I’ve gotten so many emails (if you’ve emailed in the last week, I promise, I’m working on replying 🙂 on this topic, that I thought it was appropriate to write a post on whitewashing vs. dry brushing.
Sometimes choosing a treatment for a piece can be the hardest part of the refinishing process.  I’ve written a whole section on this in my E-book.  I fully believe in being inspired by a piece…letting it tell you what it wants to evoke.
For the purpose of this post, realize that these two treatments are very similar, but they do have quite different effects on a piece of furniture.  However, both of these treatments celebrate and highlight the grain of the original wood.
Let’s talk whitewashing first.
Whitewashing is perfect for highlighting and brightening natural wood, like with this barley twist table.  We wanted a natural finish, and adding a wash to the top brightened it just enough without hiding the grain.
When you whitewash, you can either buy a pickling/white stain like this,
or you can simply water down some white paint you have.  Keep in mind though, the undertones of your white.  The purpose of whitewashing is to brighten, so be sure you’re not using a very yellow-white…this would not have that light and airy brightness as using a bright or cool-toned white.


I typically whitewash with whatever white paint I have on hand, since I keep a pretty good stock of that.  There is no set ratio…I usually fill a plastic cup with 1/4 to 1/2 white paint, and then add a little less water than paint.  I like it to have a thicker consistency than 50/50; this acts as more of a stain this way.
Using a good quality brush (i’m a purdy fan, myself), dip it in your wash, and go at it.  Don’t feel the need to be perfect with your brushstrokes…as you brush it on, let it set for 5-10 seconds, and work it down into the wood with a smooth, lint-free cloth (I buy those sacks of 20 from Lowe’s).  Again, don’t be scared…the more against the grain you go, the better!  This will ensure the whitewash gets down in all the pores of the wood.
I apply 1-2 “coats” depending on how opaque I want to go with the wash…typically, one coat is enough.


I also often wash and brush on top of paint finishes to achieve a certain color or look.  Adding that depth of treatment can really take even a nice, fresh makeover to a WOW moment.  This mirror was painted, then whitewashed, then dry brushed…which is a technique I’ve used a lot lately.
The same was done on this Wisteria-Inspired chest


I use the technique for depth of tone, but also to improve the natural finish.  Washing directly over the wood can take away that yellowed tint older pieces tend to take on.  Because I wanted both of these pieces to have time-worn or paint-aged patina, I also dry brushed white on top of the wash.



What is dry brushing, exactly?  You can read about it here on the white aged vanity tutorial (and there’s a short video that would NOT upload completely to youtube).
You can either apply it more as a highlighter, as I did with the mirror and the chest or you can apply it as more of a solid, as I did below.  With the chest, washing just took down the yellow in the piece, while dry brushing the edges (and lightly on the smooth surfaces) acted as a distressing.
To put it simply, when I want a piece to look as though its original finish has worn over time, allowing either wood or another color underneath to peek through, I dry brush.


Because your paint is not diluted, dry brushing will, of course, be more opaque and more saturated color than whitewashing.
To dry brush, simply dip your brush, squeeze excess out into a cloth, and apply in smooth, long strokes.  Because you have very little paint in your brush, you want to cover as much surface space as possible to avoid obvious brush strokes in a more solid finish.



Whether I’m dry brushing as a highlighter or as more of a solid like this antique vanity, I only add one coat.  That tends to be plenty, as you’re really able to contiue adding until you’re satisfied…that paint will dry quickly!


If I’m adding more of a solid on top of another paint coat, it’s usually because I want the base layer to peek through…sand with a medium grit sanding block in a circular motion…This will give you that “grainy” distressing you see in this picture.


Give your piece time to speak to you, really!  I felt like the aged vanity just called for more color, but I didn’t want it to be solid and completely covered.  The chest just needed a lift, just as the top of the barley twist table…just a refresher.
To put it in very girly terms, think of washing as highlights, and dry brushing as the full dye job.  Both can have different intensity…you can go safe or bold with both.  Really, you can’t go wrong!!
On a side note, here’s the ONLY TWO sealants I use on white paint…they have not yellowed on me so far and their finish is lustrous and not shiny, which is what I want my pieces to evoke.


Happy white painting, everybody!
Hope that answered some of your questions!!  Please let me know if you have any additional questions on this topic or any other paint FAQ’s, and I’ll get writing!
*linking to parties found under “friends and inspiration.”*