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!

How to Whitewash Stain

Whitewash Stain detail on table
Learn how to whitewash stain your projects and furniture.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Active Time 3 hours
Additional Time 2 hours
Total Time 5 hours 15 minutes
Difficulty Easy

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.

Did you make this project?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

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?

shannon sign off

home made lovely book on table with get it now text button

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97 Comments

  1. Who knew – is right! Thank you for the tip. I have yet to try that color and I do love it. Your table looks amazing!

  2. The table is so warm and inviting. You all did a great job. Thanks for sharing about the pre-stain conditioner. It always helps to have tips like this.

    1. It’s a totally great product! Like I said, never thought to use it before, but I saw it online somewhere and thought I’d try it for this. LOVE it!

  3. Thank you so much!! Right smack in the middle of doing my kitchen table. What if I am wanting a lighter wood stain look. We have sort of a beach coastal look. What is a lighter stain mini wax you would suggest? I am just doing the table top with the stain, the bottom part of the table and chairs are going to be painted with Annie Sloan Provence.

    1. Thanks!! Sorry for posting twice, just now saw reply. Yes, I am wanting the whitewash on top. I was just looking at the Restoration Hardware website last night trying to figure out the grey acai look. I am now trying to remove the Annie Sloan soft wax off of the bare wood, it didn’t give me the look I wanted. I am doing it your way πŸ™‚

    2. I’m sorry it didn’t turn out the at the first go ’round with the wax. All the best with it, Michele!

  4. Shannon, please give me your opinion πŸ™‚ I trust your judgement. And since this is my first big redo, I want it to turn out nice πŸ™‚

  5. Oh my – thanks for being so generous with all your knowledge. As soon as I saw that table a few days ago – I knew it is exactly what I have been looking for, complete with the same chairs you have used!! Brilliant. I hope you don’t mind but I am 100% copying everything you have done because it has turned out perfect. Well done!!

  6. Thanks for sharing! I have a coffee table that is in need of exactly this finish – now I know how πŸ™‚ Even better that it’s all water-based!

    1. Thank you, Sheila. It was fun to see your comments on each of the posts previous to this one!

  7. it took me a couple of tries to finally land on this secret recipe! i also looove the look and feel it brings to my house! your table looks gorgeous

  8. I am struggling to cover my wood filler with the stain? Does the pre-stain treatment help that you think? I have not used that & went straight for the walnut stain…
    Thanks tons!

    1. Oh, Melissa. I’m so sorry. We had the same problem with our old dining room table. Unfortunately wood filler doesn’t take stain the same as real wood. I actually really don’t like wood filler. I had to paint it!

  9. You are a real gem for posting this idea/ process!! As soon as I read, “AMAZEBALLS”, I knew I’d love your style!! ha! I’ve been trying to search for a grey/ white “ish” wash table and after 4 months of unsuccessful searching, I have decided to create it myself!!! I stumbled upon your site after googling, “Can you put a pickled white wash stain on top of tinted water based stain” and BAM- i found your detailed process!! I can’t wait to try this out– going to purchase my 54′ round table today!!! To achieve the gray/ white affect, I’m going after the Slate Tint Base with the White Pickling on top!!! Thank you again for the advice and thanks for the spunky commentary!!!

  10. Incredible! This blog looks exactly like my
    old one! It’s on a totally different topic but it has pretty much the same layout
    and design. Outstanding choice of colors!

  11. Love this painting technique!!. How can I recreate this look on a table that is all ready stained light oak?

    1. Hi Dawn, you would need to strip or sand it, stain it darker and then follow the steps in the tutorial. πŸ™‚

    1. My best suggestion would be to try it on an inconspicuous corner or something. I honestly don’t know how it would work as I’ve not tried it.

  12. I want to do something like this on a pallet bookshelf I just put together. I tried using some leftover dark walnut stain on some spare wood and did the white wash pickling, but neither gave me the desired effect I was looking for (couldn’t get the stain dark enough and the white wash wasn’t white enough). Any suggestions?

  13. We haven just built our own farmhouse table using reclaimed barnwood for the top. It is beautiful but not the shade I wanted, so I am going to get some pickling stain. I’m really hoping it does the trick! Anyway, I was wondering where you got your chairs? I am wanting to do an eclectic mix, and I have been wanting t add a few the same style as yours. Thanks! Beautiful job!

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  15. what if wood is white? Do I need to sand it first before I start the whitewash pickling procedure to get that greyish look

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  21. Where did you get the Minwax Whitewash Pickling Stain? I checked the sites for Home Depot (where I actually work), Ace and True Value with no luck. Amazon has it, but charges $81.00 for one quart!!!!! Yikes!!!!.

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  23. Looks good! Thanks for the tips. Just found your blog. I have a room covered in 1950 tongue and groove pine panels – amber stain which give a warm glow (ha!) I’m going to try this technique after I degloss one of the panels to see what I will get – gotta do something with the panels!

  24. Do you think it would work on a finished table? I have an old table I’d like to refinish. Thanks!

  25. In my Florida condo I have a wall of cedar planks that are stained a reddish color. There is no shellac or varnish on it. If I use this product to attains white washroom, do you think I would still need the pre stain conditioner ?

