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How to get a rustic, bleached wood finish

This was my first time stripping furniture and using liming wax! The furniture stripping was … interesting. But I really liked the liming wax. (If you’ve never heard of it, I can’t wait to show you!) It was able to give me a cross between bleached and whitewashed wood.

Let me introduce you to this beast of a wine cooler. Marcello works in the wine industry and scored this cabinet for $200. The previous owner had a parrot that pecked away at the moulding and the sides were beginning to fray. It had that yellow oak stain that was popular a couple decades ago, but I could see through all of that! I wanted a rustic look anyway, so it didn’t need to be perfect.

wine cooler before refurnishing
terrible handles - before picture
before stripping furniture
damage wood on armoire makeover

Marcello said he really wanted to keep it a wood tone and asked that I not paint it white. If you didn’t know, I usually paint everything white — like this and this and this and this. Yes, he was right, I needed to try something new and agreed to keep it a wood tone.

Rustic bench with white walls and hanging plants

I wanted to see if I could make it a bleached wood look, like this bench I have across from the kitchen. I was so naive. I thought I could just sand the thing with my dinky sander. It took about two seconds for me to realize that I had to try stripping it. Then I did that wrong by letting the stripper sit too long and had to do it over again! You can watch my DIY highlights on Instagram for a good laugh.

But I eventually got it pretty close! Here is the end result.

dark oak stain varish to bleached whitewashed wood finish with liming wax
how to stain for a light wood finish
white wax for rustic bleached wood look
bri wax, whitewashing, light stain, rustic, diy, furniture stripping, aged, how to bleach wood furniture
wood wine cooler makeover
wine collection

Guess where Marcello is from. And for the record, no, I can’t open any of them, haha!

whitewashing with wax

So here’s how I stripped it and added white wax:

Stripping wood furniture

Tools and materials for stripping furniture


  • Citristrip
  • cheap paintbrush
  • putty knife
  • wire brush
  • rubber gloves


Furniture stripping mistakes - One side stripped incorrectly and one side stripped correctly

The left side of this picture was the first round of stripping. I left the stripper on too long (thinking it would work better?), but it turned into this cakey white coating that is difficult to remove. I also didn’t scrape the varnish off with even pressure of my putty knife.

On the right side, you can see I learned my lesson. I focused on one side at a time, instead of covering the whole thing in stripper at once. I scraped the varnish off with even pressure and while it was still wet.

I used Citristrip because it a safer chemical option than some others I check out. (That is an affiliate link, but this is not sponsored.)

the time I let the stripper sit too long and got a cakey mess

This is the white cakey mess I was talking about. Not fun. Ok, on to the correct instructions:

How to strip furniture (and how not to strip furniture)

1. Cover one side (fairly quickly) with a thick coating of Citristip with a cheap brush.

2. By the time I got to the bottom, it was time to start scraping the top.

how strip and refinish furniture

3. Scrape off varnish with a putty knife while stripper is still wet and translucent.

4. Also, scrape with even pressure to prevent streaks. I even used two hands on the scraper for extra pressure.

how to strip furniture - go with the grain

5. Go with the grain. Go with the grain. Go with the grain. (That part is important!)

6. Scrape across the top and then the section below until you get to the bottom.

how to strip wood furniture

7. Go over it again, top to bottom to remove even more varnish.

8. If an area dries, reapply another thin layer of stripper to keep it wet.

wire brush for stripping furniture

9. Use the wire brush to get crevices and tough areas. I used the wire brush quite a bit. Maybe should have even bought two because it gets pretty gunky.

10. Wash furniture with damp rag until clean.

How to get bleached wood or whitewashed look - liming wax

How to use liming wax

This part was much more fun and exciting! I had never heard of liming wax before and came across several bloggers who used it for a rustic, whitewashed feel. I love the look of the white wax settling into the crevices and when thinned with paint thinner, gives wood a bleached in the sun feel.

Here is the manufacturer’s FAQ page to get a better idea if it will work for your project.

How to use limewax - bleached wood, whitewash, repurposed furniture, rustic

I saw some bloggers used liming wax on furniture that had not been stripped also. I have not tried this though, so I’m not sure of the result. But I still have half a can of liming wax sitting in the garage, so it’s only a matter of time until I test it out!

Also, you do not have to use paint thinner. I used it to have a more subtle wash.

How to use liming wax - rustic look, bleached wood, lighten wood



This process was quick, probably even under an hour.

