Basic Whitewashing Technique

By Kate Riley June 29, 2011

Y’all were too kind with the comments on the cabana reveal last week, thanks so much.  I finally updated last week’s post with sources as promised and by the way, forgot to announce the winner of the Home Depot gift card giveaway from eons ago.  My bad. Congrats to #202 Emily Schloerb, I sent you an email Emily! 

Now for that whitewashed trunk coffee table.  Whitewashing is one of my favorite finishes for wood, some call it faux, I call it fab.  Whitewashing allows anyone to use white paint to brighten a rustic wood piece, yet still allows for much of the wood grain to show through.  In fact, the technique accentuates the details of the wood, which is a win-win in my book. 

In my mind, the white + wood combo makes for a perfect world and I love how you can have both with this finish.  It works well indoors and out, and adds a cottage or coastal vibe. Whitewashing is great for those with kids and pets or in heavy traffic areas (think floors!) because you never need worry about wear and tear, it adds to the appeal.

This was one of the quickest and easiest revamps ever, the whole thing took about 30 minutes.  I started with an old trunk scored for $15 buckaroos at a thrift store. 

whitewashed trunk table before after cg


It was dirty and banged up when I found it, but it called to me as the perfect outdoor coffee table.  That gunk on top was nothing a little sanding and painting wouldn’t fix.  I peeled off some of the bumper stickers before I snapped this pic, so you can see there were two tones of pine I was working with, plus the top was icky and covered with spills, eww. 

trunk before from side copy


I sanded it with my power sander for about five minutes with 80 grit (medium) sandpaper.  I wasn’t going for perfection, just more even tones on the wood.   Oh, and I sanded opposite the grain to enhance the ridges, nooks, and crannies. 

I like nooks and crannies, they remind me of Thomas’ English Muffins. 

sand down


I also sanded off the residue from the bumper stickers but I wish the “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” one had been in better shape, I would have kept it.  Because I often leave my heart in San Francisco.  Alas, it was in cracking and peeling so it too was removed.  I also sanded off the stamp of what I assume was the previous owner.  Sorry Wendy, I don’t know you (should I?) so ya gots ta go. 

roberts crop


Top Secret Formula for Basic Whitewashing Mixture to be protected for reasons of national security.  Raise your hand and swear you’ll never share it!  Now pinky swear!

Basic Whitewashing Formula: 

Mix 2 parts white latex paint to 1 part water. 

Ssssh.  You swore not to tell!

Mix the water and paint, then dip your brush into the mixture.  Wipe most of it off then apply the paint in the opposite direction of the grain.  I know that sounds wacky and seems counterintuitive, but I found that painting in the opposite direction of the grain, the diluted paint grabbed onto the rougher edges a lot better.  Working opposite the grain helped keep the paint out of the grooves so it only settled on the higher ridges. Crazy, ay?  If it bothers you to go against the grain, then don’t. I found it gave me the look I was going for. 

whitewashing with brush

That’s it.  

See, when I said ‘Basic Whitewashing’ I meant it, yo. 

If you find your paint goes on too thick, you can sand it away when dry.  I liked mine looking weathered and aged, so one application of the whitewashing mixture looked right to me.  If you want it to be thicker, add a second layer.  It’s one of those things you just play with until it looks right to you.

When your paint is dry, protect it.  I used a water based fast drying outdoor formula by Varathane.



Dat be all. 

Easy peasy, I tell ya.


whitewashed coffee table before and after cg

And purtay! 

Hey do ya like peaches?  I do.  You may see a few in my next post. 

Just wanted to warn you in case you’re allergic. 





  1. Thanks so much for posting this I really wanted to wash wash an old dining table of mine but I had put it in the ‘too hard basket’ not anymore! I want to really distress the top of my table, do you find that the white outlines the distressing to much, is it easy to sand back and restart?

  2. Gorgeous – thanks for the tips. I’ve been thinking of doing a whitewashed chest of drawers for my bedroom, but I think I’m leaning more toward limewashing or bleaching it somehow. Any tips on that too? :)

  3. Oh so purtay!

    Sounds dumb but I never knew!

    I now think I will go sand everything, except the kiddoes, and white wash everything, thanks for sharing this!

  4. Oh so purtay!

    Sounds dumb but I never knew!

    I now think I will go sand everything, except the kiddoes, and white wash everything, thanks for sharing this!

  5. Oooh. A new trick to try. Thanks for sharing. Now if only I could properly whitewash the front of my brick house. Our first attempt washed off in the rain, lol. Maybe I should stick to furniture. Thanks for the inspiration and lesson.

  6. Painting against the grain seems counter-intuitive, but you can’t argue with results. Gorgeous! The trunk looks amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  7. That is so pretty!! That last photo looks like it came out of a BD or PB catalog…..gorgeous!!