    Love what you have done to your home!

    1. The pre stain conditioner really just ensures that everything after it looks evenly applied. No dark or light spots, etc. So it’s up to you. You will likely want to prime well over the red stain though.

  26. Great Post! Whenever I pickle/white wash anything it always comes out with a pink hue. Now I know to use a tinted stain first! Thank you =)

  27. I love pickled finishes! Honestly, I didn’t think anyone used that description any more even though I still see the finish often! One of my favorite kitchens (new house in 1987) through our many moves was the one with pickled cabinets. Wish I had those now! Linda

    1. I don’t see why not. But you will definitely want to sea them with poly or something similarly durable. πŸ™‚

  28. I just used this technique on unfinished crates to make end tables for my living room. I love how they turned out. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  29. I love love love Shannon and Dean!!! I wish I could ask Santa for your amazing talented skills for Christmas!! My husband and I purchased a 1971 “Barn Style” house almost 2 years ago, and it has AKA Design’s name written all over it (I will send pics soon)!! I am so grateful for your Blog!! Please don’t ever stop sharing… If you ever find yourselves in the Ortonville/Clarkston area of Michigan, it would be such an honor for me to make you breakfast, brunch, coffee, desert, or whatever else you wish!! Congrats on the new house!

    1. I’ve honestly never done it. But I don’t see why not, if you let the stain dry completely first. I’d recommend just testing it on a spare piece of wood or in an inconspicuous spot on the piece you’re working on.

  30. I am in the middle of redoing an old dresser that I purchased, which turned out more work that what I had expected.
    I have painted the drawers black with a melamine satin finish paint, but I don’t like the finish at all.
    Would I be able to do a white wash over the top of it?

  31. I feel stupid for asking this.. but are you mixing the clear tint base with the american walnut stain to apply after the wood conditioner application? Can you explain this a little more for me? Thank you!

    1. Thank you for the reply. Can you explain to me the benefit of mixing that instead of just staining it with the American walnut stain? I’m literally about to have to do the white pickling application and I just want to make sure that I do it correctly

    2. Because as far as I know the American Walnut stain is oil-based and the products I’ve used and recommended in this post are water-based. And the water-based stain (at the time of writing at least) was not available pre-mixed. So you will be mixing water and oil based products.

  32. Thank you for the post.
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  33. This has given me an idea to do my dining room table but it’s not raw wood. Would I have to take the finish off to do this process? I like the size of my table and it is at least 35 years old. Nothing antique just had it a long time.

    1. You would likely have to sand it down fairly well to get a decent result. I’m sorry!

  34. I just stained a table that I built but I don’t like how dark the stain is that I applied, so I’m considering using a whitewash overtop. The problem is, however, that the stain I’ve already applied is an oil-based stain…do you think I could apply the water-based pickling stain over the oil-based dark walnut stain?
    That won’t work, will it?
    Hmmm…. I just love the look of your piece!

    1. Honestly, I’m sure most ‘experts’ would tell you not to mix the two. BUT I’ve done it with great results. You may find you have a bit longer of a dry time, than if you’d used only water-based. But I don’t see why you couldn’t go ahead and try it somewhere inconspicuous!

  35. this was very clear and informative BUT what about using the conditioner and the white wash and no tinted stain? I have new pine boards – they will become my new kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities…was hoping just to white wash and wipe.

    thanks, Ruth

  36. can you apply the white wash over a gray stainer already done. I wan to make my bed frame look like an old beach plank.

  37. I read your wonderful blog and was convinced that I wanted to use the minwax wax simply white on my kitchen cabinet doors which I took down myself, sanded and used the min wax pre stain as well as the simply white. It was absolutely perfect and I was ecstatic and so happy but then I had also bought the polyurethane. … which the saleswoman at the store recommended. Now it has added that touch of yellow to my masterpiece and for the last month and a 1/2 I have wondered if I will ever learn to accept the vintage look of the doors against the bit whiter box,, or whether I can add the min wax simply white on top, or whether I MUST sand them down and use the polycrit to get the better look. Can you think of an easy way for me to fix this because I do not want to take the doors off again. Thank you very much! I was halfway there but I had forgotten that you said don’t use polyurethane when I was at the store buying the product!

  38. OMG OMG!!!! Ok I’m sorry but this comment doesn’t have much to do with your pickling post…. BUT, your post just Blew My MIND!!! OK I’ll admit I am new to the furniture artistry hobby, and I’ve currently been working on a bedroom set that I’m painting in DB’s drop cloth. I have been SANDING AND PRIMING AND PAINTING OVER AND OVER AGAIN BECAUSE I KEEP THINKING I HAVE A BLEED THROUGH PROBLEMS (about to lose my mind)!!!! BUT…. you have casually mentioned something in this RANDOM POST that I thought would be interesting to read…. I have been using POLYURETHANE top coat THIS WHOLE FREAKING TIME!!!! Ughhhh!!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! You have no idea how much time and future frustrations you are saving me from!! I am now a follower for life!!

    P.S. great article btw