White liming wax for a bleached rustic wood look


1. Work in a well ventilated area, hopefully outside, because the paint thinner is strong.

white liming wax and paint thinner
mix paint thinner with liming wax for whitewashed bleach wood rustic effect

2. Mix desired amount of paint thinner and liming wax into a bowl. I decided to make a lot at one time so the wash would be consistent over the entire piece.

test liming wax solution before painting furniture

3. Test it on a scrap piece of wood. You can see the whiter area is the liming wax without paint thinner.

how to use liming wax - rub with the grain

4. Paint furniture from top to bottom, rubbing it in with the grain as you go. So, paintbrush in one hand and paper towel in the other. Don’t forget to wear gloves!

one side is liming wax mixed with paint thinner and one side is untreated wood

4. It doesn’t dry terribly quickly, so you have time to work with it and get it just how you want it. The right side is treated with wax.

liming wax before and after

5. Repeat until it’s as light as you want.

Furniture update with stripping and liming wax - bleached wood look, rustic, DIY
How to get a rustic bleached wood effect on wood furniture

It took me a long time to figure out what kind of cabinet pulls I wanted. I decided on these distressed pewter handles.

wine cooler rustic bleached wood makeover

In case you hadn’t noticed, this thing is huge. It’s in the dining room (which took three men and a professional dolly), but now what? It sticks out far and has weird spaces on the sides. I’m thinking Ikea wardrobe closets on either side and making them look built in. How is it that one project just leads to another?!

UPDATE: I have since also tried this technique on a dresser for my daughter’s room! I was surprised at the different results. See my bleached dresser post here.

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How to get a rustic, bleached wood effect - bri wax, liming wax, white wax, citristrip, furniture stripping, diy, how to, whitewashing, staining, aged, distressed

46 thoughts on “How to get a rustic, bleached wood finish

  1. A beautiful cupboard indeed and the make-over : fabulous. I pinned the photo on From Drab to Fab, it has a complete change of character. Glad to see you did not chalk paint it either. Tell Marcello a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine! I buy wine and try to accumulate but not such joy, we have a few bottles and are trying to keep for the Festive holidays as prices just rocket sky high, prices are already over the top as it is so I dread to think ahead. Filling up the spaces on either side, fabulous, you can always use the inside space for linen or glassware. Enjoy and good luck with future projects, I know you are a winner. Kind regards.

  2. Thanks for the pin, Elize! I’m sorry to hear that the wine prices are escalating where you are. That’s not fair. I suppose it will make the ones you do have extra special. xo

  3. Hi Kate!
    How long did the entire process take? I have looked at your post about painting kitchen cabinets white but…now I’m wondering if this would be easier. What do you think? My kitchen has red oak cabinetry with an adjoining family room with a matching mantel and built in entertainment center. So…an abundance of yellow/orange oak 😆

  4. Hi Ann! It’s hard to say how long the entire process took because it was 90+ degrees outside and I could only handle an hour at a time. If I had to guess I would say it took about six hours total. I think this would look AMAZING on cabinets. Of course I’m a little hesitant to recommend it because I haven’t tried it myself, but maybe you could try a section of you abundance of yellow/orange oak ;) to test. Oh, bet that would look great. If you try it, pretty please let me know!

  5. The piece looks great. I have a tip. When stripping finish or paint off I found a way to make it just come of in one easy step. I read it in Home talk then tried it. I was floored. You apply the citrus stripper. Once on cover area with plastic wrap securely. 12 to 24 hrs ( I waited 24) I went with plastic scraper and the paint and other finishes came off in one scrape. Like butter. I could not believe how easy it was. I did learn that leaving it longer than 24 not good idea. The covering kept it wet. I am still going to decide do I sand or reapply the parts I let dry. I know that piece was was big. Taking the doors off and covering it as best you can to keep it wet even if you did section by section it’s amazing how easy it just slides off. I’ve used that type of stripper on something and it did not take the finish off the way it should have. It was very difficult. That’s why when I read that artical I gave it a shot and it absolutely is the way to go. Yes, she used a brush and some other product to get into crevices and it came right off. So in the future or just want to try it see if you have something and try it. I’m not sure it’s a piece like that size doing it in sections I will leave believe as long as you have it covered with that plastic wrap and work on one area at a time you’re going to be amazed. So find something that has a finish on it that’s small and try it because you’re going to be amazed. Hopefully in the future should you do another large piece you might remember if you try this and love it you’ll probably continue to do it that way.

  6. Thank you so much for this great tip, Gina! It makes perfect sense. I do have another piece of furniture I’d like to strip — fortunately it’s not nearly as big — and I’ll give the plastic wrap a try. Thank you!!

