How to Whitewash Wood Paneling (Steps + FAQ)

If you come across different wood panels available on the market today, you might be tempted to rip out or replace your school-style wood paneling. Today, wood paneling come in beautiful patterns and finishes you will ever need in wood paneling. You can achieve the same look and finish by whitewashing your old wood panels.

Whitewashing wood paneling seals and protects the wood underneath against harmful elements. It also achieves a bright finish that allows the wood’s base coat or natural wood grain to show through.

Other benefits of whitewash wood paneling are to make it antibacterial and keep away insects.

Can you whitewash old wood paneling walls?

You can whitewash old wood paneling walls stained or lost their last appeal. If done properly, whitewash can brighten up a room while allowing the wood’s natural grain to show through. It adds interesting texture and rustic charm to wood paneling walls.

How to whitewash wood paneling

This section presents step-by-step instructions on how to whitewash wood paneling walls including how to seal it:

Materials you will need

Some of the materials and items you will need to get the work done include a sander + sandpaper, white latex paint, spray bottle, water-based clear coat, mixing bucket, painter’s tape, lint-free cloth, stirring stick, paintbrush, water, damp cloth, and personal protective gear. You may also need a sealant if you plan to seal the walls after whitewashing.  

Choosing whitewash paint

There are two options you have when it comes to choosing paint for whitewashing wood. You can make your whitewash paint at home by mixing crushed rock salt and hydrated masonry lime or purchase pre-made whitewash paint online or from a local store.

If you want to go for pre-made paints, there are several types of paints that can help you achieve your preferred finish. The two common options include chalk paint and white latex paint. Whichever option you choose, remember that the key to achieving a good finish is to start with water-based white paint. Avoid oil-based paints because they pose a challenge when diluting and mixing them.

Steps of applying whitewash to old wood paneling walls

Step 1: Prepare the wood paneling walls

You won’t achieve a perfect finish when whitewashing walls with a glossy texture. So, the first thing you need to do before applying whitewash is sand the surface. Sanding can help remove any defects that would be noticeable after whitewashing. This is what you need to do when preparing your walls for whitewashing:

  • Before you start the sanding process, wear protective clothing and gear to protect yourself from inhaling dust.
  • Arrange drop cloth at the base of the walls to protect the floors.
  • Cover the edges of wood paneling walls that you don’t want to whitewash with painter’s tape. 
  • Start sanding the walls with high grit sandpaper and then repeat the sanding process with low grit sandpaper.
  • Once the sanding is done, use a water-dampened cloth to wipe down sanded walls. This will remove any dust that might have accumulated on the walls.

Step 2: Mixing whitewash paint

We recommend whitewash paint and water mixture because it is budget-friendly and easy to mix and apply. You can create your whitewash paint mixture by combining equal parts of whitewash paint and water. This option will present you with a nice, transparent look. To achieve a more saturated look, mix two whitewash parts with one part of water. If your wood paneling has a more subtle look, mix three parts of water with one part of paint. Follow these steps below when mixing whitewash:

  • In a bucket of water, mix water with white latex paint in a ratio of 1:1. Use an old coat hanger, wooden spoon, or a paint stirrer to stir the mixture.
  • Test the mixture by brushing it on a piece similar to the wood paneling you want to whitewash.
  • If you want to achieve a specific look, adjust the ratio of paint to water to your liking. Usually, you need to reduce the amount of paint you add in water to achieve a more transparent finish. You will need to add more paint to the mixture for an even more opaque finish.

Step 3: Applying whitewash to the walls

These are some of the steps you need to follow when whitewashing your old wood paneling walls:

  • Before applying whitewash to the walls, ensure the fans are turned off, and windows are open to facilitate ventilation.
  • Use an angled paint brush to apply the first coat of paint on each wood panel one at a time. You will likely create noticeable overlap lines if you whitewash all wood panels at once. This is what you want to avoid.
  • Leave the paint to sit on the panels for 3 to 5 minutes. This will allow the panels to soak in enough whitewash paint you applied.
  • Use a water-dampened cotton rag to wipe down the whitewashed walls. This will remove the excess paint that might have been applied by accident.
  • Repeat this process on the remaining wood panels until the entire wall is whitewashed.
  • Once the whitewashing task is done, leave your wood paneling walls to dry. The drying period will vary depending on the thickness of the paint and the condition of the environment where the task was done.
  • If you want to achieve an opaque or a more saturated finish, apply a second coat by repeating the process.
  • If your paneling walls are made of pine or other wood with a yellow undertone, start by applying a layer of gray paint mixed with water before you apply whitewash paint.

Step 4: Sealing whitewashed walls

Sealing your whitewashed walls with a coat of sealant is optional. Applying a layer of sealant will protect your paint, protect your walls from external elements and make your walls easier to clean. Polyurethane is one of the best wood-safe sealants you can use as a sealant. You may opt for a water-based clear coat instead of a sealant.

How do you whitewash wood paneling without sanding?

Sanding wood paneling walls removes imperfections that might be noticeable after whitewashing. If you don’t want to inhale dust produced during sanding, there are many other ways you can whitewash wood panels. Some of the options include:

Degreasing the surface: If the wood panels have grease, oils, and other sticky substances, you can use a liquid degreaser to remove the residues before whitewashing. Priming the surface: A primer is a specialized paint that serves as a foundation before applying the whitewash paint. It makes the surface of the wood panel smoother, helps prevent stains, and eliminates problems with any surface damage after the whitewash is applied.

The type of primer to use depends on the type of wood paneling you want to whitewash. You can choose three basic types of primers: shellac-based primers, oil-based primers, and latex-based primers, also known as water-based primers.

Can you whitewash faux wood paneling?

You can whitewash faux wood paneling with proper planning and execution of the process. Many people considering whitewashing faux wood paneling often get worried about the corrosive effects of caustic lime used to make most of the whitewash paints. Fortunately, most ingredients used to make whitewash paints are friendly to most surfaces. If you properly plan and prepare, whitewashing faux wood will brighten up your walls, furniture, or the entire room.

Can you whitewash varnished wood paneling?

You cannot whitewash varnished wood paneling because of the original finish or stains. The varnish creates a barrier preventing the paint from penetrating the wood grains. However, you can use solid stain over old wood panels, but the results will not be appealing.

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