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How to Whitewash Stain (Plus FAQ & Staining with Minwax Pickling)

In this post: Learn how to whitewash stain your projects and furniture. Plus all the faqs and tips you need to know to whitewash your own projects with Minwax White Wash Pickling stain!


Whitewash stain, or pickling, is a type of finish that you can use to brighten the look of your wood furniture and other home decor projects without hiding the wood grain. It’s one that I like – a lot – and use in our home. It’s a very popular finish because anyone can learn how to do it! 

how to whitewash stain wood

What is Whitewash/Pickling?

Pickling (and similar techniques)… is actually a rip-off that comes from an old European practice of pasting wood with a caustic lime [limewash] to prevent decay and insect infiltration – the 16th-century version of pressure treated lumber. The lime caused the wood to have the beautiful, ethereal effect that can easily be replicated using the technique of pickling. [source]

So, whitewash pickling is a type of finish that can be used on any type of wood like pine, birch, etc. The effect will be slightly different depending on the type of wood:

  • On woods with smaller, less noticeable grain like pine, whitewash stain will create a light driftwood effect.
  • On woods with more pronounced grain, like oak, whitewash pickling gives the same look with the added bonus of highlighting the grain. 

Another bonus of whitewashing is that it can tone down the yellow look of pine! 

White Stain vs White Paint?

Of course, you could always just paint your wood. But whitewash pickling is different than white paint because it allows the wood grain to show through, rather than hiding it like paint does. 

How Do You Apply Whitewash Stain?

Applying white stain is similar to applying white paint. But whitewash is more watery, so don’t to load your brush up quite as much with stain as you would with paint. And you’ll need to wipe off the excess wash after a few minutes too, like you would when applying regular wood stain. If you leave the whitewash on too long, it will look more like dried paint than pickled wood. 

Make Your Own Whitewash or Buy It? How to Make Whitewash Paint/Stain

Making your own whitewash stain is pretty easy: you simply mix any white paint with water!  You could also “whitewash” with any color – gray, blue, green, etc. Feel free to get creative!

To make your own whitewash stain, the ratio of paint to water that you use really depends on the look you want. Some suggest that you mix 3 parts water to 1 part paint. But you can adjust that to your preferred look. I recommend testing your whitewash – store-bought or DIY – on a scrap of the same type of wood that your project is made of. That way you can adjust the DIY ratio and/or the length of time you let the stain sit before you wipe it off. 

Also, test different brands and colors. Brands are always coming out with new stains and finishes. So, try them out, test them, see which one you like best. 

Can You Whitewash Over Varnished Wood?

Unfortunately, no. You can’t whitewash over any finish that is already sealed, unless you sand off the finish. All stains work on the basis of soaking into the wood, and whitewash stain is no different. You can stain over another stain (water-based over water-based or oil-based over oil-based), but not over wax, polycrylic, varnish or polyurethane. 

Do You Need to Seal Whitewash Stained Pieces?

The answer is yes, you do need to seal whitewashed furniture and other decor pieces. No matter which method you chose to use for your whitewash – make your own or store-bought, water-based or oil-based – none will protect the wood, so you need apply a top coat. Something like a wax or polycrylic will work. Don’t use a polyurethane though, as that will yellow the whitewash finish you’ve just worked to achieve! If you seal your whitewash finished pieces well, they can last a really long time!

Whitewash Stain is Sort of Like the Restoration Hardware/Pottery Barn Look

Everyone loves the Restoration Hardware/Pottery Barn/Ballard Designs aged wood look, right? The finish is also often called aged oak, grey acacia, pickled or whitewashed, depending on the shade and the wood used.

Whitewash Stain detail on table

It looks a little grey, a little natural and all refined rustic.

It’s one of my favorite looks in decorating. I’d fill my house with it if I could!  So when we were deciding on a finish for our new dining room table when we first gave the dining room a makeover in our backsplit, it was my first choice of finish to try to replicate.

DIY table with whitewash pickling finish

Before we started this project I didn’t even know what to look for to get the finish I was after. But after some searching around I found Minwax’s  water based White Wash Pickling stain

How To Whitewash Stain Using Minwax White Wash Pickling

So, you can absolutely whitewash bare wood, but it will give you a very light finish. If you want some depth to your project, you will likely want to stain your wood before applying any whitewash stain or pickling. 

Minwax Stains

Supplies:

My favorite whitewash stain and pickling products:



Instructions:

1. Thoroughly sand your pine project. Start with a coarse grit sandpaper and move to a finer grit until you have a smooth finish. 

