How to Whitewash Stained Wood? (Easy DIY Project)

A lot of DIYers struggle with whitewashing already stained wood due to the presence of an existing stain on the wood. So, how do you whitewash stained wood?

To whitewash a stained wood, you can apply diluted off-white latex paint or diluted white chalk on the existing wood stain. Any of these paints will give you that rustic whitewashed appearance when dry.

You should only use a paintbrush to apply the whitewash and you should sand the existing stain before applying it. If the stained wood was sealed with a waterproof sealant like lacquer or polyurethane, you’ll have to strip the waterproof coating before you can apply whitewash – if you don’t, the whitewash will not stick to the wood.

This post reveals all you need to know about whitewashing a stained wood including the tools and supplies you’ll need for the task. Let’s dive in.

Can You Whitewash Over Stained Wood?

You can whitewash over stained wood. Whitewash can be applied on either bare, finished, or stained wood as long as you follow the right steps. For a stained wood, you need to sand the existing stain with fine sandpaper and apply a few coats of whitewash over the stained wood. This will give a whitewashed appearance.

The good thing about whitewash is that it can be used on wood regardless of if the wood has an existing stain or paint. The only case where you can’t apply whitewash over a stained wood is if the wood already has a sealant. Sealants like polyurethane and lacquer are waterproof and as such, whitewash can’t stick to them. So, if you apply whitewash on wood, the whitewash will not stick.

You should know that you need to sand the existing stain to create teeth for the whitewash to adhere to. Sanding should be done manually and with fine sandpaper.

Whitewash Vs White Paint (For Stained Wood)

Whitewash Vs White Paint (For Stained Wood)

Many homeowners and DIYers often confuse white paint with whitewash due to the similar features of both finishes.

However, both finishes are different and before deciding if to whitewash or paint your wood, it’s important to know some basic differences between both finishes. So, let’s do a brief comparison of white paint and whitewash for stained wood.

The Formula

What is the finish made of?

White paint is made from pigments, resins, solvents, and several additives. The formula of white paint is largely synthetic and it gives the white paint finish improved features.

Whitewash on the other hand is generally made from water, masonry lime, and chalk. The formula of whitewash is more natural than the formula of white paint.


How easy is it to apply the finish?

You can apply white paint using a roller, paintbrush, paint sprayer, or rag. However, you have to be careful when applying white paint because a bad stroke of the brush or too much paint on the roller can easily cause streaks or sticky paint.

Whitewash is super easy to apply but you can only use paintbrushes for whitewash application. However, with whitewash, you have room for mistakes. Since whitewash contains zero resins and is light, you won’t notice streaks or sticky whitewash – whitewash also dries under 24 hours.

Verdict: Whitewash is easier to apply than white paint because there is more room for mistakes. So, whitewashing is a perfect DIY task while painting will require some level of expertise.


How durable is the finish?

White paint is durable. When dry, white paints form a thick layer of white coat on the wood that protects the stained wood from dents, scratches, and scars.

Some white paints, especially oil-based white paints even protect the stained wood from water. However, all white paints regardless of how durable they are eventually chip and peel off after a few years.

Whitewash is very durable. When applied properly, whitewash can last several years and this is one reason whitewash is used outdoors. Also, since whitewash doesn’t have many additives, chemicals, resins, or solvents, it doesn’t react to sunlight or fade.

Verdict: Whitewash is more durable and lasts longer than white paint.


What does the finish look like?

White paint offers a shiny and thick appearance on stained wood. When you use paint on stained wood, the stain on the wood will be completely covered. White paint is perfect for wood décor and furniture.

Whitewash offers a rustic dull and off-white appearance on the stained wood. When whitewash is used on stained wood, the stain underneath gives a tone to the whitewash finish. Whitewash is perfect for antiques.

In summary, white paint will give you a protective coating on the wood but whitewash will not protect your wood very much. However, whitewash will give you a dull and rustic appearance while white paint will give your wood a smooth and glossy look.

How Long Should Stain Dry Before Whitewashing?

You should let the wood stain dry for at least 24 hours before whitewashing. This gives the wood stain sufficient time to dry and harden on the wood before whitewash is applied. If you apply whitewash on wood stain too soon, the wood stain and the whitewash will not dry. Instead, you will be left with a sticky and patchy-looking whitewash and wood stain mess on the wood.

When wood stain is applied over wood, the wood stain will soak in the wood fibers where it sets and begins to dry. When applied in proper painting conditions, it takes water-based wood stain about 12 hours to dry enough for whitewashing while oil-based wood stain takes about 24 hours to dry. It’s advised to wait a full day before whitewashing over a fresh wood stain.

