How to Paint Furniture With a Washed Look

Give a piece of furniture a new look by applying a whitewash. There are a few ways to achieve this charming look.

"Liming" involves preparing a clean stripped surface and applying a lime wax. Pickling is done by soaking galvanised nails in white vinegar for several days. The galvanising is stripped away from the nails by the vinegar. The resulting vinegar solution, applied to unfinished wood, provides an aged look. Lime is very caustic and pickling tedious. An economical and efficient means to the same end is to use a contemporary whitewash method.

Place dust sheet in a well-ventilated work area. Begin with a new, unfinished piece of furniture or strip an existing piece. When stripping an old finish, use rubber gloves, a mask and safety glasses. Follow the manufacturer's directions for the stripper. Be certain to remove all of the old finish.

Sand the furniture piece with medium-grit sandpaper. This opens the pores of the grain, which will soak up the pigment when it is applied.

Clean off all debris with a damp, lint-free cloth or a tack cloth. If a damp cloth is used, allow the piece to dry completely before proceeding.

Make a whitewash by mixing two parts white latex paint with one part water. Stir thoroughly and allow air bubbles to settle before using the wash. The mixture can be stored for a short period in a covered plastic container.

Use a 3-inch natural bristle brush to liberally apply the whitewash in long motions following the grain of the wood and back-brushing into the grain. Because the wood is dry and open, it will drink up the watery pigment and several coats may be needed.

As soon as the piece is completely covered, promptly work the pigment into the grain with a dampened lint-free cloth. Finally, wipe away any excess whitewash. The pigment remains in the grained areas and the resulting look is a faintly tinted wood background with the grain standing out to appear as if stained white. For a more dramatic look, repeat steps five and six.

After the furniture is completely dry, sand it with high-grit sandpaper. Wipe the piece clean again with a damp cloth, or tack cloth. Allow the furniture to air dry before proceeding. When the finish is satisfactory, add a protective finish coat. Use either water-based clear coat or Tung oil to finish. Avoid oil-based clear coat, as it may cause yellowing in the whitened areas. In either case, it is a good idea to lightly sand with a fine-grit paper and apply a second, and even a third, finish coat.


Whitewashing gives a vintage appearance to furniture pieces. This is a charming look that works very well in a cottage or beach setting.


Keep children and pets out of work area, particularly if using toxic materials such as chemical stripper.

Things You'll Need

  • Ventilated work area
  • Dust sheet
  • Stripper (if needed)
  • Natural bristle brush
  • Safety glasses
  • Mask
  • Rubber gloves
  • Lint-free rags
  • Sandpaper
  • Water
  • White latex paint
  • Tack cloth
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About the Author

Meg Harris has been writing professionally since 1990. She teaches writing, and her stories and poems appear in journals such as "Upstreet 2," "Whiskey Island," "The Berkshire Review," "Willows Wept Review" and others. Harris has a Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.