  7. I didn’t, but if it were a surface that gets a lot of use — like a dining room table — I would look into it.

  8. Thank you for the awesome tutorial! I’ve been wanting to do this to our kitchen cabinets and this explains the process so well!!

  9. Oh I’m so glad! I haven’t tried to seal it, so I don’t know if you’d have to do something afterward to cabinets. Let me know how it goes!

  10. My husband won’t go for me painting our kitchen cabinets, but this option looks like something we both can agree on. He just wants to be able to see the grain. I just want contrast because we have wood vinyl flooring. Do you know if your piece is red oak or white oak? Red oak tends to take on a pink look when white washed and I definitely don’t want that!

  11. Hi Stacy! This sounds like a familiar argument, haha! I think this would look beautiful on kitchen cabinets, I’m just not sure if you’d want to seal it somehow. This piece didn’t take on a pink tone, so maybe it was white oak. Maybe test inside a cabinet door and see what it looks like!

  12. Love, love, love the final look. I too have oak kitchen and bathroom cabinets that need a new look. I’ve tried two different techniques (dark stain and glazing) As my kitchen cabinets stand now, there are three altered finishes on different sections of the kitchen. I was looking for a matt finish with the dark stain, but it turned out glossy. Will start again and give the limeing wax a try. Thank you for sharing this information!

  13. I like it standing alone, it’s such a unique piece! I would put pics on the side with a stool or chair and let the piece take center stage. Building it in would only undermine its presence.

  14. Looks absolutely amazing. I’m going to try this on 2 nightstands. What is the ratio of the wax and thinner? Thanks!

  15. Hi Michelle! I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was just a splash of paint thinner. I recommend experimenting on a separate piece of wood first so you can see what you like best :)

  16. Oh gosh I wish I could see if this has worked on honey oak cabinets.
    I will have to try on the weekend and see how it works for a cabinet back.
    This would match my limewashed brick perfectly.
    Thanks- Well done love it!

  17. If you don’t put the wax on the piece, is the wood rough or splintery from being stripped? Like would I need to put a clear coat on it or something??

  18. No, it shouldn’t be rough. You don’t have to seal it, but just keep in mind that the wood will absorb stains more easily :)

  19. Oh you inspired me to redo my honey oak kitchen cabinets. I just finished a test on a spare cabinet door and I absolutely love it! Even my natural “orange” oak color loving husband loves it too!
    I had to change a few things. I couldn’t buy Briwax liming wax today and just couldn’t wait for Jeff Bezos to deliver it next week so I bought Valspar’s Limewash GLAZE. The paint thinner wouldn’t mix with it so I used just the limewash itself and it turned out great. I tried to do it without stripping it first too and it didn’t work. I’ll try some clear coats tomorrow. I’m looking for one that would give me that dry wood look. Thanks!

  20. Oh that’s so exciting! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your results with me! I imagine it will look gorgeous.

  21. Are there any pictures available of anyone who used the liming wax on their honey oak kitchen cabinets? I would love to do this rather than painting them white. Thank you!

  22. So glad I saw this! I was already going to do this to my entire new mobile home, but now I have a real life resource to make sure I’m doing it correctly!
    Do I have to strip the clear coat off my cabinets or can I go straight to lime wax. It’s not a heavy coat by any means just your basic top coat to prevent stains.
    Cara D

  23. What an exciting project! You’ll probably have to strip if first, but you could try a small inconspicuous spot with just liming wax and see what happens.

  24. It looks so beautiful!
    I will venture doing that to a clothing cabinet. Worried though because its Veneer wood and it’s very beautiful and old.
    Your ideias are fantastic thank you.

  25. Thank you! You know, I’ve had different results with different types of wood. It worked great on this piece because it was quality wood. I tried it on a cheap dresser and the results were very different. It looked much more rustic. I’ll link it here if you’re interested: You could always test an inconspicuous spot in the back to see if it will strip down nicely or not.

    But I did come across a different technique that surprisingly gives the same kind of look with faux painting that could be a second option. I’ve done a few things this way (on wood and veneer pieces) and boy is it much easier than the Citrustrip! I’ll link that as well:

  26. Hi I am having a large pantry floor to ceiling built. It will be raw wood. So what would be the process to get that look without anything to strip. I have talked to a couple of chalk paint people and they say mix white with small dabs of beige and grey to the color you want and wax with white and black in grooves to give it depth. The matte finish
    What would be your advice. Thanks so much for any help

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