How to Whitewash Wood Floors (Your Step-by-Step Guide)

October 16, 2019

Wood flooring is often seen as a practical and durable flooring option. However, practicality doesn’t have to mean bland and boring. Updating your existing wood flooring is a cheap and effective way of transforming a room. If you are looking for a cool, modern flooring option, whitewash wood floors are a great choice. Over the past few years, the popularity of pale hardwood flooring has skyrocketed.

Whitewash wood flooring is evocative of stylish Scandinavian interior design, and you can recreate the look in your own home. Adding whitewash to old wood flooring will cover up any imperfections but it will also show off the natural grain of the wood. Best of all, it’s actually surprisingly easy to learn how to whitewash wood floors yourself!

As long as you dedicate your time and your patience, you will be able to ace this project. So, if you want to try out this fun D.I.Y. job, keep reading our guide for all the instructions.

Then for check out our guides on flooring installation costs and interior painting prices to help plan your budget!

Getting Started

Tools and Equipment You Will Need

This project is great because it does not require too many expensive specialist tools. Many of these products will already be lying around your house. You can also substitute the electric sander for sandpaper if you are on a tight budget. However, bear in mind that using sandpaper will mean that the job takes a lot longer! Only use sandpaper if you have a considerable amount of time and you are willing to put a lot of elbow grease into this project.

Here is everything you will need:

  • A power sander
  • A vacuum cleaner
  • Several high-quality, clean paintbrushes
  • Your choice of white or grey paint
  • Polyurethane
  • Masking tape
  • Clean water
  • Light bleach (if required)
  • Safety goggles
  • Dust mask

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Step 1. Is Your Wood Flooring Suitable for Whitewashing?

There is no point in learning how to whitewash wood floors if your existing floor boards are not suitable for whitewashing. It’s very important to bear in mind that whitewashing looks completely different depending on the wood. Pine wood is particularly suited for whitewashing, so long as you fully work the paint into the knots.

Whitewashing tends to soften the natural colour of the wood, however, it is a subtle process. In short, light coloured wood will be the most suitable option for whitewashing. Any wood that is too dark may turn a brown or grey colour when you apply the whitewash solution to it.

Regardless of the type of wood that you have, you must make sure that it is completely bare before you begin. Any paint or polish need to be removed with a sander before you start. Otherwise, the whitewash will fail to properly sink into the wood.

White Paint Brush For Painting Floors

Step 2. Decide Whether You Want to Bleach Your Floor or Not

The process of bleaching hardwood floors is a controversial one. Undoubtedly some people are able to achieve gorgeous results by totally bleaching their old wood floor. However, there is no getting around the fact that bleaching is a very harsh process.

Bleaching methods are not suitable for solid hardwood floors and you should only attempt it if you have engineered floor panels. Bleaching wood flooring can cause serious and irreversible damage to the fibres in the panels. Treating wood with bleach can cause it to expand, so you will need to vigorously sand the affected area if you opt to use bleach before whitewashing.

You also need to bear in mind that the chemical used in bleaching can be toxic, and you should be weary of breathing in the fumes. So, you have to weigh up whether the risks of bleaching your wood panels are worth the aesthetic benefits. The best results will always come from whitewashing lighter coloured wood. As previously mentioned, if you have a very dark wood, there is only so much you can do to make it lighter.

If there is some light staining on your wood floor, you can use an inexpensive light bleach to correct the colour. Apply a thin layer using a normal paint brush. We would not recommend using a stronger bleach to totally transform the colour of your wood, as anything stronger will amplify the potential problems. If you are in doubt, always consult a floor specialist before you begin.

Should you bleach your floor

Step 3. Prepare Your Bleach

If you do decide to go ahead with bleaching your floor panels, there is a simple recipe that can help you to speed up the process. You will need caustic soda and hydrogen peroxide to complete the job.

First, take the caustic soda and apply it to your panels using a clean paintbrush. Also, always make sure that you go in the same direction as the grain of the wood.

You should leave this solution to sit on the wood for no longer than 20 minutes. The longer you leave the solution, the lighter the wood will become. Once the solution has set you will need to quickly add the hydrogen peroxide. Use another clean brush and start to apply the solution in the same way as the caustic soda.

If the solution starts to produce a foam, don’t panic! The foam is a sign that the bleaching is working. You will need to allow this to sit for at least 30 minutes.

Next Steps

Sanding a floor before painting

Step 4. Clean and Sand Your Wood Floor

Learning how to whitewash wood floors is relatively simple, however, the initial preparation of the floor is one of the trickiest and most time-consuming parts of the project. The key thing that you need to remember is that whitewashing works best on completely bare floor panels.

