how to whitewash furniture

How To Whitewash A Dining Table (With 10 Steps)

In Flips by Jamie P.

Whitewashing a dining table can be an easy or a difficult project, it depends on how you approach it. There are many different ways you can whitewash furniture, but today I want to bring you through the steps I followed to get my whitewashed dining table.

In simple terms, whitewashing means to create a washed aged look over the surface of a piece of wooden furniture. Create a water/chalk paint mix and then apply it over your table top surface. Next, wipe away the mixed paint mixture to your desired look.

I almost followed these steps, but I changed a few things up and added some great features to really make my dining table pop. Refinishing furniture isn’t about doing it right, it’s about getting creative.

Before we start, let’s take a look at what table I am going to refinish and how it looks before I start:

dining table before we refinish it


10 Steps on How to Whitewash A Dining Table

1. Sand or Strip the Table Top

When starting a table refinishing project I always start by sanding or stripping the tabletop surface. In this project, I stripped the 2 leaves of the table because they were barely used by the last owners and the condition was almost new.

The finish was in great shape so I thought I would use a paint and varnish stripper. I applied it and realized it was the end of my bottle so I could only do one coat of stripper. That was a bad idea. If you are going to strip a surface do it all the way, if you only have enough for one coat of stripper, I recommend just sanding. In my situation since I couldn’t strip furniture all the way, the stripper residue was still remaining over the old varnish and it made it extremely difficult and a slow process to sand it down. If I just sanded, the process would have been quick. If I had more stripper, the process would have also been quicker. But when I start the last thing I want to do is head to the store…

sanding a dining table before whitewashing

After a couple of hours of sanding, I finished the top and was ready to move on to the apron and legs. I only want to lightly sand the apron and legs to create a better surface for the paint to adhere to, plus it removes any major bumps on the surface.

How to sand a tabletop to bare wood?

First, do not try to sand a table top without an electric sander. I recommend a random orbit sander, it will help get the job done quickly.

Using an electric sander, begin sanding the table with a 120 grit sandpaper. Once all the old finish is removed, being sanding it smooth with a 220 grit sandpaper. Now the table is ready for refinishing.

The reason we want to get to bare wood is to remove any old finish so we can apply a new base stain. Any old finish can potentially be a risk for chips and a bumpy tabletop surface.

How to strip a tabletop?

When stripping a tabletop, I like to lightly sand the surface with sandpaper, then apply a generous amount of paint and varnish stripper over the designated area. I make sure the stripper product is lathered all over the tabletop surface. After waiting 30 minutes I will use a scraper or putty knife to peel away the old varnish and dump it in an old bucket.

2. Prime the Apron and Legs

Since we are painting everywhere but the tabletop surface, I prepare for priming the apron and legs of the table, which is everywhere but the top surface. If you want to learn a lot about priming furniture, read our How to Properly Prime Furniture for Painting Guide.

Before priming, we just sanded the surface lightly so you must wipe any of the dust off the surface we plan to paint. I use mineral spirits or just a damp rag, whatever works to clean the surface before we prime.

priming a dining room table

I use a spray primer by Rust-Oleum in flat white, it’s an affordable and good quality option that is super easy to use. Grab the spray can and begin priming your surface. Start with one super light coat of primer, this will help make a few layers that will make your piece less likely to chip to its original wood look.

After one coat of primer, look for areas that can potentially bleed. Take note and apply a bit more primer to such areas.

Lastly, prime the entire piece before we can paint using chalk paint. Note that I added a strip of tape on the table edge, this is to prevent overspray from reaching the freshly sanded tabletop surface.

3. Stain the Table Top

Now we can wait for that primer to dry and we can move on to staining. In my whitewashing tutorial, I chose to stain and apply the wash over the top. Some people won’t even strip or sand, they just apply white paint over their current table. Although it can work, it won’t last as long nor be as durable. Sanding off the old topcoat protection will make the project much stronger, and you want a durable table surface.

applying early american stain to dining table

To apply a stain, it’s really simple. Grab a clean lint-free rag, dip the rag in the stain and rub it all over the tabletop surface. If you really want a good visual I recommend you watch my youtube video process below.

I chose to use Early American Stain and Ebony Stain, both can be found by the brands Minwax and Varathane. I applied the Early American first, and then the Ebony second. I just wanted to make it a bit darker, so that’s why I chose to apply the darker stain after.

4. Create a Whitewash Mix

creating a whitewash mix for furniture refinishing

My favorite color and paint for this project is the Linen White Chalked Paint by Rust-Oleum. Easy to get it anywhere and also easy to order online. Why make things hard to follow right?

How to make a whitewash mix?
  1. Add 100ml of water into a clean cup
  2. Add 100ml of white chalk paint into the same cup
  3. Stir them together for 30-60 seconds

That is how easy it is to create a whitewash mix for furniture projects. Add the same amount of water to paint and your whitewash mix is ready to go. If you need more double up on the amount. I used an old spray can top as a measuring solution. It worked perfectly!

5. Apply Whitewash Mix

applying whitewash to a table

To apply the whitewash mixture I just use an ordinary synthetic brush. Dip it in the whitewash mix and lather it over the tabletop, I did go with the wood grain to make sure it fell into the small cracks. I applied it over the entire table, you might want to consider doing sections if you are wiping it off. If sanding like I decided to do, apply the wash as evenly as possible to make sure sanding an even finish is easier to do.

