How to Whitewash Wood

If you follow me on instagram, you’ve seen a lot of updates on our attic space renovation.  And oh boy, do I have a lot to share!  But I wanted to start simple.  Today, I have tutorial for you on whitewashing wood.

A clear tutorial and helpful tips on how to give wood a bright, beautiful whitewash... at www.maisondepax.com

We wanted something light and bright for our attic space.  We only put one skylight in the space (mostly because it’s going to be a beast to keep it cool during Texas summers!), and with the low ceiling, we knew we wanted white.

A clear tutorial and helpful tips on how to give wood a bright, beautiful whitewash... at www.maisondepax.com

But our attic already had some of this fabulous, aged cedar planking… How could we resist capitalizing on that?  And how could we cover up all that beautiful woodgrain and texture with solid white paint?  We couldn’t…

A clear tutorial and helpful tips on how to give wood a bright, beautiful whitewash... at www.maisondepax.com

And so the whitewashing plan was born.

A clear tutorial and helpful tips on how to give wood a bright, beautiful whitewash... at www.maisondepax.com

We ran into a problem at the very beginning, though (welcome to DIY, right?!?!): our gorgeous aged planks were a totally different color than the fresh, new planks we had to buy to complete the space.  While we could mix them up some, we knew we needed to try to match the new and old beams first, so we started by staining all the new beams to a color similar to our aged ones.  The match was far from perfect, but knowing that we were planning to whitewash anyway meant that they didn’t need to match exactly.  If you are considering whitewashing newer planking, I would recommend staining it a bit darker first.  This brings out the knots and textures in the wood grain more clearly.  Then, when you whitewash, you can see more of that peeking through.

A clear tutorial and helpful tips on how to give wood a bright, beautiful whitewash... at www.maisondepax.com

Ok, on to the tutorial:

  1. (optional) Stain your wood a medium brown (we used Wheat by Rustoleum with just a touch of Kona to make it a bit darker).
  2. Mix up 1 part water to 2 parts flat white latex paint (we used budget ceiling paint from our local hardware store).
  3. Brush (don’t roll) the paint on in the direction of the wood grain.
  4. Wipe off with a paper towel or rag in the direction of the wood grain.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 if desired.

Now that doesn’t sound too hard, does it?

A clear tutorial and helpful tips on how to give wood a bright, beautiful whitewash... at www.maisondepax.com

And it wasn’t… but it wasn’t really easy either.  Like a lot of painting projects, it’s more an art form than a science.  You have to keep going until you love it…

A clear tutorial and helpful tips on how to give wood a bright, beautiful whitewash... at www.maisondepax.com

To help you reach the “love it” stage, here are some tips I found that helped.  Each plank has its own identity, and each plank will take a certain finesse, but the overall result is wonderful… isn’t it?

Tip 1: The brush strokes in the direction of the wood grain are important, especially if you’re working with faux aged (i.e. stained new wood) rather than authentically aged planks.  Some of your texture comes from those brush strokes, and you want them to work with your grain, rather than against it.

Tip 2: Have a spray bottle with water in it on hand.  If you ever feel your paint is getting too thick, just squirt a little extra water in.  The 1:2 water to paint ratio is a guideline.

Tip 3: Be careful at the ends of boards.  The paint tends to glob up there a bit and show the wiping marks if you don’t rub it in well.

Tip 4: Don’t wipe too vigorously or you’ll have to put on a million coats.

Tip 5: Even though you’re working with watered down paint, sometimes a “dry brush” technique is the best approach.  In other words, squeeze your brush out on a paper towel, get just a little watered down paint, and then brush it onto the surface of the board.  “Dry brushing” watered-down paint seems counter-intuitive, but trust me; sometimes it’s the easiest way to create the desired texture.

Tip 6: If you ever do end up with ugly brush strokes or too much paint, use a wet rag and rub vigorously… As long as the paint hasn’t fully dried, you can wipe most of it off.

Tip 7: If you are layering any pieces a different direction (like our faux beams below), try to whitewash them before you install them so you don’t mess up your brush strokes.