However, if the wood stain had already been applied on the wood, you can whitewash it anytime because the wood stain would have dried enough for whitewash application. Ensure to sand before applying whitewash on a wood stain. Next, let’s check out how to apply whitewash over stained wood.

How To Whitewash Stained Wood?

To whitewash stained wood, you’ll need the following tools:

  • A paintbrush
  • Fine sandpaper
  • White latex or chalk paint
  • Masonry lime
  • A paint bucket
  • A turning stick or paint mixer
  • Paint stripper (optional)

Here is how to do it:

1. Sand The Wood

Sand The Wood

The first step is to strip the sealant if there is any on the wood stain. Sealants are often waterproof and hard making it impossible for the whitewash to stay on the wood.

So, if there is a sealant on the wood stain, you need to strip it with a paint stripper. You can also remove the sealant by sanding it down with 150-grit sandpaper.

After removing the sealant, you need to sand the stained wood with very fine sandpaper. You are just to move the sandpaper over the wood stain 2 or 3 times because you are trying to remove imperfections and pimples on the stained wood. If you sand too much, you’ll wear the wood stain.

The next step is to remove dust on the surface with a vacuum or a duster. The dust should be packed in a waterproof bag and disposed of properly because it contains stripped paint and chemical dust.

2. Prepare The Whitewash

Prepare The Whitewash

The next step is to prep the whitewash. To do this, you’ll have to mix the ingredients of the whitewash in a clean paint bucket. You can use white latex paint or chalk paint to whitewash wood. To prep this mixture, mix 1 part latex or chalk paint with 2 parts water – stir until the mixture is loose and leave it to settle.

You can also get whitewash by mixing chalk with masonry lime – salt is also a common ingredient in this whitewash because it helps with adhesion. To prep this mixture, mix equal parts of chalk and masonry lime and dilute with water. If you’ll like to skip the prep work, you can just purchase a ready-to-use whitewash.

3. Apply The Whitewash

Apply The Whitewash

The final step is to apply the whitewash. You can do this using a paintbrush – you should never use a roller or a rag to apply the whitewash because these applicators will not get the whitewash in the wood. While brushing on the whitewash, you should brush along the wood grain and not against it.

Though not necessary, some people prefer opening up the wood by using steel wool or sanding pads so the whitewash can be fully absorbed. You can do this too but be very gentle with the steel wool or sanding pad. You should apply 2-3 coats of whitewash but allow each coat to dry for at least 1 hour before applying the next coat.

4. Seal The Whitewash

Seal The Whitewash

Sealing the whitewash makes the finish last longer and it also protects the whitewash and the wood from water damage. However, sealing the whitewash will add some sheen to the finish making it glossy.

If you don’t want the gloss, don’t seal the whitewash. If you don’t mind the gloss, you can seal the whitewash with either polyurethane, clear varnish, or lacquer.

Can You Whitewash Stained Wood With Any Color?

Traditionally, only white paints were used to achieve that whitewashed rustic appearance on wood. However, colors like grey, ash, off-white, cream, vanilla, and eggshell are frequently used to whitewash wood.

The trick is to dilute these paints with enough water to make the paint light and white. Then the mixture is applied to the wood. While these colors work for whitewashing, you should know that bright colors don’t.

Whitewashing was commonly done using white flat paints like chalk and latex. Sometimes, masonry lime was added to make the wood look better. However, today’s paint manufacturers now make different shades and colors that are similar to white. These include grey, ivory, ash, off-white, cream, vanilla, and eggshell. When diluted correctly, each of these colors can be used to produce a whitewashed appearance on stained wood.

You should know that bright paints like orange, blue, green, and yellow can never produce a whitewashed appearance regardless of how well you dilute the paint. Also, oil-based paints should never be used to whitewash stained or bare wood because oil-based paints contain oil and will never give that dull rustic look.

Does Whitewash Protect Wood?

Whitewash does protect wood but not from every type of damage. Whitewash is ideal for preserving wood and the finish has some degree of UV protection since it doesn’t fade when exposed to sunlight. However, whitewash will not protect your wood from foot traffic or heavy furniture since it’s not thick or strong.

To be fair, whitewash is more of a decorative finish than a protective one. Homeowners use whitewash to achieve rustic, antique, and whitish tones on wood, and not used to protect wood. So, if protection is what you want, you should consider going for paint or sealant on the wood instead of whitewashing.

Final Words

In summary, whitewash can be applied over stained wood and it’s super easy to do. Just follow the steps above and you are sure to get that white rustic appearance on your stained wood.

Remember, if the wood stain was sealed, the whitewash will not stick – In this case, you’ll have to strip or sand the sealant off of the wood stain first before the whitewash can stick.

Finally, if you want the whitewash to last longer, you can seal it but know that whatever sealant that you use will alter the whitewash finish.

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