4 Mistakes to Avoid When You Whitewash Wood

Whitewashed wood fence

The process of creating whitewashed wood furniture is easy and inexpensive, even for those without much painting experience. Whitewash wood pieces are versatile furniture components that can be added to virtually any room in order to enhance the aesthetic.

While the process of whitewashing is simple enough, however, there are a number of mistakes that can easily be made which may serve to either diminish the appearance of your whitewash work or to reduce the longevity of the paint.

What Is Whitewashed Wood?

Whitewash is the process of making your wood appear white. It works similar to a stain and lets the grain of the wood shine through, making it a bit different from a heavy white paint.

Whitewash can make wood appear very warm. It can instantly lighten a dark wood. It is also very popular right now so it will make your home appear very modern and on trend.

Despite it being in vogue, whitewash wood can appear very rustic and create a farmhouse chic vibe in your home.

Whitewash also helps to smooth over white surfaces on wood.

It is also known to have antimicrobial properties making whitewashed wood a hygienic option.

whitewashed wood

What Wood Can You Whitewash?

You can whitewash pretty much any unfinished wood product. Any wood with a shiny finish, however, is not a good candidate for whitewashing. While you may be able to paint it white, it will not have the same grain and weathered, rustic look as unfinished wood.

Pine is an incredibly popular type of wood to whitewash but it works fine on other types of wood as well like oak, as long as it is unfinished.

Popular Areas to Whitewash Wood

As previously mentioned, you can apply whitewash to virtually any type of unfinished wood. There are, however, some areas that are more popular to apply whitewash to than others.

Fireplaces are one of the most popular things you can whitewash. If you have a dark wood fireplace, whitewashing it is a great way to completely change its look. If you are going for a lighter decor, this is a great option.

If you are looking to hang things like photos or a decorative mantel, the white background is a great option because it will allow your decor to stand out instead of blending into the background of the wood.

Whitewash is also a great option for a feature wall. If your home has wood paneling indoors, you may want to consider whitewashing the wood. This will make it look less dated and add warmth to your home's interior.

You can whitewash other wood pieces as well including tables, doors, exterior walls, and even trees. When whitewashing furniture like a table, make sure to let it fully dry and cure before eating off of it.

hand painting tree white with brush

Mistakes to Avoid When Whitewashing Wood

The most common mistakes are identified below.

1. Failure to Wash the Wood

Before you begin to paint, it's important to properly treat the wood surface. A good way to do this is with a vinegar and water solution.

Dilute some white vinegar with equal parts water in a bowl and stir it will. Once you have done this, you can use a rag to gently treat the surface area of the wood.

Doing so will help to remove any stains and debris from the wood; painting over these sections otherwise might cause discrepancies in the coating or uneven patches. Treating your wood with vinegar in this way can also help the wood itself to better absorb the paint when you layer that on later on in the process.

You cannot whitewash over a pre-existing finish or stain on wood. The stain creates a barrier that the whitewash can not penetrate. If the wood you are hoping to whitewash has already been stained, you will need to make sure to remove the stain as part of the cleaning process.

2. Failure to Sand the Wood

hands sanding wood with block

After you've treated the wood with the vinegar solution and have allowed the vinegar plenty of time to dry, it is also important that you gently sand the wood with a medium-grit sandpaper.

Sanding the wood before you add the whitewash further helps to enhance the ability of the wood to pick up the paint when you add it in subsequent steps. Nobody wants to spend a ton of time whitewashing their wood just for it to rub off or not adhere properly.

Sanding prevents this from happening and ensures that your whitewashed wood will look its best.

Failure to sand the wood can also leave the surfaces of your furniture scratchy and rough. While not sanding the wood will not significantly alter the lifetime of your furniture, it can make an impact on the appearance and particularly on the texture of the wood itself.

For these reasons, you should always whitewash your furniture.

3. Not Smoothing Out Brush Strokes

Like any other painting you do, you must make sure to smooth out your brush strokes.

When you've painted your wooden furniture with white paint, you'll notice that brush strokes may be very clearly visible on the surface of the wood itself, maybe even more so than with other colors of paint.

If you leave these brush stroke marks, your furniture or other wood items will gain a distinctive but amateur appearance. It will also look unfinished and sloppy, which no one wants to have happen, especially not on a project they have spent a lot of time on.

