How to Whitewash Hardwood Floors To Restore its Elegance

Even though hardwood flooring claims the numero uno spot, it, too, isn’t void of drawbacks. You can get tired of its aesthetics or become weary of the existing finish. If you want to restore the elegance of your hardwood, whitewashing will do the trick.

This simple technique lets you introduce a subtle brightness to your floors and make a room appear larger. That said, here’s an easy-to-skim guide on whitewashing hardwood floors to help you add a fresher, modern, and more dramatic flair to your home.

Also Read:

  1. Best Wall Color for Grey Floors
  2. Can you Refinish Prefinished Hardwood Floors? 
  3. How to Clean Hardwood Floors 

How to whitewash hardwood floors

In a very pithy manner, whitewashing hardwood floors, also referred to as pickling, is simply adding a semi-opaque stain to bare wood or an existing finish. It essentially involves applying stain with the goal of ending with a thin white film. The stain introduces a touch of color but still accentuates the natural beauty of the wood grain.

If the aesthetics of your wood floors strike you as an intractable condition, do you have to fit new floors to resolve the issue? The answer is no. Whitewashing them will probably suffice, especially if you’re living on a shoestring since it is a relatively economical process.

Whitewashing hardwood is ideal for homes with an open floor plan and rooms with limited natural lighting. Even better, whitewashed hardwood floors deliver a spacious and stunning look to a room. They also tend to match with most décor, creating a contemporary aura for a room.

By whitewashing your wood floor, you are chiefly applying a white pigment wood floor stain over bare wood. The objective here is to cover or punch up the wood’s natural grain with a white stain. 

This does not mean that your floors will appear white and bland. Instead, they will look a bit lighter and sterile, which is quite catchy. The outstanding characteristic of whitewash is that it is a semi-transparent white coat rather than an opaque white coat. This way, whitewashing will not conceal hardwood floors’ natural grain and appeal. 

Interestingly, you can even prolong the longevity of scratched floors through whitewashing. This technique will also enable you to conceal imperfections on old floors. You can be confident that whitewashing your hardwood floors is equitable to giving them a new lease of life.

If you’ve decided to whitewash your floor, you ought to do it right. It would help if you acquainted yourself with the proper technique and tips for admirable results. For this reason, here’s some worthy insight on how to whitewash hardwood floors in a stepwise manner.

Tools You Will Need

  • Rags, sponges – Dust mask
  • Vacuum – Gloves
  • Sander/sandpaper – Polyurethane
  • Microfiber cloth – Appropriate stain
  • Coarse-bristle paintbrushes

With the requisites out of the way, you can now follow these steps as explicated below;

Step 1: Prep your floor

Preparing the surface is paramount to achieving a successful outcome. Begin by moving items from the room you want to whitewash so that the floor remains clear. Prepping involves getting rid of existing finish/varnish since it creates a barrier between your floor and the whitewash.

You can rent a sander (a square buff sander is preferable) or use 180-grit sandpaper to sand by hand. Get to work by thoroughly sanding your wood floor till all the finish is eliminated. 

Use a vacuum to clear particles (dust) and a damp microfiber cloth to clean the surface. Note it would be best if you took a gander at your type of wood floor to determine its suitability for whitewashing.


  • Sanding opens up wood pores that, in turn, promotes the settling in of stain.
  • A drum sander is ideal for removing several layers or for extremely debilitated floors. It is tricky to use but quite powerful.
  • A square buff sander is gentle, easy to use, and reasonably cheap to rent.
  • The buff sander easily accesses wall edges.
  • Sanding by hand will require you to be on all fours.
  • A dust mask will be useful when sanding.

Step 2: Prepare the solution

Once you’ve decided on the type of whitewash to use, you will probably have to mix the solution. Combine two parts of white latex paint with a part of water. For a denser solution, mix three parts of paint with one part of water. 

Note that the actual paint is not similar to whitewash. Such paint is ineligible for whitewashing as it conceals the graining and natural beauty of wood, making your floor look insipid. Floors with actual paint also prove to be challenging to maintain over time. 


  • Settle for a white tinted sealer or a white stain rather than actual paint.
  • Avoid bleaching your wood floors since it can be harsh.
  • You can also opt for premixed pickling solutions

Step 3: Apply the whitewash

With your stain standby, immerse a sponge into the stain and apply it to a 2 * 4-foot portion of the surface. Ensure that you wipe off most of the stain before it fully dries using a different dry sponge. 