A clear tutorial and helpful tips on how to give wood a bright, beautiful whitewash... at www.maisondepax.com

Though we stained and painted the entire accent wall and ceiling in the space (because we wanted the stain and paint to settle in the nooks and crannies authentically), I did whitewash the faux beams (which were used to cover the seams in the planks) on saw horses before installing them.

A clear tutorial and helpful tips on how to give wood a bright, beautiful whitewash... at www.maisondepax.com

We loved the effect so much that we even whitewashed the closet door.  I promise a tutorial on that soon…

A clear tutorial and helpful tips on how to give wood a bright, beautiful whitewash... at www.maisondepax.com

As a side note, I LOVE living in a home where we can find treasures like this old cedar door (which we sized down for the closet and whitewashed) in the attic.  Just look at the gorgeous patina and crystal on that door knob!

whitewashed door knob close

And I LOVE the whitewashed planks… Do you?  This same technique could be used on so many things… What are you itching to whitewash? 😉

Update! More whitewashed attic tutorials now available: whitewashed door, reclaimed wood stairwell bookcase, simple side table.  Explore and enjoy!

Fabulous step-by-step tutorial at maisondepax.com

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Comments

  1. Brenda U. says:

    Looks great!

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thank you so much, Brenda!! So glad you like it. :)

      • Sarah Henderson says:

        So I can’t figure out how to make my own comment without hitting reply on someone else’s! haha
        But I was wondering…I think this is absolutely beautiful, and have decided to do an entire room in my new home that is being built. I had the painters stain all the shiplap for me and I am doing your process of white washing. My question is that all of my shiplap runs horizontal. Do I need to start at the top and go down, or does that matter? Also, do I have to work in the normal faux painting 3×3 box sections? I would figure doing it plank by plank would be a better technique…

        • Rachel Paxton says:

          How exciting! I bet it will be beautiful. If it were me (and remember, I’m a make-it-up-as-I-go kind of gal 😉 ), I would do plank by plank. And I would start at the top so that if I do drip anything (and don’t see it to clean it up) I can sand that spot just before I whitewash that plank. Does that make sense?

  2. Wow! Nice job, it looks gorgeous!!! Now I need to whitewash too… hmmm…

  3. I’ve always wondered how this was done! Thanks for the easy to understand steps!

  4. This is gorgeous! It’s going to be an amazing space! I love it! We have an unfinished room above the garage and I wanted to do something similar!

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thank you so much, Shirley! I hope you’re able to do something you love in that space above the garage!! :)

  5. This whole room is gorgeous! Thanks for easy step by step instructions. And I LOVE that door! Can’t wait to hear more about it!

  6. I see….. brush and wipe are the secret components…. Your rooms looks fabulous. Can’t wait to see what else you end up doing in there…..
    :) Have a happy week!!
    “hugs” Crystelle
    Crystelle Boutique

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thanks so much, Crystelle! I can’t wait to share the rest… I hope you have a fabulous week, too!

  7. This looks so nice…………I did a whitewash on an armoire once and we loved it…..I added some gathered floral fabric for “windows” in the doors……..turned out great, but I have never done a room….thank you for sharing this. :)

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thank you so much! Your armoire sounds lovely… there’s nothing like a soft, simple whitewash. :)

  8. This is so beautiful!! I’m so glad you shared the entire process! I am wanting a similar look for one wall in my sons room and everything I’ve tried thus far just wasn’t working!

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thank you, Holly! I’m so glad you found the tutorial helpful… I hope you’re able to achieve what you want in your son’s room!!

  9. Such a beautiful space!

  10. What a gorgeous room! I love the white washed look with old wood peaking through. It’s a lovely twist on a an all white room!

  11. My goodness – GORGEOUS!! Pinning this!

  12. Looks lovely! The whitewashing turned out so well.

  13. Visiting from the Link Party Palooza. The white wash finish is beautiful, and you gave so many practical tips for how to successfully navigate this project – thank you! I would love to white wash a dresser for our guest bedroom.

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thank you so much, Abi! I’m so glad you came by and that you like the tutorial. I hope you have fun doing the dresser!!

