barb blairbefore & after basicsDIY

before and after basics: whitewash

by Barb

Hello friends! I hope you all had an awesome week, and that you had time for a few furniture transformations! Today on Before & After Basics we’ll learn about whitewashing furniture. Whitewashing is a technique that allows you to brighten your wood without hiding the grain pattern. Please know that this can be done with gray, blue or any color of your choosing, but I would recommend a lighter color to ensure the desired finish. Let’s whip out those paint brushes! — Barb

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!


  • piece of unpainted furniture
  • fine sanding sponge
  • lint-free rags
  • container for mixing paint
  • latex paint (you choose the color)
  • paint brush
  • water-based poly (I like a satin finish)


1. Sand the surface of the item to be whitewashed with a fine sanding block, or an orbital sander with a super-fine sanding pad. Once sanding is complete, clean the surface with a dry cloth to remove any dust.

2. Make your whitewash mixture. Mix two parts white or light gray latex paint and one part water. There are also white stains available at your local hardware store if you would like to take the guess work out of it, but where’s the fun in that!?

3. Using a paint brush, apply the whitewash mixture in long strokes following the wood grain. Whitewash tends to dry quickly, so work in small sections.

4. While the whitewash is still damp, wipe off excess with a clean rag. This will allow even more of the wood grain to show through in your design.

5. Allow the piece to dry completely and then repeat steps 3 and 4 until you’ve reached a desired level of coverage. This can be different for each individual! Allow your creative eye to tell you when enough is enough.

6. After the piece is completely dry, you can sand again to allow more of the wood grain to show through, or to just even out areas that have gathered too much paint.

7. Seal the piece with a water-based poly applied in long , even strokes. Water-based poly is best for this surface because it’s white. Oil-based poly will add a yellow hint, and take away from that fresh white glow!

8. Stand back, admire the goodness and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done!

See you next week! xo

Suggested For You


  • Question: I have an older dresser that I would like to do this to. However, it has some rather intricate cut-wood designs on the front of the drawers. Does this sort of finish work well with that? Will it simply require more attentive wiping/post-application sanding? Or would I be best to remove them?

    • niamh, intricate wood carvings would be wonderful with this finish on them! you are right about there being a little bit more wiping and care in the carved areas to ensure a natural finished look. it will be so worth it though! have fun!

  • DesignSponge always has impeccable timing!!! I was considering a new finish for an old (outdated) oak table. One question, how much of the previous varnish do I have to remove? That table still looks shiny with varnish. Please say I don’t have to sand all these claw feet!

    • allison, you don’t have to remove the varnish unless it is REALLY thick. this table was lightly sanded down before starting this project. you may just want to use a fine sanding sponge and lightly go over your piece. nothing intense, but just enough to rough up the surface a bit.

  • Could i get some info about that amazing animal head on the wall in the main photo. did someone make that? i would love some instructions on how to do so.

    • cara, that moose head is fabulous isn’t he!? mollie greene from royal buffet made that for my studio. she does have an etsy shop, but it does not have any of the large heads in it right now. Stay tuned, because I think we may have some fun news on paper animal heads soon!

  • lovely! Have you ever used this technique on a wood floor? I’m contemplating painting one of my floors, and I like that with this technique you don’t lose the wood grain. Thanks for the post!

    • julie, i have not personally used this process on a wood floor, but it can be done on any wooden surface….so I would say that it would be great on your floors. Also, there are whitewashed or pickled stains available that might work better for floors, so check with your local hardware store.

  • can someone help me out with the source for those glass vases? everyone seems to have them right now and i love them!

  • This has given me an idea for my bed frame, but you said the furniture should not be previously painted. My bed frame shows some grain, but it does not look like stain was put on it, so it must be paint. Will whitewash work on a painted bed frame? If not whitewash, any other suggestions?

  • I’ve been considering whitewashing my bedroom furniture. Now that I’ve seen this tutorial I’m a lot less intimidated!

  • Barb, I love these tutorials. I followed your painted furniture tutorial for the dresser in my baby’s nursery and it came out beautifully. Thanks for sharing your know-how!