If you notice streak formation, get rid of them using a rag. The primary aim is to end up with a thin white film that allows you to appreciate abundant wood grain. Now, carry out this process repeatedly till you whitewash your whole floor. Remember to give your floor at least a night to dry.

Alternatively, you can use a 4-inch brush to apply the paint. It is recommendable to coat a small section at a time and then use a lint-free-rag to wipe off the painted section. This is because the whitewash solution dries quickly. Work with the grain of the wood to ensure that it pops. 

Step 4: Infuse depth

After painting the entire floors, assess the color to determine if it gives your floor a home run appeal. You can create more depth by adding other shades over the whitewash. 

Gray is quite a decent color when it comes to adding more depth to your floors. Use a coarse-bristle brush to lightly paint the darker gray shade in a small floor section (2 * 4 area). Forthwith, apply a lighter shade of gray with a separate brush. It would help if you let brushes dry between applications since the end goal is to have thin gray lines. Redo this activity till you paint the entire surface.

Step 5: Examine the color

Before completing your project, evaluate the color to determine if it cuts the mustard. If unsatisfied, use the same technique to redo your floor again. Once the coats are adequately dry, employ sandpaper to sand extra-dark spots or to make the color uniform.

Exercise caution when sanding to avoid excessive sanding. Once done, vacuum the whole floor to eliminate dust. For finer particles and dust, you can dampen a cotton cloth with mineral spirits or alcohol and use it to get rid of them.

Step 6: Seal the surface

You are almost done! Applying a top coat is pertinent to augment the durability of your whitewashed wood floor. First, allow the paint to dry for about six hours. It is preferable to use polyurethane as the sealer.

Apply a water-based polyurethane using a 4-inch paintbrush by brushing in long strokes. This type of sealer is appropriate as it has low VOCs, minimal odors, and dries quickly. Let the urethane coat dry, and add a second coat. Don’t move back furniture or walk on the floor before the polyurethane is dry.

You can deduce from the above lucid steps that whitewashing hardwood floors is a fairly easy and facile endeavor. However, it is also quite possible to make blunders.

On that account, below are some mistakes to avoid regarding whitewashed floors

Mistakes to Avoid When Whitewashing Hardwood Floors 

  • Avoid using paint

This is one common fallacy you will likely come across on the internet. Paint is not a substitute for whitewash stain on wood floors. In point of fact, you should avoid using any type of paint on hardwood flooring.

Here’s the reason why. Actual paint does not penetrate into the pores of wood but rather sits on the surface of the wood. This hinders the adherence of the sealer (polyurethane) to the wood. In return, your wood floor might begin to peel, affecting its durability. A stain, on the other hand, will fully penetrate the wood.

The paint will also make its way through cracks and other imperfections in your wood floor, especially between planks. The danger in this is that the paint will settle in the cracks permanently, lending your floor a distasteful look with white lines. Sanding will not eliminate the white lines, even after refinishing several times.

  • Assess the extent of refinishing

If you’ve just bought a home with old wood floors, determining the suitability of the floors for whitewashing is essential. This is because there are wood floors that cannot tolerate another round of sanding, probably because they’ve been refinished multiple times. 

Sanding is a requisite in the whitewashing process. Sanding such worn-out wood floors could do more harm than good. It would be best if you sought other alternative options to whitewashing. 

How to whitewash floorboards

To start with, understanding your wood is key to achieving the best-whitewashed outcome. You will then strip the existing finish from your boards (using a power sander/vanish stripper) and apply the stain uniformly. Use varying gray shades to add more depth and seal the process with polyurethane.

To shed more light on the concise overview above, follow this stepwise guide as follows;

Step 1: Understand your Wood’s Grain

Understanding the nature of your wood’s grain influences the style of application. For instance, maple and ash have a lighter tone and smaller grain compared to oakwood. 

So, when applying stain on lighter wood tones, apply it in the direction of the grain. Conversely, consider applying stain against the grain if you have oak floorboards. This way, the appealing grain of the wood will show nicely.

Step 2: Strip the existing finish

You would make a mess if you were to apply a white stain over the existing finish. What’s more, the whitewashed coat will soon wear off from the floorboards. It is, therefore, necessary to completely get rid of the existing finish to avoid these problems.

Thankfully, there are several options you can use. You can rent a power sander, as it reliably strips the finish from your boards. You can also employ sandpaper (40-grit or higher) to eliminate the finish thoroughly. For these two options, a dust mask will come in handy. 