So, if your flooring has previously been treated with varnish or paint, it needs to be removed. The best way to do this is to use a power sander. If you do not already own a power sander, you can often rent one.

You should also always use sand paper that is 40 grit or higher when you are sanding a hardwood floor. This will allow you to properly treat the surface and remove any imperfections that your floor may have sustained.

Unsurprisingly, sanding a hardwood floor across a whole room will produce lots of dust. It’s a good idea to protect yourself with a face mask and to wear overalls as you are working. Before you continue, you will need to remove the dust using a vacuum cleaner.

Create a whitewash for floor painting and decorating

Step 5. Create Your Whitewash Solution

There are many products on the market that you can use to whitewash wood floors. However, you can easily whitewash wood floor panels using a cheaper alternative. All you need is some standard white latex paint and fresh water.

A 2:1 ratio of paint to water will produce quite a thick whitewash. You can always alter the ratio if you want a thinner, lighter solution. Make sure that you thoroughly stir the mixture all the way through. This will prevent the paint from settling at the bottom.

The whitewash mixture is easy to produce, so it is better to make more as you go along instead of creating a large batch all at once. This will prevent the mixture from separating before you get the chance to use it.

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Step 6. Apply Your Whitewash to the Floor

As with any painting and decorating job, you should always try to do a patch test before you cover your surface with whitewash. This will allow you to see how your wood reacts with the paint. It will also give you the chance to see what colour the mixture dries as, so you can alter the mixture if necessary.

Once you have created the mixture you need to work quite quickly as the whitewash will start to separate otherwise. You can use a standard paintbrush to apply the whitewash. If you are whitewashing a large section of flooring, be aware that whitewash dries more quickly than normal paint. So, only attempt to paint a small area at a time.

Apply the whitewash in long, thin strokes across your wood floor panels. Make sure you apply an even pressure across the surface to get the best results. While the floor is still wet, you can use a cloth to rub the whitewash into the wood. This will help the whitewash to bond with the wood panels. This step is especially important if your wood has an uneven texture, as it will dry more evenly.

Finishing Touches

Step 7. Cleaning up the Surface and Adding Additional Layers

Once your wood floors have been whitewashed, and they are totally dried, you need to clean up the surface. Usually, the surface will require some sanding before you finish. Use a light grit sandpaper first of all, and work slowly.

You can always opt for a higher grit sandpaper if necessary later on. You should do this sanding by hand, as a power sander will probably be too intense.

Remove the dust that the sanding creates with a damp cloth. Once you have done this, you will have a good idea of what your newly whitewashed floor looks like. If the whitewash looks too light, you can always repeat the steps again.

Stir a new batch of the mixture and apply it on top of the whitewash. Always make sure that your whitewashed surface is totally dry before you begin to add the finishing touches. It can take up to 24 hours for the wood to be completely dry.

Apply a Finishing Coat

Step 8. Apply a Finishing Coat

Once you are happy with the appearance of your whitewashed floors, you need to add a finishing coat. When you whitewash wood, the paint itself will not provide much protection. You need to add a layer of polyurethane to make sure that the wood is protected and fully sealed.

Always use a water-based polyurethane sealant. An oil based option will change the colour of your paint. Whitewash will turn yellow under oil based polyurethane. There are also other benefits to using a water-based polyurethane over oil; it dries faster, it is a less toxic choice, and it is odourless.

Before you apply the polyurethane, make sure that you don’t shake the can. Shaking it will cause bubbles to form. This can then cause imperfections when you apply it to the floor. Instead, always stir your polyurethane before you begin. Once the polyurethane has been applied you should wait for it totally dry.

For this coat, you need to wait for it to dry before you do anything else. Make sure you wait for at least 24 hours. For the best results, you should apply another layer of polyurethane. You will need to wait for at least two dates before moving heavy furniture back into the room.

What Does Pickling a Wood Floor Mean?

So, we’ve explained the art of creating beautiful whitewash wood floors. However, if you have been searching for the perfect whitewashing technique online, you may have come across the term pickling. But what is this technique, and how does it differ to whitewashing?

Essentially, there is not a huge difference between pickling and whitewash. However, pickling is best suited to oak wood, whereas whitewashing works well with pine.

One of the key differences is that if you are pickling a wood floor, you need to work against the grain. Unlike whitewashing where you paint with the grain, this technique ensures that the paint will fully soak into the oak wood.

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