  14. So pretty. I love the new old look… I am featuring you tomorrow. Thank you so much for linking up with The Party Bunch!
    Besos!
    Desiree

  15. I’ve been looking for information like this for ages – that I could actually understand – this absolutely made my day. Thank you so much!

  16. Love this, Rachel! It’s beautiful! And awesome tutorial and tips… I need to find something in my house to do this with now!! Have a great weekend!

  17. WOW, looks great! I might have to give this a try!

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      I’m so glad you like it, Sandra! Thank you for your sweet comment. :) I hope you find a fun way to use the tutorial!

  18. This turned out so so lovely! Thanks so much for linking up to our Link It or Lump It party!

    Amy @ http://www.delineateyourdwelling.com

  19. OMG! This is gorgeous! I just want to whitewash my whole house ;p
    Awesome job.

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thank you so much, Rayana!! I admit that I had that urge, too, when I was finished with the attic! 😉

  20. I love this space and this tutorial! Amazing job and the lights are killer!

  21. The images of the boards are great! People are always asking us about whitewashing reclaimed wood….

  22. Can I do this on an all ready painted surface?

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      I haven’t done that, but it’s certainly worth a try, Cathy! The painted surface won’t suck up the paint like raw wood, though, so you’ll probably need to wait a bit longer after brushing on the whitewash before you wipe it off. Your wiping technique (and the texture that it leaves) will be more important, too, since you won’t have the woodgrain showing through for variation. I would suggest trying it on some scrap wood first and seeing what you can accomplish. You also might try dry brushing some watered-down white, as that can have a similar look to whitewashing and might give you better faux texture. Hope this helps!!

  23. that looks amazing, i love the look! Pinning! Saw this at the 36th avenue;)

  24. It looks beautiful!! Amazing space, I love the white washed look!

  25. This turned out gorgeous! I just wanted to let you know that I am linking to this post on 4/8 at Simply Creative Living if you don’t mind.

  26. I loved how you white washed the wood wall.

    I would love to do this in my basement. How would I do this with wood paneling.

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      I’m so glad you like it, Audrey! Without seeing the paneling myself, it’s hard to say… but the biggest thing to keep in mind is that wood paneling often isn’t real wood and therefore won’t have natural grain for the paint to fill in. You may have to give it a more faux finish to achieve a similar effect. I would probably start by just trying it: paint on a little whitewash, wipe it off, and see what happens. If that doesn’t work, try dry brushing: go ahead and water down your paint and then get only a tiny bit on a very dry brush. Use the brush to create the texture you’re looking for and don’t wipe it off. It’s all trial and error until you find what you love. Good luck!

  27. Love this! We currently have a cedar home and i’ve been really wanting to try this for sometime now! Did you stain the old wood or just the newer wood before whitewashing? Thinking of doing this for the bedroom but leaving the ceiling natural for contrast? How long did this process take?

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      I’m so glad you like it, Summer! We only stained the new wood, but you could certainly stain it all if you wanted a darker base color. We worked on it in pieces (because I wasn’t really supposed to be breathing too many paint fumes while pregnant!), so it’s hard to say exactly how long it took. Maybe 10-12 hours total?? It helped that we waited to install the flooring until after we finished so we didn’t have to worry about drips. A natural ceiling in contrast to white walls would be stunning! I hope you have fun making over your space!!

  28. Hi! I would like to know what kind of brush did you use? Thanks :)

  29. The ceiling looks terrific. I lofted my attic and am not happy with the dry walled ceiling. Whitewash planking is my choice as well, I am just searching for thing wood to use as veneer planks to save space and weight. Now I just need to decide if I will run my planks horizontally or vertically.

    I am so glad to see yours looking so beautiful; it reassures me that my plan is going to yield the pleasing result I imagined.

    I am curious about how you handled the skylight. I have a number of them, and I don’t know how to finish them with the planking. Did you run the planks to the edge of the well, but leave the wells dry walled? Or, did you add planking inside the well? How did you finish the edges and the transition from ceiling to well?

    Is there any chance you could post some photos of the skylight areas? Thank you for inviting us in to glimpse your home.