Alternatively, you can use a varnish stripper to do away with the existing finish. Use a brush to apply the stripper and allow it to sit for 3-5 minutes. Scrape the grime off the boards and wash them with vinegar and water. 

Sanding is quicker using this method. However, the stripper fumes can be dangerous. Utilize this option in well-ventilated rooms. Also, use the stripper on sections at a time rather than on the entire floor. Lastly, sanding might be necessary even after using a varnish stripper. 

Step 3: Apply Stain

Using a paintbrush, coat the floorboards with the stain along the wood’s grain. Avoid applying a thick coat as it may hide the graining. Ensure that you create a thin white layer that enables viewing of the grain through the coat.

It will be hard to appreciate the wood’s natural grain through a thick coat, and your floorboards will look painted. Stain the floor in sections and wait for about 15 minutes before wiping off the excess stain. 

Remember to apply and wipe the excess whitewash in the direction of the grain. This will ensure a uniform spread of the stain and prevent the formation of extra-white patches. Do this process to the remaining sections of your floor till you coat the entire floor.

Step 4: Apply top coat

After about 24 hours (time taken by whitewash to dry fully), apply a clear water-based finish. The ideal product in this context is water-based polyurethane such as the 1 qt Minwax 63333 Clear Polycrylic Water-Based Protective Finish Satin. Refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines on the time needed between each application before applying the second coat.

There are oil-based polyurethane products such as Minwax Fast Drying Polyurethane Protective Wood Finish that can serve the purpose of sealing the floor. However, you should avoid using this polyurethane as it imparts a yellowish tone on your floorboards. Allow the top coat to dry and cure before moving furniture and reinstalling the baseboard.

How can I lighten my hardwood floors without sanding

Sanding is a labor-intensive process that can also put your health at risk if done without caution. Whatever the reason, it is still possible to lighten your wood floors without sanding. You can achieve this through buffing and recoating with polyurethane or utilizing a commercial chemical abrasion kit. 

Some hardwood floors cannot be sanded simply because of their state. This should not make you fret. You can still restore your floor’s appeal by lightening it.

Here’s how to do it.

  • Using polyurethane to buff and recoat

The basic idea here is to roughen the floors using a buffer. The buffer abrades the existing finish creating a fresh bonding ground for the new finish. If you don’t have a personal buffer, you can always try renting it from a nearby store.

Buffing shares a lot of similarities with sanding. The significant difference is in the layers involved. Sanding involves the stripping of the top coat and wood. On the other hand, buffing involves the top coat but does not progress to the wood. Below is an extensive overview of buffing and recoating with polyurethane.

  1. Clear the floor by moving items and furniture. Working on your floors with the furniture in place can be pretty hectic. 
  2. Clean the floor to get rid of dust and gunk. Deal with stains using an appropriate cleaner and a scouring pad soaked with mineral spirit for stubborn stains. While at it, identify and mark spots with dents, scratches, or exposed nails.
  3. Fix the imperfections you had marked earlier.
  4. Use a sheet of sanding screen to roughen the edges and corners of your floor by hand. This step helps you roughen areas that will be hard to reach with a buffer. Remember to scratch up the existing finish gently without sanding through it.
  5. Prior to buffing, ensure that there is proper room ventilation by opening the windows and positioning fans. Also, seal the work site and close air ducts to prevent dust from accessing other rooms in your home.
  6. Fix a sanding screen beneath the buffer and proceed to buff. Of importance to remember is to keep an eye on the sanding screen every 10 -15 minutes of use.

This is because the screens tend to wear out within the mentioned intervals. You will want to examine for grit build-up every few minutes. Additionally, get rid of huge wood pieces as they can abrade the floor. 

  1. If you have buffed the entire floor, use a vacuum to remove dust and debris. You can also wipe the surface down.
  2. Seal the process by applying a polyurethane finish. It is the preferable finish even for budding DIYers, as it is easy to apply and exceptionally durable.
  • Using a commercial chemical abrasion kit

This is yet another practical way of lightening your wood floors without sanding. This technique’s fundamental idea is to use a chemical solution to prep the flooring and etch the existing finish. This way, the new finish you’ll apply gets to bond firmly on your floor. Below is a rundown of the steps to follow;

  1. Move furniture and other items from the room to clear the floor.
  2. Cleanse the floor using a vacuum for dust and a damp cloth where necessary. You can remove stubborn dirt by scrubbing with an abrasive sponge. Avoid using a chemical cleaner to cleanse the floor. Leave the floor to dry.
  3. Seal air ducts, vents, or heating ducts to curb the spread of dust. 
  4. Transfer your liquid abrasive into a plastic-lined shallow cardboard box. This eases application by making it easy to dip the pad, avoid chemical spillage and catch drips.
  5. You will then apply the chemical abrasive onto the surface. Ensure that you scrub the abrasive following the floor’s grain and work in small sections at a time.

