Whitewashing brightens wood or brick while still allowing the base material to peek through, resulting in a rustic-inspired finish. Also known as pickling or milk washing, the "white" in whitewashing is somewhat misleading, as you can use any color product to achieve a similar effect. Always work in a well-ventilated area and give the finish ample time to cure before handling the newly updated item or wall.
Diluted paint works perfectly for walls and furniture. Thin latex paint at a rate of two-parts paint to one-part water to reduce opacity. Increase the amount of water for an even lighter effect. The solution is runny, so apply the paint mixture over a tarp or other protective covering with a brush or thick, clean rag. Start with a thin coat and let it dry. If the whitewashing effect is too subtle, add additional coats until you're happy with the color.
Whitewashing With Stain
Whitewash brick or wood with a latex stain; fast drying and low in fumes, it adds a glazed effect to surfaces. Dilute the stain with water or purchase a stain labeled as "sheer." Apply the product with a brush, let it sit and wipe away the excess. Work in small, manageable sections and time your work so that the stain sits for approximately the same length of time in each area. Achieve the same effect with oil-based stain; but first, thin it with turpentine or paint thinner until you achieve the desired opacity.
Classic Milk Paint
Milk paint offers a natural alternative to whitewashing with paint or stain. Gather one gallon of skim milk and four ounces of hydrated lime. Place the lime in large bucket and wet it with milk until it reaches a creamy consistency. Stir the combination thoroughly to dissolve the lime and then slowly stir in the remaining milk. Thicken the product with chalk or add dry pigments for a colored whitewash. Apply this immediately with a paint brush as you would standard paint, stirring the product often as you work, and apply additional coats after the first one dries to achieve your desired finish. Keep any excess in the refrigerator for five to seven days if you plan to use it again, or dispose of it once you complete the project.
When stain or paint doesn't produce the desired look, a pickling solution offers a simple alternative for brick. Combine equal parts enamel oil-based paint and gum turpentine. If desired, add a pinch of yellow oxide pigment for a traditional whitewash or another shade for a colored version. Apply it to the wood or brick with a brush, let it sit, and then wipe away the excess.
Finish the Look
Seal whitewashed wood with a low-luster varnish, polyurethane or tung oil. Use oil-based topcoats for wood whitewashed with oil-based paint or stain, and water-based topcoats for water-based whitewashes. Top brick with a polyurethane or acrylic topcoat, especially if you whitewashed with paint. Topcoats tend to darken whitewashed brick, so keep this in mind when applying the initial finish, going lighter than you want with the diluted paint or stain.