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How To Whitewash Oak Furniture

Oak furniture provides rustic elegance and is low maintenance. You can easily enhance its distinct wood grain. Whitewash is a great way to brighten up oak furniture, and if you've been wondering how to apply it, you've come to the right place. In this post, we'll cover ways to help you accomplish the fresh look of whitewash.

Disclosure: We may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

You can whitewash your oak furniture through different methods, such as using stain, paint, primer, or wax. Here are the four simple steps you should follow to whitewash furniture:

  1. Prep the furniture.
  2. Mix the whitewash.
  3. Brush on the whitewash.
  4. Dry and seal the stain.

Whitewash is an old technique for preserving wood. These days, people whitewash or pickle wood for decorative purposes. If you want to learn more about whitewash and get answers to other related questions about the technique, we provide a detailed discussion here.

man holding paint bucket and roller, woman sanding furniture with power tools. man sanding a block of wood. How To Whitewash Oak Furniture

Materials You'll Need

For this project, prepare the following materials:

  • Water or turpentine
  • White stain, paint, primer, or wax
  • Clear finish or varnish
  • Wire brushes (coarse and fine)
  • Paintbrushes
  • Sander or sandpaper (120- to 220-grit)
  • Rubber gloves
  • Rags and cheesecloth

Quartersawn white oak table with distressed finish, surrounded by chairs, in front of window.


Below are step-by-step instructions to guide you in upgrading the look of your oak furniture.

1. Prep the Furniture

As with any DIY project, preparing the furniture is the most important step. This step ensures that  outcome will be of good quality and long-lasting.

Young women sanding furniture in backyard, preparing for painting

Keep in mind the safety measures you should observe throughout this project:

  • Wear a dust mask and eye protection.
  • Work in a a space that is well ventilated.
  • Wear rubber gloves.
  • Clean up and dispose of materials properly.

Strip Existing Finish

Whitewash works best on wood that has no finish. By removing the existing finish, whitewash will provide more opacity and a smoother surface.

It's best to use an odor-free, water-based paint remover. This will remove layers of paint or finish on surfaces like wood, brick, and metal.

Check out this paint remover on Amazon.

For more information on wood paint and stain, check this post: How To Remove Paint And Stain From Wood.

Sand the Wood Grain

Sand your furniture by hand or use a power sander. Start with 120-grit sandpaper and rub it in the same direction as the wood grain.  

You will magnify the distressed wood after sanding. The blemishes on the surface will be more prominent when you apply the whitewash. 

Using a brush with a curved handle, you can easily sand the surface of your furniture without damaging it. Different types of brushes are available: brass, nylon, and stainless steel.

Click here to view this wire brush set on Amazon.

2. Mix the Whitewash

Dilute water-based paint with water. For a thicker consistency, add two parts of paint or stain to one part of water and mix well. Increase one portion of water to thin out the solution.

If you opt for oil-based wax, paint, or stain make sure to mix it with turpentine. However, based on a study, turpentine is an eye irritant and fire hazard when not stored and handled properly. Remember to keep it away from heat and oxidizers such as chlorine. 

View this bottle of turpentine spirits on Amazon.

To find out more, read this post: Does Wood Stain Protect Wood?

3. Brush on Whitewash

Using a soft brush, apply a thick layer of whitewash following the direction of the wood grain. Test  a sample on a leftover scrap of oak wood to check the finish.

Next, wipe off the excess stain using a cheesecloth. Repeat coating and wiping until you get your desired finish. Leaving stain around the edges will create a brighter outline on your furniture.

Let the coats dry and sand using 220-grit sandpaper or a wire brush in between drying times.

Use a 1-inch-wide chip brush to get the job done. Its natural bristles are ideal for painting and staining.

Check out these Pro Grade chip paint brushes on Amazon.

4. Dry and Seal the Stain

Allow the stain to dry overnight before proceeding. Then apply two coats of clear finish to seal the whitewash.