    • carrie, yay! that is so awesome! I’m so glad that you did a piece! congrats!

      elisabeth, you can do this technique on a piece of painted furniture for sure….it just won’t finish like a true whitewashed look. you will see the wood grain that you see now and the color that is existing, so make sure that the color you choose to go over top blends well with the underneath color.

      parker, black paint will work awesome! you can do any color you like with these steps. I was just saying to keep it on the light side if you want it to have that true whitewashed or pickled look. Go for it!

      megan, i used to carry these vases in the studio at knack until they were discontinued. i have found that viva terra still has them though. visit here: http://www.vivaterra.com/pls/enetrixp/!stmenu_template.main?complex_id_in=482007.488301.917044.2006362.page. they are fantastic!

  • yeah! i learned something new!

    also i just wanted to say i really love those vases. thanks for the tip barb!

  • I don’t have any piece of furniture that would react well to that technique… but I’m happy to learn all about it ! I look at furnitures with a totally different eye now !

  • I love, love this SO much Barb! I so with I had a piece I could do this with….thinking…thinking. :) You are amazing & thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. The styling of this scene is gorgeous as well…love the sculpture on the wall. What is it & where is it from Barb?

  • Thank you! I’ve been staring at a dark wood gateleg table that I love, but not the color. Now I know what to do with it…possibly in a light french grey. Do you paint the underneath of the table too?

  • I tried this on an unfinished shelf. I love the weathered look I came out with… just perfect for the autumn!

  • I tried this on an unfinished shelf. I love the weathered look I came out with… just perfect for the autumn! Thanks for the tips!

  • I’m torn!!! I have a gorgeous piece of furniture all sanded and ready for paint, or bleach. I can’t decide! I’m looking for a whitewashed look, something very natural and almost like its been sitting outside in the sun for too long. What would you recommend?? Ever bleached furniture???

  • melissa, thank you for your sweet words friend! I’m so glad you like it! The moose head was made for me by mollie greene of royal buffet. she has an etsy shop, but there are no large paper taxidermy heads in there right now….but fun things are coming, and she will make custom pieces:)

    leeloo, these flowers are my absolute favorite, and they are called spider mums! doesn’t that name fit them perfectly?!

    nell, yes, I do paint the underneath side of the table too…..it gives it a nice finished look!

    natalia, I have not bleached furniture other than to clean old wood and remove loose paint….but never as a finish. So, I guess I would tell you to go with your gut, but you can definitely make it look time worn and faded with the whitewash technique.

    Thanks to you all for your sweet words of encouragement, and excitement for these projects! I’m so glad you all are enjoying them!


  • I am doing this tutorial on two end tables right NOW. I’m using a light grey/blue. I can’t wait to show you all!

  • Hey Barb! I love this tutorial (and ALL your tutorials!) I’m currently trying my best with a wash on two end tables, and I”m getting a lot of brushstrokes showing up in my final piece. I’ve worked with it and i’m happy with my results, but I’d like to try again on another piece soon and stay more true to your directions.

    BUT, I realized I had a big question, how long do you recomend leaving the paint on the piece before wiping? I found that on my first coat I wiped too early, and it looked like I didn’t do a thing to the piece! I started leaving it longer, then too long, then back and forth and back and forth. what a process! I love learning and it’s been a great experience, and I adore all your tutorials -so any help from the master would be great!


  • Barb, I love this blog, love your posts!!! (I’m Morgan Young’s mother, just FYI…) We are building a house and my husband and I are finishing the inside ourselves in order to save some bucks and because we are MORONS!!! I so want this look on my kitchen ceiling, using fresh bead board lumber. I’m debating about water-base dying the wood a darker color, then using your technique on top of that. I’m such a newbie to this…will this work? Would the darker dye bleed into the water base paint? Would it be better to use an oil-based stain first? Are you able to do this process on top of an oil-based stain??

    Any guidance would so be appreciated!!! My daughter has turned me on to you and your blog; she speaks so highly of your talents and I see why!!