6. Wipe or Sand Until Desired Whitewash Look

As you will see in my video, I actually tried wiping the whitewash mix I applied on the table. I didn’t like it… I used one damp rag and one dry, going back and fourth to wipe the wash it just wasn’t going as planned.

If I were to wipe the wash again, I would go in sections of the table. When I was wiping it was starting to dry and by the end of it the look was too blotchy. So instead, I lathered an even coat of whitewash and let it completely dry before I decided to work with it.

sanding whitewashed effect

I started sanding with a sanding sponge but with 320 grit sandpaper wrapped around it. This process worked well but it took a long time and I used a lot of sandpaper. When sanding, within minutes the sandpaper would have clumps of paint causing a terrible sanding experience. So I constantly was changing sanding discs to make sure I wasn’t scratching the surface.

The whitewash look isn’t a look you can get wrong. You sand or wipe until you like the washed look! That’s my favorite thing about whitewashing furniture, you get to customize your wash until you are happy. If you mess up, just apply another layer of wash and go from there. It is a forgiving furniture painting process.

7. Paint Table Apron and Legs

painting table apron

Now, our washed piece looks how we want and we can let it fully dry. If you sanded, your piece is already dry, but if you wiped its still wet, but we want it to dry before we can apply a clear coat finish.

This means we should get started on painting the rest of your table. Using a high-quality synthetic paintbrush, lets start painting our linen white chalk paint on the apron and the legs of the dining table.

How many coats of white paint? I applied 2 coats of white chalk paint to get the coverage I needed. You may or may not need more coats.

9. Apply Wax On Apron and Legs

Let’s make sure our white chalk paint is completely dry to touch, if not you risk ruining the paint job when applying wax. As a protective finish over our chalk painted surface, I am applying a natural wax paste finish and a dark wax for looks.

Using Minwax natural clear finishing paste and a wax brush, begin applying the wax all around your table apron. If you don’t know what the apron is, it is the piece right under the tabletop that almost acts like a skirt. It is what I am painting in the above photo in step 8!

After applying the natural clear wax, I am not buffing yet. It is time to grab our other wax, the dark finishing wax. Using a wax brush I apply the dark wax all around the apron and I make sure it gets into those detailed edges.

dark wax finish on furniture

Now, the clear and dark wax is on the apron, what now? Grab a clean lint-free rag and begin buffing. Some wax products recommend waiting a couple hours before buffing, but I don’t recommend that. The wax hardens and becomes 10x harder to buff. Then you are stuck with this uneven waxed layer, not cool.

I wipe right away and get the look I want. The wax layer is still thick enough to be durable as it hardens, and voila you have a beautiful wax finish. Do the exact same steps for the table legs, do one leg at a time. I did both at the same time and the wax was harder to buff making it look more uneven than I wanted.

10. Apply Polycrylic to Tabletop

polycrylic on a dining room table

Finally, we made it to the last step in the whitewashing process. Let’s apply our clear coat finish to protect our tabletop. A dining table needs a durable finish, polycrylic by Minwax is extremely durable and a perfect choice for the job. Lets apply this stuff!

How to apply Polycrylic to a Dining Table:
  1. Using a synthetic brush begin applying the poly back and forth the tabletop surface.
  2. Wait until the coat completely dries, then using a 220 grit sanding sponge lightly sand any imperfections away.
  3. Apply coats 2, 3, and 4, following the same steps.
  4. Do not sand the final coat or it will look cloudy.

Polycrylic is super clear and is a good choice when whitewashing a piece of furniture. Other finishes like regular polyurethane can potentially yellow over a whitewashed surface. Polycrylic for me stayed nice and clear keeping the nice white look.

The Final Whitewashed Chalk Painted Dining Table!

finsihed whitewashed dining table with chalk paint

So here is how the table turned out! This photo does not include the leaves. I prefer the look without the leaves, but at least it will give the buyer the ability to have a large gathering if they need to. I hope you can follow my 10 steps above to get a similar look! If you want a better visual watch the video process below. Plus, find the materials list below too.


Watch How I Whitewashed a Dining Table!


Materials Used to Whitewash a Dining Table

Materials List
Bosch Sander
Sanding Discs
Sanding Sponge
Rust-Oleum Linen White Chalked Paint
Early American Stain
Ebony Wood Stain
Minwax Natural Clear Paste Finishing Wax
Dark Wax
Minwax Polycrylic

Final Thoughts

It’s time to sell this piece of furniture on the Facebook Marketplace. Let’s hope I can make a good profit! I purchased this table and a set of chairs for $65 dollars or something around there. But I actually sold the chairs unfinished for $55, so I am only in $10 plus materials on this table, not bad, right?

Anyway, I hope you learned a thing or two about how to refinish a dining room table and how to whitewash furniture. My step-by-step guides are designed to teach you the process and help you with any issues you may have. Furniture refinishing can be difficult and challenging, if I can show a tip or trick to help one person I am happy. I appreciate you stopping in to read my detailed whitewashing guide and if you don’t want to miss out on my next furniture flip go subscribe to my Youtube channel!