For more detail on which sandpaper to use, see our post on Sandpaper Grits and Their Uses

2. Apply Minwax water-based Pre-Stain Conditioner over every surface. Let dry according to directions on package. The Pre-Stain Conditioner simply allows for even coverage on all parts of the wood, including knots, etc.

applying pre stain wood conditioner

2. Apply tinted stain to one area at a time using a brush – for example one board at a time. Let sit for a few minutes then wipe off with a lint free cloth or rag. Let dry according to directions on the package.

apply wood stain over wood conditioner on pine

wipe off excess stain

stained pine table

For a detailed step-by-step tutorial on how to stain wood, see this post. 

3. Lightly sand the stained pine surface with fine grit sandpaper. Wipe off all sanding debris with a clean cloth or vacuum clean.

4. Using a brush apply whitewash liberally to one area at a time. Working quickly, wipe off with a clean lint free cloth or rag. Of the whole project, this is the trickiest step to get just right. If your brush is too dry, your finish will be too white. I suggest practicing on a spare board. Once you’re finished white washing the entire table, let dry according to directions on the package.

whitewash over stain

whitewashed table

5.  For a rustic looking imperfect table top, gently sand with low grit sandpaper and a palm sander. This also helps to tone down the slightly blue tinge of the white wash pickling.

not sanded and sanded whitewash stain

whitewash stain detail

6. Using a clean quality brush, apply a thin coat of Polycrylic in Satin finish for protection from food stains and spills. Let dry. Repeat once.

dean place card

dining room at backsplit

Whitewash Stain Printable Tutorial

Just in case you want to take the tutorial out to the garage, here’s a printable version for you!

Whitewash Stain detail on table

How to Whitewash Stain

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Active Time: 3 hours
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 5 hours 15 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Learn how to whitewash stain your projects and furniture.

Materials

  • Raw pine wood – in this case we were finishing a DIY table
  • Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner
  • Minwax Clear Tint Base – tinted in American Walnut
  • Minwax White Wash Pickling
  • Minwax Polycrylic in Satin Finish

Tools

  • Purdy Paint Brush
  • lint free cloth
  • fine grit sandpaper

Instructions

  1. Thoroughly sand your pine project. Start with a coarse grit sandpaper and move to a finer grit until you have a smooth finish. 
  2. Apply Minwax water-based Pre-Stain Conditioner over every surface. Let dry according to directions on package. The Pre-Stain Conditioner simply allows for even coverage on all parts of the wood, including knots, etc.
  3. Apply tinted stain to one area at a time using a brush – for example one board at a time. Let sit for a few minutes then wipe off with a lint free cloth or rag. Let dry according to directions on the package.
  4. Lightly sand the stained pine surface with fine grit sandpaper. Wipe off all sanding debris with a clean cloth or vacuum clean.
  5. Using a brush apply whitewash liberally to one area at a time. Working quickly, wipe off with a clean lint free cloth or rag. Of the whole project, this is the trickiest step to get just right. If your brush is too dry, your finish will be too white. I suggest practicing on a spare board. Once you’re finished white washing the entire table, let dry according to directions on the package.
  6. For a rustic looking imperfect table top, gently sand with low grit sandpaper and a palm sander. This also helps to tone down the slightly blue tinge of the white wash pickling.
  7. Using a clean quality brush, apply a thin coat of Polycrylic in Satin finish for protection from food stains and spills. Let dry. Repeat once.

How to Whitewash Stain Video Tutorial

 

You might also like our How to Stain Wood video tutorial. If you want to see more of our videos, be sure to subscribe to our Youtube channel so you don’t miss a thing! 

More White Wash Pickling Tips:

  • I can’t say enough about the Pre-Stain Conditioner. I’d never used it before this project, seeing it as an unnecessary step and added cost. However, I’m sure it’s the reason all of our stain went on so smoothly this time despite using inexpensive soft wood. 
  • I used all water-based products for this project. Water based stain totally rocks for this finish. The fast dry time and lack of headache-inducing stench is a complete bonus!
  • Leave the tinted stain on for a few minutes before wiping it off, BUT wipe off the White Wash Pickling ASAP! Unless you want a really white almost blue finish. Live and learn, right?
  • The poly on top (to protect the table from kids spills) makes the pickling look a little bluer than it is. If you don’t like that and you aren’t worried about major spills, you could just use a clear or natural wax (beeswax would be perfect!) to protect the table.

finished farmhouse table with whitewash stain

Want another easy furniture finishing option? Try the easiest antiquing and glazing method ever or our lime wash white wash method here. 

how to whitewash stain

Have you ever used white washed anything? What about a White Wash Pickling finish?

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