How to Ceruse or Whitewashing Wood with Paint
Mixing painted sections and raw white washed wood on furniture is becoming very trendy and easy for diyers. I love the idea of removing old finish and letting the wood grain show through. What a turn around from a few years ago when everything was painted. One thing that’s becoming very popular is the cerused wood or limewashed look. What is cerused wood? If you aren’t familiar with cerused or limewashed wood is an age-old finish used years ago it used to be a way to add a lighter or white tint to wood (traditionally white oak, red oak and also maple not recommended for mahogany) by finishing with a liming wax with white lead in it. Not too health or environmentally friendly. Today’s white wax is much safer made with white pigment to get a ceruse finish. True limewashing would normally involves using a white wax, which is a paste wax with white pigment in it to not only seal the furniture but add a white tone to it. If you want to get that look but don’t have white wax on hand, you can still get the cerused effect to highlight unfinished wood. I want to show you how to get to ceruse or whitewashing wood with paint and then you can put clear wax finish or another wood sealer over the top for durability. If you want to paint the rest of the piece, review the best way to paint furniture here.
This post contains affiliate links. See our affiliate and sponsor disclosure here. Check out a video of the project, or continue. onto the steps below.
Cerusing wood starts with completely sanding or using wood stripper on your furniture to get to the raw wood and removing the existing finish on the entire surface that you want to ceruse. As always when sanding or stripping, use the proper eye and respiratory protection. Some helpful tools are sandpaper and also a wire-brush or steel wool. If you use a wood stripper such as Citristrip like I did on our fireplace, follow all of the instructions.
Make sure to strip the wood finish down to bare wood, removing all of the finish. Once you have it completely sanded and you have visible grain, dust the surface and remove any grit with a tack cloth. Then, mix a 50-50 water and acrylic paint mixture (Either latex or craft paint is totally fine.).
Take a damp paper towel or lint-free rags and go over the wood surface so it is lightly wet, this will help the paint mixture spread and absorb more easily. Take another paper towel with your water paint mixture and go over it rubbing in the watery paint until it’s absorbed ( you can also use a sponge for this.), removing any excess that might leave streaks.
Once it’s completely absorbed let the piece of furniture completely dry for 24 hours (it will appear darker than it is due to it being wet.), and you’ll be left with a lighter wood tone that mimics the cerusing. At this point you could do another application and let it dry again, or if you’re happy with the tone, seal it with either water-based acrylic sealer,a poly, or buff in a clear wax going with the direction of the grain. Avoid using shellac, it will yellow over time. Find a white wax here. If you want it to be even later, go over it with the second time, or when you mix your mixture you can also go with a 75/25 mixture of paint versus water.
Paint the rest of your furniture AFTER cerusing or whitewashing your wood with paint.
After your surface is waxed or sealed, then paint the rest of the furniture, because if you try to paint it before you wax it any paint you get on there will get absorbed into the surface. This way if any paint happens to get on a raw wood area, it’s easily removed and won’t stain. Most paint and wax recommend a full 30 days to cure before heavily using the piece. This would be such a cool way to refinish old oak kitchen cabinets or even oak beams.
If you’re looking for the best way to seal furniture, you can see this post here.
For more furniture makeover projects, check out these posts below:
This project shows how I sanded our old coffee table and finished it with white wax.
You can also read this post about the 10 ten mistakes people make when painting furniture.
We actually really wanted to keep this piece but I knew it had to head over Warehouse 55, and I knew I didn’t have room for one more piece of furniture in our house.