Applying Whitewash to Wood

Lead Image for Applying Whitewash to Wood
What You'll Need
Soft-bristled brushes
Sponge brushes
Plastic drop cloths
Masking tape
Clean cotton (color-free) disposable rags

The aged or driftwood effect of whitewashed wood can be a beautiful asset to your home, and better yet, it's easy to do yourself.

Before applying whitewash, however, there are a few things you should consider.

Will the Whitewash Create the Color I Desire?

To start, consider the natural color of the wood you intend to whitewash. For example, pine is quite pale, in shades of white and yellow, but it will naturally age to an orange/brown tint. Red oak has a natural pinkish hue, walnut a deep brown, and cedar a red. Whitewash will soften the wood's natural color but not necessarily whiten the wood.

If possible, create a sample of the work before committing to the overall project. This way, you can ensure you will achieve the desired color and effect.

Also, the wood you intend to whitewash should be unfinished—not sealed, stained, or painted. Whitewashing can still be applied to treated wood, but different methods and materials will be required for good results. If there is a finish, sand it off or the whitewash won't stick.

What Materials Are Best Suited for Whitewashing?

The whitewash itself can be made by thinning the base paint of your choice. Latex-based paint is ideal for this purpose as it is easy to mix and clean up. Keep in mind that even the color white can be found in many shades and tones, giving you a wide range of choices.

When mixing the paint to the desired consistency, be sure to not thin the mix too much. This causes the pigment to adhere poorly and run off of the wood surface. Usually, it is best to aim for the same consistency as dairy cream. Use tap water for easy results.

Now on to the actual project.

How Do I Apply Whitewash and Protect the Finish?

Work on a flat surface if possible. However, if the woodwork is installed or hanging vertically, carefully lay out your drop cloths to protect the surrounding areas and provide easy clean-up.

First, cover all areas that require protection from the work with tape, and make sure the wood surface is clean, dust-free, and evenly dry. Then, making sure the size of your workspace is within comfortable limits, use a fresh rag to moisten the wood with clean water. It should be damp, not dripping wet.

Apply the whitewash to wood with a sponge brush, working in smooth even strokes and always in the same direction. Leave about a 6-inch gap to the edge of the pre-moistened surface. This way, you can feather out the whitewash with a dry, soft-bristled brush to avoid lap marks as you begin the next area. Be prepared to repeat this process to deepen the whitewash effect, and always keep the work surface damp to allow a smooth application and consistent depth.