • Apply painter’s tape to edges and trim if desired to create crisp lines.
  • Spread a drop cloth in your work area to protect floors and surfaces.

Mix the Whitewash

For ease of application and control of the color, it’s best to thin down the paint and work in batches:

  • Pour about 1/2 cup of white paint into a tray or bucket.
  • Add in 1/4 cup of water and stir well to fully incorporate.
  • Add water gradually until the consistency is like thin pancake batter – the paint should easily drip off the brush.
  • For more intense whitewashing, use less water to thin the paint. For very subtle coloring, add more water.
  • Only mix enough whitewash that can be used in 30-60 minutes. Acrylic paint dries fast once diluted with water.

Apply the Whitewash

Now the fun part – whitewashing the wood!

  • Dip the brush into the thinned paint and remove any excess on the edges.
  • Apply the whitewash liberally and evenly across the surface using irregular strokes. Work in the direction of the wood grain.
  • Avoid scrubbing or brushing back and forth excessively. The beauty is in the irregularity.
  • Add more water to the whitewash as needed if it starts drying on the surface before application.
  • Work in sections, maintaining a wet edge as you move across the wood. Blend sections together.
  • Let each section fully dry before applying another coat. Two or three coats usually provides ideal coverage.

Distress and Age the Whitewashed Finish

Once fully dry, you can further distress the wood to create an aged, timeworn look.

  • Lightly wipe edges or corners with fine grit sandpaper to simulate natural wear and tear.
  • Use a damp rag to create random “bleached” areas by wiping away some of the whitewash coating.
  • For a peeling effect, score the paint surface lightly with a knife or screwdriver handle before the final coat is dry.
  • Buff areas with steel wool for an authentic weathered patina.

With these simple techniques, it’s easy to turn ordinary wood into a gorgeously whitewashed showpiece. Experiment with the amount of water in the mix, layers of application, and distressing to achieve different antiqued effects. Let your unique style shine through in creating vintage charm.

Tips for Success

Follow these tips to master the art of whitewashing:

  • Always work in a well-ventilated area when painting or sanding.
  • Seal any untreated wood first with a primer or sealer so the whitewash won’t absorb unevenly.
  • For a bright white distressed look, opt for a semigloss or high gloss paint. Flat or eggshell finishes will look more aged.
  • Work in moderate temperatures and low humidity. Avoid painting in direct sunlight.
  • Add a paint conditioner like Floetrol for a smoother application if needed.
  • Distress sparingly. A little wear goes a long way in creating authentic charm.
  • If desired, apply a sealant like polyurethane after distressing to protect the finish.

Common Questions About Whitewashing Wood

Whitewashing may seem straightforward, but many questions can arise on techniques and desired effects. Here are answers to some often-asked questions:

What type of paint is best to use?

Latex or chalk-style paints are ideal. They mix well with water, adhere to wood, and provide a smooth brushed look. Stay away from shiny enamels.

Does the wood have to be white to start with?

No, you can whitewash stain or paint over existing wood stain or darker paint colors. The whitewash acts like a opaque top coat to obscure the base color.

How long does it take to fully dry?

In most cases, a whitewashed layer will dry within 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on temperature and humidity. Let dry overnight before adding another coat or distressing.

What’s the difference between pickling and whitewashing?

Pickling involves applying a watered-down paint mix directly to raw wood. Whitewashing is done on sealed or painted wood surfaces to obscure the underlying color.

Should I seal the whitewashed finish?

It depends. For items that won’t receive much handling, sealing isn’t essential. But for tables and high use surfaces, a sealant adds protection.

How do I avoid obvious brush strokes?

Always keep a wet edge when applying the whitewash and feather out edges as you go. Overbrushing can cause obvious strokes.

Whitewashing wood creates a timeworn, vintage look that instantly adds character. With the right techniques and a little practice, you can easily achieve beautiful distressed paint effects. Let your creativity shine through in creating unique antiqued pieces through this easy DIY project.


Whitewashing wood allows anyone to affordably transform ordinary furniture and surfaces in their home. This simple technique only requires basic supplies – white paint, water, a brush and little elbow grease. With a few applications and some distressing, it’s easy to achieve a weathered, coastal or farmhouse style look full of vintage charm. Once you get the hang of the process, you can whitewash small projects or entire rooms. So give whitewashing a try and display your unique style with washed-out, shabby chic wood pieces that look straight from the pages of a magazine.