In order to create a smoother look, use a rag to even out all of the brush strokes just after you've painted. Be careful not to wipe off too much of the paint, and if you do, simply paint over that part of the furniture once again. Doing this will give your paint an even and smooth appearance.

This may seem like an unnecessary step, but since the paint can sometimes dry streaky, it is something you should take the time to do.

paint brush and can on deck with white paint

4. Not Allowing Adequate Drying Time

A final mistake that is often made when whitewashing wood is to not allow the wood itself adequate time for the paint to set and dry.

Be sure to leave your furniture in a protected and covered area for several hours after you've painted a coat in order to allow the paint plenty of time to dry. Make sure the paint is dry before you apply a sealant or another coat of paint.

If you are whitewashing something that you will eat off of, like a table, give it even more time to dry to avoid contaminating your food.


Like all paints and stains, whitewash can have a strong smell. If you are prone to headaches, you may want to avoid the area of your house with the whitewashed wood right after it is painted. If the item you are painting is furniture and not something like a fireplace, you should whitewash it outdoors.

If you have to whitewash indoors, make sure the area is well ventilated. This will help with the smell issues and prevent a headache or other issues associated with breathing in paint for a long period of time.

Staining Over Whitewash

If you no longer like your whitewashed wood, you may be wondering if you can stain or paint over it to change the look of the wood once again. The answer is yes, but with some caveats.

The main caveat is that you must properly prepare the surface of the wood before you stain or paint over existing whitewash. To do so, you must remove the top coat. You must also clean and sand the surface.

If you are using and oil-based paint, you may be able to paint, though, directly over lacquer.

For most finishes, though, you will need to strip the wood of everything before you stain it.

How Long Will My Whitewash Paint Job Last On Wood?

boy painting fence white with geese

If you are considering whether or not to invest the time and resources necessary to whitewash wood, you may be wondering just how long the whitewash will last on your wood.

While the exact number of years the whitewash will last may vary slightly, it generally lasts a long time, as long as you complete the project correctly. Whitewash is known to last up to 30 years which means whitewashing is a great, long lasting project you can do for your home.

Whitewashed wood also does not require much maintenance which makes it an easy to maintain option which will also make your wood look great.

How to Whitewash Wood Yourself

If you've never done it before, you may be wondering how to go about whitewashing wood. There are actually quite a few ways you can go about whitewashing wood. The best one will depend on what you are whitewashing and the look you are going for.

The easiest way to whitewash wood is to use a rag and diluted paint. To start out with this method, add water to your white paint. You should add water and stir until your mixture resembles the consistency of heavy cream. Just how much water you will need to add depends on how thick your paint is.

Once the paint and water is properly mixed together, you should dip your rag into the concoction. You can now drag the rag across your wood, Make sure to drag it in the direction of the wood grain.

You will need to repeat this. process a few times to ensure enough coating to achieve your desired look. If you want a brighter white, you will need more coats than if you want a more muted shade.

Make sure to use a lint free rag if you do this method so that you are not leaving stories. Do not use a rag with a lot of lint or something like paper towel as it can leave things on the wood.

Another technique often used to whitewash wood is using a scraper. To use this method to whitewash your wood, you will start by pouring paint directly on your wood surface.

Once the paint is on the surface, you will use the scraper and move it along the direction of the wood grain. This will help the wood grain standout when you are finished.

Let the wood dry completely before you touch it. Unlike the previously mentioned method, this goes on thick and is unlikely to require multiple coats.

This method is good for large pieces of wood when you want a thicker white look.

Another popular method to whitewash wood is to use a candle. To do so, you can rub a white candle over your wood.

After doing so, you can paint the wood white. Once it has dried, you can use a rag to wipe the surface. Anywhere you used the candle, the paint should come off easily.

This will add a lot of texture to your wood. If the wood you are using does not have a lot of markings or texture, this is a great way to add some cheaply.

Before picking which of the above methods is the best one for your whitewashing project, consider what it is you are whiteashing and how skilled you are at home improvement projects.

The rag method is the most commonly used one and is the easiest for many. It also has the benefit of being relativley affordable. That doesn't however, mean it is the method that makes the most sens for you so be sure to consider all possible methods as well as the tools and time needed for each before you commit to one.


Once you know the common pitfalls to avoid in whitewashing wood, you can take on the project yourself and create a beautiful statement piece or area within your home for years to come. It is an easy project that will add a lot of pizzazz to your home and set your decor apart with just a little bit of time and energy spent on the project.