How to Whitewash an Old Table

Whitewashing tables is a favourite upcycling project of mine.

I love old tables, they have so much history. The kitchen and the kitchen table is usually the hub of a home. We live our lives over tables every day starting with breakfast and ending with supper. If they could speak I’m sure tables would tell many a tale. It’s so nice to have the opportunity to upcycle a solid old table and give it a new lease of life.

The beauty with interiors now is that anything goes. Gone are the days when you bought a kitchen table with chairs to match. Nowadays an old (or new) table and a few odd chairs can look fab. You can mix natural woods with painted finishes. You can choose a wooden table with metal chairs and vice versa. You can paint table legs to contrast with chairs. You can do whatever you fancy, there are no rules. A whitewashed table top works as well within an eclectic mix as it does in a traditional design and because it’s so durable it’s a great finish to have in a busy sociable kitchen. So, if you’re wanting to whitewash your old wooden table, where do you start?

Firstly, there’s a lot of hard work to be done. The table will need sanding. You’ll need to wear a mask and goggles for protection when you do this. Check that your table is solid wood and not veneer as chances are it’ll need sanding back quite a bit and with a veneered table top you can only sand back so far before the glue starts to show through.  I use an electric sander and starting with an 80 grit sandpaper, finishing with a 120 grit. I have worked on tables with varnish so thick that it’s taken many hours and muscle to remove, it’s worth the hard work though. When you’re happy that the table top is looking good it’s time to prep the legs.

If the legs are modern and straight it makes the prep much easier and you can use an electric sander on these too, however they’re usually shaped/turned so need to be sanded by hand. If the legs are to be painted they don’t have to be sanded back to bare wood, you just need to prepare the surface so it’s not shiny and the paint with adhere.

Once you’ve sanded the whole table (top, skirt and legs) brush off the dust and wash down with sugar soap and water or white spirit. Don’t soak the wood too much, just wipe lightly and leave to dry thoroughly.

Now the work gets a little more pleasant! Always use good quality paints, I’ve been loving Autentico, Little Greene and Farrow and Ball. Starting with the legs and skirt you’ll need to prime first, don’t try skipping this stage if you want to good finish, try using Weathercoat’s outdoor waterbased primer, I love it! Then apply at least two coats of your chosen paint allowing the specified drying time in between coats. Give a light sand in between coats using a 240 grit sandpaper. I like to use both chalk paints and eggshell depending on the finish required and I use prefer to use outdoor paints and primers for durability. Table legs are going to get knocked so need to be as tough as possible!

And finally the fun part! Water down a matt white paint until it’s the consistency of milk. Then starting at one corner of the table, using long brush strokes apply the watery substance along the entire length of the table. Wait a couple of minutes and wipe off with some kitchen paper using a long sweeping movement in the same direction as you painted. And repeat. On an average sized 5/6ft kitchen table, I would divide these applications into about five strips. Try not to overlap your paintwork. Once you have applied and wiped off the watered down paint to the whole surface apply to the table edges. Leave to dry thoroughly.

You’ll notice that when dry, the table top will take on a white/grey appearance. I find one application is enough. If you want more solid look, then repeat. It’s always a good idea to test your first application. If it’s too white to start you can always leave to dry, sand and begin again.

Give the table a gentle sand with a 240 grit paper and you’re ready to wax or varnish. I like to use a matt varnish for protection and have loved the results I get using Johnson’s Matt Varnish.

Apply using a large soft brush, working one strip at a time from edge to edge with light brush strokes. Again, be careful not to overlap. Once dry, sand again very lightly, wipe and repeat. The difference from preloved to reloved is amazing!

I hope these tables and my blog gives you the inspiration and confidence to have a go at whitewashing yourself. It’s not complicated but you do need to be patient, do the prep and take your time. You can also take a look at my gallery for inspiration and other upcycling ideas.


And don’t stop at kitchen tables, coffee tables, lamp tables and desks can look good whitewashed too.



Have a good week. Happy painting!

Love Jo x

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