  8. I know a Wendy Roberts in San Antonio. Maybe she left her trunk in San Francisco with her heart. You make whitewashing look so easy, Tom Sawyer. ;) It’s a neat technique. Thanks for showing us a how-to!

  9. Oh my….that is so beautiful and easy to do:):)
    I love your outdoor space….so pretty!!!

    ps…i’m having a little give-away on my blog! Stop on over if you get a chance:)

  10. I love the look of whitewashing … now I’ll be scouring my house looking for something to paint. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Your trunk turned out beautifully! Thanks for letting us in on the secret of whitewasing…I will definitely have to use it soon!

    oh…and your patio makeover looks phenomonal, and has given me so much inspiration for my patio which my hubby and I just finished two weeks ago!

    [email protected]

  12. Can whitewashing be done with other colors? That beachy blue/gray for instance?

  13. Oh I’m so glad I saw this! I’m planning on paneling a vaulted ceiling and painting it or whitewashing it… eventually??? Well, sometime in the future and this will be helpful when the time comes! Bookmarked.

  14. What a great idea! Thanks for the tips on how to achieve this look. I’m definitely going to try this somewhere at my place.

  15. i’m assuming it would work with other colors, too?? like turquoise or teal?

  16. Love…I am in love! That is the most amazing, cheap, quick transformation I have seen in a long time! Looks fabulous and now I want one too! Thanks for the tutorial. I always learn something new even if it is something that I have done in the past. You rock!

  17. Looks fantastic! Thanks for the top secret formula. I loved how Sarah Richardson whitewashed all the pine paneled walls on Sarah’s Summer House and wondered about the ratio. Now I need to find me something to whitewash!

  18. A few others have asked too – can you do this technique with other colors? Either way, I’m excited to try this, but I don’t have anything to do it to….yet.

  19. Lindsey, Marie & Iliona, of course it can be done with other colors! Anything goes, grays, blues, greens, it all works! I’ve seen pieces from old barns in different chippy paint colors put together to form works of art, so in my book, any color works with this technique. It’s close to dry brushing, it’s just that the paint is watered down in this case, like a glaze.


  20. I love the way your trunk came out. I need to remember the power of the sander and to go ahead and pick up those icky looking finds.

  21. Thanks for the secret formula. I was always wondering how that effect was created. I am using an old cedar lane trunk as my coffee table, in my living room. Eventually it needs a bit of sanding and redoing, but that has to be up to my husband’s decision. It’s my daughter’s trunk now and it was his moms.

  22. I LOVE IT! I made a barn wood table the other day (soon to be posted on my blog) and I have been messing around with different stains. They all look too dark or wash out the saw toothing. I think this may be the trick though! I love it! Thanks for sharing!

  23. Kate, this project turned out great. The final look is amazing! Thank you so much for using Varathane (a brand of Rust-Oleum) and have a great Fourth of July!!!

  24. So classic! I was wondering if this wash technique could be done an already-painted piece? Like a robins-egg blue over white? I wasn’t sure the best way to go about that. Thanks!

  25. So love the white wash! I’ve been looking at your site for over 3 hrs. now and keep finding more and more pieces to ‘re-do” in my place. What to do first..that is the question? Spray paint or white wash? All I know is I’m totally in love AND totally confused! Soooo, I shall start to stock up on supplies and go from there! Whooo Hoooo! I love your sense of humor, keep it rollin’. Thanks for all your tips and how to’s! Pro’s and Con’s! Bookmarked fo’ sure!

  26. I love the project gallery as a whole. It inspires me. I also am lovin’ the Attiser Sage Midori tablecloth in the Celtic star pattern. I am thinking of a 101 things to do with it.

  27. Hey Kate! So I have been looking over this technique you posted for a while, and I was wondering if there was a any difference between using a flat vs. satin vs. eggshell la-dee-dah when choosing paint. I have some leftover white paint, its flat though so I’m wondering if this would work out? Thoughts? I’ll prob just try it, and sand back down if its a fail lol.
    Thanks, and LOVE your blog.

  28. This is a lifesaver of a post I tell ya! Just moved into our first home with a great mantle, but rough cedar isn’t exactly my thing. I’ll show ya the results! Thanks a ton! ;) Kayli

  29. Would this whitewashing technique work on walls and ceilings? I have dark old cedar boards on a cathedral ceiling and walls and want to lighten things up. It would be very difficult to sand the ceiling tho, even cleaning it would be a job. I’d appreciate any input…

    • Yes Soozi, it would! I have a friend who wants to whitewash her plank walls too, should be gorgeous!

  30. I read your story last week, and decides immedeatly to white-wash the wooden plank walls in my livingroom: with a wonderfull result! Thanks so much for shearing the recipe.

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