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How to Whitewash Wood: 3 Simple Techniques

Looking for that rustic farmhouse look of whitewashed wood? Try any of these three simple techniques on how to whitewash wood and turn drab into fab for your next project!

three boards for whitewash wood white wash wood
Love the look of whitewashed wood? There's more than one way to do it. Read on to learn three simple techniques for getting farmhouse-style whitewashed wood.

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Technique #1 Paint and Water: Supplies

whitewash supplies

Using equal parts paint and water, the paint becomes semi-transparent and allows the wood grain to show through. This technique is best used on new lumber or smooth surfaces and creates an even and controlled modern look.
Supplies:
  • Wood
  • White paint
  • Water
  • Mixing cup
  • Rag

Technique #1 Paint and Water: Steps

whitewash paint and water technique

Steps:

  1. Mix paint and water to desired consistency (for this example, I used equal parts).
  2. Dip rag in mixture and apply it liberally to the wood as you would a stain, wiping over it with a rag to evenly distribute it.
  3. Dry and repeat coats until desired opacity.

For large projects, it’s helpful to lay boards across a flat surface such as sawhorses while painting. Use these tips on buying or building your own sawhorses.

Technique #2 Paint and Wax: Supplies

whitewash with candle waxFamily Handyman

With this technique, use wax to mask high points and grain in the wood’s surface before painting. This works on all types of wood, and creates a chippy, vintage look. Here’s how you can make new wood look distressed.

Supplies:

  • Wood
  • White paint
  • White or clear wax candle
  • Paintbrush
  • Rag
  • Water (optional)

Technique #2 Paint and Wax: Steps

whitewash paint over wax

whitewash with candle wax and paint

Steps:

  1. Using the side of the candle, roughly rub wax along the wood, working quickly and sporadically, leaving wax behind on the surface.
  2. Paint the entire surface with white paint and let it dry until tacky, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Use a rag to scrub the surface, applying pressure over the wax areas to remove paint. If desired, moisten the rag with water to remove even more paint.
  4. If you’re working on a large project, it may take more than one day to complete. Try these tricks for storing your paint brush overnight.

Technique #3 Paint and Drag: Supplies

whitewash with scraper and white paint

This technique works best on surfaces with high texture, such as rough or reclaimed wood, and creates a more rustic, barn wood look.

Supplies:

  • Wood
  • White paint
  • Plastic scrapper or wide putty knife

Technique #3 Paint and Drag: Steps

whitewash with scraper

whitewash wood with scraper and rag

Steps:

  1. Pour a bead of paint directly down the center of the board.
  2. Use scrapper to drag the paint across the board and fill in the wood grain grooves.
  3. Repeat in needed areas, and let it dry overnight.

Final Touches

whitewash add polyurethane

Now that you know how to whitewash wood, choose the technique that’s right for your project and desired look. For all techniques, consider finishing with a coat of polyurethane to seal in your hard work.