How to Create a Whitewash Finish

When I shared my Whitewashed Coastal Inspired Dresser I promised a tutorial on how I achieved the look. I fantasized about making this great video tutorial including tons of detail with pretty lighting and pictures. In reality, that didn’t happen and I settled on a post with only pictures. Hopefully, it will give you the overall idea of creating this whitewash finish. Remember to play around with your technique and use my tutorial as a guide to help you get started. I promise this is so easy and anyone can get this look!

how to whitewash furniture helen nichole designs

There are a ton of ways to whitewash. Essentially, a whitewash is white liquid mixture used for making surfaces (such as walls, brick or fences) whiter. There are many different techniques and there isn’t really a right or wrong way to do it, more of a preference on how you like the finish to look.

wood plank dresser, beachy coastal furniture, helen nichole designs

There are two different types of milk paint. There is the powder milk paint that you mix with water and you can get a naturally chippy look (Miss Mustard Seed, Old Fashioned Milk Paint, The Real Milk, etc) and there is another milk paint (General Finishes milk paint) which isn’t a powder but is more like normal latex paint but way better. I wondered what would happen if I mixed water with the general finishes milk paint like you do with powder milk paint….I mean it is milk paint after-all.

The results were amazing!

beachy wood plank dresser, helen nichole designs, milk paint, white washed furniture

There are a few things to know about this piece and to keep in mind if you are wanting to replicate this look. I added the wood planks on the sides of the dresser and I didn’t prep this piece at all (except for the top). General Finishes milk paint sticks to almost anything and I wanted a slick surface to help with the distressing process. If your piece isn’t slick and the wood is pretty raw, that’s okay, you’ll just have to sand a little more when you distress.

1. Mix your paint and water ratio.

I used 2 parts water to 1 part paint (give or take, and you can add more of less if it’s too runny). You don’t need to use too much paint. I probably used a couple tablespoons of paint. A little goes a long way.

 2. Paint one thin coat of the wash and let dry.

It will dry super fast – about 10 minutes max. The first coat will not look good – at all! Remember you’re going to sand all of this so you don’t need a perfect finish.

3. Apply a second coat of  the wash and let dry. 

4. Use 220 grit sand paper to  sand and distress. 

Remember to sand with the direction of the wood grain. If you don’t, you will get scratches in the finish and it won’t look as authentic. When you sand, it creates a fine powder so make sure to have good ventilation or wear a mask.  Sand as much or as little as you want. You’ll sand depending on how you want your whitewash finish to look. You don’t have to use 220 grit, anything between 120 grit and 300 grit will work.

distressing a whitewash finish, helen nichole designs

DSC_0766You can see the difference once you start sanding.

5. Do the same technique on the drawers. 

I used a second color on my drawers to reflect the coastal look. If you want a two-tone look you will do the same exact steps as before. After I distressed the drawers, I thought the blue was a little too bright so I painted one coat of the white on top of the blue and wiped the paint off with a clean rag. It toned down the blue and incorporated the look of a whitewash on the drawers.

beachy wood plank dresser, helen nichole designs, milk paint, white washed furniture .

I wanted to meld the blue on the drawers with the wood planks so I brushed on the blue wash and wiped it off with a rag. It gave the wood planks hints of blue and incorporated the entire look of the dresser.

beachy wood plank dresser, helen nichole designs, milk paint, white washed furniture, coastal furniture editedYou can see a little of the blue on the right side of the bottom plank.

 Technically, this isn’t the usual way to whitewash. I was experimenting with materials I use quite often and created a new way to use them.  I call it a whitewash because you’re using a paint wash (your paint and water mixture) to create this look. Whitewashing usually includes wiping off the paint but I think this method works just as well (as I said before,  there is really no right or wrong way to do this).  I love the finish and texture it gave me for this piece. I did use the traditional whitewash wiping method when I incorporated the blue on the wood planks.


beachy wood plank dresser, helen nichole designs, milk paint, white washed furniture, coastal furniture

beachy wood plank dresser, helen nichole designs

Hopefully, this inspires you to try this look on a piece of furniture! I promise it’s super easy and takes hardly any time. I’m working on a tutorial to show how I added the wood planks to the dresser so stay tuned.

Follow along on Facebook & Instagram?


sharing with

mms .

3 thoughts on “How to Create a Whitewash Finish

  1. Cailee says:

    Would this work on a slick wood dresser with regular paint and water mixture or do you think only the milk paint will stick?

Leave a Reply

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