The Best Way to Whitewash Wood

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I love the look of a washed finish because it allows the beauty of the wood to shine through, but still lightens or brightens up a piece with some color.  The process for whitewashing is so simple and once you know how to do it, you’ll be whitewashing everything!

I just went back and realized that I’ve included a whitewash tutorial in three old posts, and I’ve used it on a handful of additional projects as well, so I think it’s about time I devoted an entire post to the process I’ve found creates the best finish.

It’s simple, and allows for a lot of customization when it comes to the look you are trying to create, but basically it only involves a couple of steps.

  1. Stain the wood (or leave it raw for a light finish).
  2. Mix 2 parts white paint (flat latex or matte acrylic both work fine) with 1 part water.
  3. Brush on the water/paint mixture in the direction of the wood grain.
  4. Use a clean rag to wipe off the paint in the direction of the wood grain.

That’s it!  I’ve done these steps quite a few times, and made my fair share of mistakes, so I’m not going to just stop with those simple steps and call this tutorial finished.  Here are the tricks I’ve learned along the way that really create that perfect finish.

Install a DIY plank wall | how to whitewash wood | whitewashed horizontal plank wall | whitewash ship lap wall

You can whitewash any unfinished wood.  It can be stained, weathered, or unfinished, but you don’t want any shiny finish.  The paint will just glide along the surface and won’t penetrate any of the wood, which is what gives it that weathered look.

Install a DIY plank wall | how to whitewash wood | whitewashed horizontal plank wall | whitewash ship lap wall

I usually stain the wood, because I like how it highlights the variations in the wood, and those will somewhat show through the whitewash as well.  My favorite stain color is a dark mahogany, but any stain color will work – they will each just give a slightly different color to the finished whitewash.  A base stain of gray gives wood a weathered beach look, which I’ve grown to love for some projects.

how to whitewash wood 5

The next step is to brush on the water/paint mixture.  I gave the 2 parts paint to 1 part water ratio as a general guideline.  For a lighter wash, you’d increase the amount of water.  For a more opaque white with less stain showing through, you’d add more paint.  Experiment with it and find the perfect ratio for your project!

When you brush the paint on, be sure to brush in the direction of the grain, and to complete the brushing on the whole project at once.  If you’re painting planks, you’d want to paint the entire plank before starting to wipe it off.  (The middle board has been painted with the water/paint mixture.)

Time also plays a role here.  The longer you leave the paint on before wiping it off, the more color penetration and the whiter your wood will be.  The sooner you wipe it off, the more flexibility you have to take off the amount of paint you want off.  Whatever you do, don’t let that paint dry on the wood.

Install a DIY plank wall | how to whitewash wood | whitewashed horizontal plank wall | whitewash ship lap wall

When wiping off the paint, you want to wipe in the direction of the wood grain. I’ve found that long, even wipes are the best way.  You can wipe off more or less in this step, so sometimes leaving a little extra paint on the edges or in a certain spot gives it an interesting finish.

If you are looking for a lighter finish, let the paint dry, and then repeat the whitewashing steps again to lighten it up.

miss mustard seed artissimo and french enamel

The next steps are optional depending on the type of finish you’d like.  You can dip just the tip of your brush in white paint, wipe off almost all the paint from your brush, and then quickly glide your brush over some places on the wood.  After the paint is dry you can sand off more of the white to give the wood a more weathered look.  The image above shows the finished look using both of those techniques.

Depending on where your piece will go, you may need to add a topcoat to the wood.  It it’s going outside, in a high-moisture area like a bathroom, or on a piece of furniture, you’ll want to add a couple of coats of polyacrylic or other water-based sealer.

Install a DIY plank wall | how to whitewash wood | whitewashed horizontal plank wall | whitewash ship lap wall | the best way to whitewash woodI love the clean, yet weathered and rustic look whitewashing can give to wood.

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Here are some of my favorite projects where I used a whitewash technique.  I used the wood in the pictures in this post to create the plank wall in my bathroom.

Install a DIY plank wall | how to whitewash wood | whitewashed horizontal plank wall | whitewash ship lap wall
Rustic Industrial Bathroom Reveal

Swimsuit & Towel Rack
Swimsuit & Towel Rack

DIY distressed wood frameDistressed Wood Cross Frame

diy easter egg centerpiece
Easter Egg Centerpiece

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14 thoughts on “The Best Way to Whitewash Wood

  1. I’m in love! Pinned and tweeted! Thank you so much for sharing this with us at our linky party. We hope to see you next Monday @ 7 because we can’t wait to see your new creations! Happy Friday! Lou Lou Girls

  2. Perfect timing! I’m working on a plank wall for a client. They want to whitewash it themselves, so I’ll be passing this on for a super simple tutorial! Thanks.

  3. Your wall and whitewashing looks so incredible! Thanks for sharing; I will be trying it out myself! I want to create a framed accent wall with a few shelves behind my TV.

  4. Love the bathroom!! I just wanted to verify, in the photo the planks look grey, do they in person? We are wanting a grey look. Thanks!

    1. Don’t worry! I stained it with a dark walnut stain (I think?) and then white washed over that once it dried. I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  5. I have a wall I would love to send you a picture to see if you think it will work to white wash – love the look and hoping that is the easiest way to do it –

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