    • jesse, bless your heart! it sounds like you have had a time….but good for you for sticking with it, and figuring it out. Sometimes you can wipe too early and end up creating more work for yourself….I suggest leaving it 3 or 4 minutes and then wiping….otherwise you end up waiting too long and making really bad smear marks where the paint has already dried. Your next project will go so much smoother for you since you are now a pro! :)

      mary, thank you so much! I can return the love and say that I love your miss morgan to death! you can totally use a dark water based paint and then the whitewash over it….but use paint ….not stain or dye. the latex will not work well over a fresh oil stain. I hope this advice does not come too late…..email me barb@knackstudios.com if you have more questions or have started and need advice:)

  • Any suggestion on what latex color to get a natural “green/grey” tinge to the look? I was at Home Goods and they had a table with a top that looked like fresh cut wood —not a tannish heavier oak finish but a subtle, faded, lightly tinted greenish/blueish/grey washed out look–almost like something you would see in a sea side cottage.

  • Would I use the same ratio of paint to water for an open joist ceiling floored over with 2×6 T&G spruce? The wood arrives tomorrow and I want to paint the joists and underside of the t&g before assembly, to avoid having to paint over my head. I have some latex ceiling paint on hand, thinking of using that.

  • I just inherited some white wash bedroom furniture. I’ve been all over the internet and cannot find how, and what products to use to clean spots on the surfaces? Can you help me?

  • I stripped down a dresser and then applied a Minwax stain in Golden oak, the color was ok but boring so then I applied a polyurethane varnish stain in early american maple. The look is good now but I was thinking about color washing to add a hint of rust color to it. Is this possible? Right now the wood feels dry as if it needs some lotion,lol, would I use a water base of oil base paint to dilute down since I have used the stain and then the varnish stain?

  • I need your advice. I would like to white wash an entire wall (floor to ceiling in my mudroom) and wainscotting in the bedrooms (4 ft high).
    It is unstained knotty pine (6 in” wide, 1 in” deep tongue and groove).
    Would the premixed mixture be better (given the large areas to be covered) or would I just mix up a large batch of the other?
    Would it be better to work with a 2nd person, (ie. they apply, I wipe) to get a more consistent look???
    I am hoping to do this this week.

  • Re: white washing wood.
    It is Jackie again. I just sent a few questions but forgot one important one.
    If I do purchase a product for the white washing, I would like it to be one that I could most easily PAINT over top of if I find the look of all of the pine knots too busy. Can you recommend one?

  • Ive been looking through SEVERAL websites,,this is the best for the whitewash look and most simplest instructuions,,Thank You,,now i get to get busy…Love it..!!

  • im planning on restoring some very old (early 70s) kitchen cabinets. I believe they were originally sealed with an oil-based poly or varnish. what steps do I need to do to achieve the white wash effect? should I use an oil-based paint? or primer? any advice would be greatly appreciated…. Thank You!

  • I want to whitewash all the interior exposed wood in our sunporch in Maine. The wood is still all natural but looking drab, and I think some whitewashing would be great.

    Any specific ideas? as it ‘s a lot of little nooks and crannies around the big windows

  • When using the base coat of water-based paint, can one use satin or eggshell paint, or do I have to use flat paint? Your instructions are great!

  • Is there a method to white wash teak wood and also get a smooth surface. If so how can it be done. Thanks in advance

  • Love this,sounds so eazy and I have been looking. How would you handle lots of deep dog scratches on the drawer?

  • I would like to do some t and g wood
    walls. I was thinking of doing the paint/water ratio half and half. Would that work or would it be too thin?

  • Thank you very much, much appreciated information, now I can whitewash my old dressing table and get a few more years pleasure

  • This inspired me to attack a bay window area that had old barn board that was very “orange” looking and dark and dirty in appearance. I wanted to lighten the room and used a slightly different proportion: 2 parts water to 1 part paint. It came out incredibly well and just lightens up the whole area (which I now have claimed as my office). As my husband put it, it didn’t change the feel with the grain and wood but simply lightened the area and removed the orangish/blackish cloud over the space. :) It looks like a freshly whitewashed barn would look!
    I am about to attack my great grandmother’s very dark desk … that is the upcoming weekend’s project. I am thinking I will try the same proportion but if it isn’t “strong” enough against the dark finish I may either do a second coat or try your proportions.
    Thank you so much for making this simple and approachable!

  • We have decided to white wash our kitchen and dining room which are both authentic knotty pine paneling. The paneling does continue into the hall and living room. My question is where to stop. Should we do the door frames…What about the molding at the top of the wall along the ceiling and also the simple molding around the floor. I don’t want it to look “broken up” but not really sure what to include and what not….are there any “rules.” Thanks for any help you can give me.