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Hi Ellen,
      Thank you so much! I’m so glad you like it!! We did not have any drywall on the ceiling at all, so everything has been planked (including the well for the skylight). We just butted the vertical boards right up against the horizontal ones… and given the rustic look of the planking, I think it looks fine. That is a great question, though, and I will do my best to get a photo of it soon (I was hoping I already had one, but I don’t seem to!). Hope this helps in some way!

      • Yes, this does help, thank you. I’ve been pondering how I will handle it, and have really just not seen it anywhere, so I’m quite excited to see yours.

        I wish I had thought about planking when I lofted, but at the time I wanted something sky-like and sparkly. Metallic paints were hot at the time and I went with that, but it never felt right and didn’t sparkle. It matches the sky, so is great when the sun is out, but when cloudy it is like a steel canopy and quite heavy. There is some outstanding wallpaper, but the cost is prohibitive.

        I know that the whitewashed planks will be so much more appropriate and pleasing.

        Looking forward to your photos. Sorry for making you do more work, though.

        • Rachel Paxton says:

          I change my mind about design choices all the time! You’re not alone. :) And please don’t feel bad… It’s about time to share some more details of the attic; I’ll try to have them up soon. Take care!

  30. I think it looks beautiful! I also love the whitewash look. I have already done my brick mantel and our stairs and am a big fan of how it immediately lightens up a room. Your space is lovely and you did an amazing job. Thanks for the tips! Oh, and that gorgeous door – what a lucky find!

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thank you so much, Suzanne! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. Whitewashing is addicting, isn’t it?! Have a great week!

  31. I love the look of your white wash. We have the knotty pine paneling that is real wood but has a varnished finish on it. It is very old and I want to know if I can just white wash over it without any other pre step preparation?

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thank you so much, Barbara Ann! Our wood was raw, so it soaked up the paint… It would not necessarily work the same way with a varnished wood. I did, however, paint knotty pine paneled walls in my old house. We were trying to simply paint them white, but they ended up looking a little whitewashed because we didn’t prime beforehand; the knots all showed through. I would suggest experimenting. Water down a little flat white latex paint and be ready with a wet rag to wipe it off if you don’t like it. You can also rough up the walls slightly with some fine grit sandpaper beforehand to allow the paint to grip a little better. I know it’s hard to “experiment” on your walls, but if you can find a semi-hidden area to do so, that’s going to be your best bet. Every type of wood and varnish will take the paint a little differently. I hope this helps in some way!

  32. Can I ask where you purchased the ceiling light fixtures? Beautiful room!

  33. Carrie Rains says:

    I love your style! Can you please tell me where you found the white ceiling lamps that you used in your white-washed attic? They are adorable! Thanks!

  34. Angela Dun says:

    I love this attic. I have a half wall of old paneling in my living room. I finally found something that I like so that I can fix this ugly paneling. I have put oil on it a lot in the past, it has a little bit of a laminate or glaze over the wood. Do I need to sand it before I start this process? Or deglaze? If this works I am going to do my kitchen cabinets too. But they have that same old glaze on them. What do you suggest I do? Should I clean them with the vinegar and water that I have read about? Or just take off painting?
    Thank you , great job! beautiful

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thank you so much, Angela! Our wood was raw, so obviously ours was little different. I bet that with a rag and some finesse you could get a similar look over the wood, but I’m afraid it would chip or rub off later. You could try an inconspicuous corner, give it a week, then try scratching it off. If it comes right off under your finger nail, I would try deglazing it somehow. Vinegar and water is a start, but it won’t remove varnish if that’s what’s there. I wish I had a better answer for you, it’s sometimes just a game of trial and error. Good luck!

  35. Hi Rachel! What type of wood do you find works best to whitewash? I’m going to try to start with a simple bookcase project for this tecnhnique. Thank yhou!