A clear satin polycrylic will protect wood surfaces from scratches, yellowing, and ambering. Water-based finish has little odor and is fast-drying, allowing you to recoat after 2 hours. Additionally, it can be easily cleaned with soap and water when spilled.

Click here to view this polycrylic protective finish on Amazon.

What Does Whitewash Stain Look Like?

Whitewash is a technique where you mix paint or stain with water to tone down the natural colors of a surface. The more water you add, the brighter the wood becomes. It also creates a vintage and weathered finish. For instance, whitewashed oak furniture allows the natural brown or red hue to come through.

In addition to whitewash, limewash and paint are comparable options for updating your furniture.

Whitewash Versus Paint

Paint and primer give full coverage to furniture and help to hide imperfections. The opaque coating builds a thick film. For this reason, paint is prone to peeling, chipping, and fading. Unlike whitewash, paint requires frequent maintenance. 

Whitewash Versus Limewash

You can achieve a rustic look by using whitewash or limewash, but they differ in certain respects.

Whitewash gives a bright and smooth finish. It leaves a thin layer of stain, keeping the original color of your furniture.

In contrast, limewash is a limestone-based putty made for porous surfaces such as bricks. After drying, its color goes lighter. If you change your mind, you can remove limewash within 5 days using a cloth. However, this coating must be reapplied at least every 5 years because it erodes over time.

Can You Whitewash Over Varnished Wood?

You can't whitewash over varnished wood because it has a barrier. The whitewash will not adhere to the wood's surface. Thus, sanding is part of the initial step mentioned above where you remove varnish.

Do You Have To Sand Before Whitewash?

Sanding is optional. As with paint stripping, this is true when you're working on a piece of bare furniture. Otherwise, you must sand before applying the whitewash. Sanding is important to remove the furniture's existing varnish, paint, or finish.

To get more insights, read this article: How to Paint Furniture Without Sanding Or Priming [7 Steps].

What Kind Of Paint Do You Use To Whitewash?

White latex paint, also known as water-based paint, is a popular choice for achieving a white-washed vintage look. Whether you dilute flat, eggshell, or satin finish with water, you will succeed in accentuating the wood grain of your furniture.

Professional painters do not recommend applying oil-based paint with water. This is because oil cannot bond with water. If you mix them, you will get a rubbery texture. Likewise, the paint will separate as it dries causing flaking and peeling. 

Using chalk paint to whitewash will highlight the wood grain. It dries within 30 minutes, leaving an ultra-matte, velvety, smooth finish. 

Click here to view this linen white chalked paint on Amazon.

Does Whitewash Come In Different Colors?

Although white is the most prominent shade, whitewash does come in different colors. This variation of whitewash is commonly called color washing. You can opt for bold or pastel colors. Adding these colors increases vibrancy and opacity. 

Remember that the first coating should be the basic whitewash. Then add the pigment of your choice to the following coats.

Do You Need To Seal Whitewash?

Sealing whitewash is necessary for maintaining its quality, preserving its appearance, and covering holes and cracks. A wide selection of sealers is available, but you should choose a clear water-based polyurethane or polycrylic.

How Long Will Whitewash Last?

Despite being translucent, the coverage of whitewash lasts for 20 to 30 years. Thus, there will be minimal maintenance.

Can You Remove Whitewash?

You can remove the whitewash using a paint stripper. You can rub or wipe it off. To avoid damage to your wood, be gentle when removing the whitewash. If there are stubborn areas, rub them with a scraper or sandpaper. 
Meanwhile, because consistency is difficult to maintain during the DIY whitewash application, you may notice whitewash runs and missed spots.
If these mistakes happen, try using a thinner or sandpaper to even out the runs. Then apply another layer of whitewash to fill in the spots.

whitewashed oak wooden tabletop. How To Whitewash Oak Furniture

Final Thoughts

Oak furniture is a strong, versatile wood that you can easily accentuate. By following the steps above and keeping in mind safety measures and other factors, you can whitewash your oak furniture like an expert.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post, check out these articles:

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