Regarding the application method, you can opt to go on all fours for easier application or join the pad to a block and fix in a broom handle. Either way, to roughen the floor’s surface up, make sure that you exert fair pressure. 

Also, it would be best if you did not let the abrasive sit on the surface for more than five minutes. Otherwise, it will slip through cracks and cause damage. Once you’ve etched the whole floor, leave it to dry for about 30 minutes.

  1. Prepare a cleaning solution by mixing a gallon of warm water with two tablespoons of dishwashing liquid. Clean the floor once again using a mop with this solution. Take care to avoid flooding the floor with water. This step gets rid of residues and neutralizes the etcher.
  2. Fix evident imperfections. For instance, you can apply a matching stain onto scratches using a cotton swab. 
  3. Transfer the new finish to a plastic-lined box and fix the applicator pad to the block.
  4. Proceed to apply the new finish to the edges against the baseboards and walls. Follow this up by spreading the finish evenly on the surface with the applicator. 

Be sure to avoid and minimize drips when applying. Note the finish will get tacky in about 5 – 10 minutes. When this happens, you will cause damage to the finish if you try to correct any imperfection. 

Therefore, it would be best if you smoothened the finish out soon after application. A single coat usually suffices in most cases. However, if you want to augment protection to the underlying wood, you can add a second coat after three hours. Leave the finish to dry for about 24 hours before reinstalling the furniture.

How much does it cost to whitewash hardwood floors?

It is nigh impossible to fail to consider the expenses involved if you want to lighten your wood floors. It costs $2 to @7 per sq. ft to whitewash your hardwood floors. Whitewashing wood floors can be an intensive project.

It involves stripping the old finish from your floors mainly by sanding and coating it with a whitewash stain. Subsequently, you will add a top coat of clear polyurethane for protection. 

However, you’d be wise to plan a budget that would also cater to additional costs that may arise. For instance, you may want to seal your wood floor with extra finish coats, have the carpet removed, or have the furniture moved and reinstalled. Such additional services will probably raise the final bill.

The below video describes how to Whitewash and Seal a Wood Floor. Watch and reinforce your knowledge to find a near perfect results in whitewashing process.

Frequently Asked Questions   

Q1. What paint to use to whitewash hardwood floors?

White latex paint aptly fits the bill regarding whitewashing hardwood floors. You need to prepare the staining solution by mixing two parts white latex paint with one part water. However, if you want a heavier stain, combine three parts latex paint with one part water.

Alternatively, if you wish to try creating the color, you can opt for premixed pickling solutions. Here’s a nifty trick! You can add more depth and texture to your floors when whitewashing by including two quarts of gray paint. Remember to lightly apply two shades of gray – a darker shade first and then the lighter one. 

Q2. Does whitewashing work on all wood floors?

Whitewashing is ideal for most solid-wood floors. This is because if your floor features an inviting wood grain, whitewashing will work for you since the grain will still pop. The math boils down to the look you want to create. 

However, whitewashing tends to work in favor of light-tone wood types like ash or maple. You can still apply whitewash on other types of wood, like pine and oak, but there may be a mild variation in the final look due to differences in wood species. Remember to sand the boards before painting them.

Q3. Can you whitewash over stained wood?

You will want to lightly sand varnished wood or one coated with polyurethane for the best results. This is recommended as it promotes the bonding of the whitewash to the wood. In return, you’ll avoid problems like the peeling of the paint. 

Q4. Is whitewash permanent?

Whitewash, if applied correctly, will serve you for a period of between 20 to 30 years. The beauty of this is that whitewashed surfaces have little maintenance requirements. The sealer (polyurethane) applied over whitewash promotes this incredible durability. 

Wrap up

Most homeowners with pickled floors rave about the tremendous benefits of whitewashed wood floors. These merits range from complementing the interior décor, making a room appear larger than it is, and brightening a space to concealing imperfections present in old flooring.

You, too, can impart a fresh and classy look to your home by learning how to whitewash hardwood floors. This article explores how to prepare your wood floor, apply whitewash stain and seal the surface in palatable steps. You can be sure to count your project as a success!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top