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Hi Kaitlin, I’ve really enjoyed working with cedar. It offers texture and variations without having too much grain. But I’ve whitewashed cheap pine and painted hardwoods, too, and had great success with all those. Good luck! xx

  36. My husband and I went out last weekend and looking for our forever home. We ran across a lot of new homes that had this link of flooring, or walls. I truly dig the idea of doing it ourselves. I so don’t want a brand new house, I want something I cam make my own. I agree when you said “You have to keep going until you love it…” I am a painter too and that statement is SO TRUE. Have a great day and thank you for the inspiration.

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Oh thank you, Deedra! I so appreciate your comment, and I’m so glad you like the space!! Hope you have a wonderful day, too. :)

  37. I have an old cape house in Maine and I’ve recently had new pine tongue and groove installed on my attic bedroom ceilings. I want to create the white wash look on it that you did. I was thinking of first doing a grey stain on the wood followed by the white wash technique. When you used stain, did it have any poly in it or was it just stain? Also, should the white paint be flat latex or should it have a sheen like semi-gloss?

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      It sounds like it will be beautiful! My stain was just stain – no poly, and I used a flat white latex. I hope this helps!

  38. laura carney says:

    Hi! Just bought a new house and have paneling everywhere! I really want to whitewash my master bedroom because I LOVE the wood grain, but your tutorial didn’t say anything about having to sand the wood first. Did you not have to sand it? My paneling has a glaze or some sealant that has kept it in great shape since being built in the early 70’s, so I’m afraid about white washing because I was under the impression that you HAD TO sand, but if you painted you can just use Kilz and not need sanding.

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Hi Laura,
      Here’s the problem: ours was totally raw wood; there was no pre-existing finish, so no sanding was needed. Unfortunately, you’re right, the varnish or poly that is probably on your walls will definitely affect how paint sticks. If I were you, though, I might try using primer AS my whitewash… Definitely try it on a place were you can cover it up if it doesn’t work!! But who knows, it should adhere well enough and it might just save you the trouble of stripping off the finish. The other thing you could consider (though I have never used it myself, I’ve heard wonderful things about it from people refinishing furniture) is liquid sandpaper; it’s essentially a stripper of some sort. I hope these ideas help get you started! :)

  39. Thanks for the inspiration! I’m planning to whitewash some rough cedar in our basement as an alternative to drywalling the space. Maybe you already answered this in the comments (haven’t read all of them) but how many coats did you do? Were you able to achieve the results above with one pass?

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      You are so welcome! I’m so glad you like it. :) Yes, I was able to do it all in one pass, but I did only 2-3 boards at a time. With each section, it took some whitewashing, stepping back to examine, and then returning until I found the balance I wanted. There were even a few spots that I returned to a little later (remember the note about wetting your rag to remove some if needed) if I wasn’t happy with how they blended into the rest of the room. I did not, however, have to do a second full coat. When I finished those last 2-3 boards, I was done. I hope this helps!

  40. Rachel,

    I bought a 1989 fixer upper and just took the upstairs carpet out… It is your post that inspired me to DIY plank the entire upstairs and complete your technique to them. I am thrilled and cannot wait to finish, you are truly an inspiration 🏡❤️!

    Many thanks,
    Kimberly
    Chesterfield, Va.

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Oh Kimberly, I cannot tell you how that warms my heart!!! So so glad to hear it. I hope you love your home for many many years. :)

  41. I have a pine ceiling that has been stained and varnished. Is there anything I need to do prior to white washing the wood? I am planning on white washing and adding light gray accents by dry brushing.

    Thanks

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      It’s tough to say… Each finish is different, but you probably will need something more than just latex. Like furniture makeovers, latex paint requires you to sand the piece so that it will adhere. Chalk paint, though, is a great option for furniture makeovers because it will adhere to anything. The only problem is that chalk paint needs a top coat. So you have a few options: you could try a deglosser (I’ve never used one, but I hear they’re a great option for prepping finished surfaces for paint) and then your whitewash. Or you could try the whitewash with a chalk paint. It can be watered down and since it’s a ceiling, it may not even need a top coat. Experiment on a small surface and see what works. I hope this helps!

