How to whitewash floorboards

Written by modigliani brooks
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How to whitewash floorboards
Whitewashing is ideal for old floorboards with a strong grain. (Wooden texture to serve as background image by Viacheslav Anyakin from

Whitewashing has been used for centuries, both inside and outside. It gives rooms a lighter, brighter feel and can be used to achieve a traditional “country cottage” decor. It is also a much easier alternative to bleaching, making new floorboards look as though they have been well scrubbed for decades. Originally, whitewash was made from lime and water, but these days whitewash is also made from matt paint or by combining calcium carbonate powder, PVA glue and water. When whitewashing floorboards, the idea is to get the white colour into the grain of the wood so when the excess is wiped off the whitewash shows up the wood grain but does not cover the wood like normal paint.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Wide paintbrush
  • Lint-free cloths
  • Whitewash (or mix one part white emulsion to three parts water)
  • Matt polyurethane (water-based)
  • Rubber gloves

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  1. 1

    Ensure that the floorboards are clean, bare wood. Sand back to the wood if necessary, or use paint stripper. It is vital that the wood be bare so the whitewash can penetrate the grain.

  2. 2

    Clean the floor thoroughly to remove all dust and dirt.

  3. 3

    Apply the whitewash with a wide paintbrush or a clean cloth, working on a small area at a time. Test on a small discreet area first so you can estimate drying times and achieve the look you are after.

  4. 4

    Wipe the excess whitewash off with a clean cloth before the whitewash dries, finishing your strokes with the grain on the final wipe.

  5. 5

    Apply two coats of water-based, matt polyurethane once the whitewash has dried. This is essential to protect the whitewash, or it will rub off or get dirty very quickly.

Tips and warnings

  • Use matt paint and matt polyurethane/varnish. Gloss paint spoils the effect.
  • More whitewash and longer drying times mean less whitewash will be wiped off and more will stay on the wood, thereby decreasing the transparency of the finish and giving a more solid, paint-like effect. If you want a more subtle finish, use less whitewash or thin the whitewash, and wipe off the excess sooner.
  • If the whitewash is drying too quickly for the effect you want, wipe with a damp cloth instead of a dry cloth.
  • For a more subtle effect, use lime paste. Dampen the wood first and brush lightly with a wire brush. Rub the paste in and allow it to dry. Rub the excess off and apply a coat of matt polyurethane/varnish.
  • Always ensure that the room is well ventilated, as paints contain harmful chemicals.
  • Wear protective clothing, safety glasses and gloves, especially if working with whitewash containing lime.

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