  42. Hi! This looks great. I want to do this at my cottage. It is entirely old pine walls and ceilings with a clear coat. I asked a painter to quote on the job and he said you can’t whitewash over a clear coat / stain. That you had to sand it down and remove it first. It sounds like you did the opposite and just painted over the stain. Am I right ?
    If you don’t mind letting me know i would be very grateful. Would love to go nuts on the place !!!!! I think it would look so much fresher !
    Best regards Amanda

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thank you so much, Amanda! There is one important distinction: our ceiling had no sealers or clear coats, just some stain that soaked into the wood. I was simply using color to try to match the existing color of the aged wood (since we had some old and some new planks). So your painter was probably right; most sealed things need to be sanded before they can be whitewashed. You could always consider a deglosser or trying chalk paint, though, rather than a full sanding. I don’t have experience there, but it might be worth a try on an inconspicuous area to see if you can save yourself a full sanding. Sorry I don’t have an easier answer for you! Good luck!!

  43. Ann Hughes says:

    Did you have to sand the walls before you began to paint?

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      I did not, but our planks were raw. If you have a preexisting finish on your walls, then you will definitely need to strip, sand, or degloss them before starting. Hope this helps!

  44. Is it possible to whitewash a wood back porch like this? I want to put my house up for sale but need to do something exciting with my back wood porch that looks like it has no protection anymore on it. Thanks

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      That sounds like a beautiful idea, but it will take some experimentation. If the wood really has no protection at all, then it should suck up the paint and work quite well. If there is any sealant remaining, though, the paint may not adhere. You also will need to consider how you will finish it after you whitewash it; wood outdoor needs to be protected from the elements. You could also look into gray or white wood stains; I think some of the outdoor deck stain lines have some lighter options. I hope this helps!

  45. lovely room
    Have you had any stains seeping through from the cedar?
    I want to paint new cedar ship lap and I am being told that I have to first prime with an oil base(?) then paint with acrylic or the stains (tannins) from the cedar will seep through.
    I would rather do the project your way if the stains have not appeared.
    Thank-you.

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thank you so much! Unfortunately, I don’t actually live there any more (we moved out about a year after we did the renovation). In that time, though, I did not see problems with tannins seeping through. I’m sorry I don’t have better info for you, but I hope this helps a little!

  46. Hi Rachel! My husband and I just built a three season room that has knotty pine. I’ve done two coats of white wash. I did not stain it to begin with (he didn’t like that look so I compromised). Did you put anything over the whitewash coats? A clearcoat? A protective coat? Or did you just whitewash and leave it?

    Thanks!

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Hi Colleen, your new room sounds lovely! I did not use a protective coat, but ours was mostly ceiling, so it really didn’t receive much wear. The paint absorbed into the wood pretty well and it was such varied wood that nicks and scratches probably wouldn’t have shown anyway. But it’s a judgment call on whether you want a protective coat on yours. I would probably do a scratch test and maybe even give it some time. If it begins to make you nervous, a protective coat probably wouldn’t hurt. I hope this helps!

  47. Wow! This is exactly what I was looking for. I do have a question, though. I’m moving into a home with existing knotty pine paneling that I’d love to whitewash. It’s stained currently. Do I need to do any sanding to get the glossy layer off? Do I just go right over the top? I’m unsure how I should be prepping the wood, if at all. I also read in some other article that you can shellac over the knots before white washing, and I’m not sure the purpose of that. Any insight?? Thank you, beautiful work and very helpful article.

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Great question, Laura. The answer is yes. Without knowing what kind of sealant you have on your wood, I’m not sure exactly how to direct you, but for the whitewashed look, you want the watered down paint to soak into the wood, which can’t happen if it’s sealed. Also, your paint very well may flake off later if the paneling is not prepped properly. You could consider chalk paint or primer (which might adhere pretty well even with a sealed layer underneath), but then you have to finesse the finish a bit more to get the whitewash look since the paint won’t be soaking into the woodgrain. I’m sorry I don’t have more specific instructions, but I hope this helps in some way! For what it’s worth, I painted knotty pine paneling in my first home using plain old semigloss paint with primer. It was definitely more opaque than this whitewashed look, but the knots still showed through. If you can’t achieve the lighter look, you might consider trying that. Good luck!

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