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Paint Wash for Furniture; Easiest Way to Mute Outdated Furniture Tones

Check out this simple tutorial on how to paint wash furniture or color wash wood. Paint washing furniture is so easy and I’m going to show you how.

I had no intention of writing this post. My plan was to continue with my two toned furniture makeover and do a big reveal blog post that included the tan wash steps in it. BUT… as I was preparing for this project I realized there wasn’t much information or examples of paint washing or tan washing furniture anywhere on the web. I decided I needed to share my experience about how to tan wash furniture.

What is a paint wash or color wash for furniture?

Color washing furniture is similar to white washing furniture in that you dilute your paint with water, apply it to the surface and then wipe it off with a lint free cloth. Applying color wash or paint wash to a surface is a similar process to staining a piece of wood.

Color washing a piece of wood is a way to give the surface a “washed” look, meaning you can still see a hint of the wood grain or the remaining surface underneath. This is a great technique if you are simply wanting to mute the tones in the existing wood or change them slightly.

paint washed cherry cabinet

What paint to use to color wash furniture

My favorite paint for color washing furniture is a regular old latex (or any water based) paint. This way it can be easily mixed with water for a beautiful color wash effect.

If you are using an oil based paint, you will need to thin the paint with a solvent like turpentine or mineral spirits.

I personally never use an oil based paint to create a tan wash or color wash effect because of the high VOCs. I can achieve the same look with a water based paint and less harmful ingredients.

As far as what color to use? That is entirely up to you. You can use any color to paint wash wood! If you want something vibrant, use a deep bold color like blue or red! If you are looking to mute the wood tones, stick with a lighter white or tan tone. If you want to make the wood darker, try using a brown or dark navy tone.

What ratio do you mix for a color wash furniture finish?

The mix ratio for a paint wash finish is ultimately a personal preference. The most common ratio is 1:1 paint to water (or paint to solvent) solution.

If you want a more translucent look, add a higher ratio of water or solvent to paint. If you want a more opaque look, you add a higher ratio of paint to water.

tan washed (color wash) wood cabinet top


  • lint free cloths
  • water based paint of your choice
  • cup of water
  • seperate cup for mixing
  • Stir stick
  • Wood

Below is a piece of Heart Pine Wood that I’m going to color wash. I wanted to mute the orangish red tones and give it a lighter look.

Heart Pine wood before color wash

How do you color wash or paint wash wood?

This technique is really simple and there are a few ways to do it. I’m going to show you the easiest way I like to paint wash wood.

  1. Mix one part water based paint to one part water in a separate container.
  2. Using a stir stick, make sure it’s mixed really well to an even consistency.
  3. Dip a lint free cloth in the paint wash and apply it to the wood surface IN THE DIRECTION of the wood grain.
  4. Continue to wipe the wood with (or without) the paint wash until you get the desired finish you want.
  5. If necessary, use a clean lint free cloth to wipe away any excess paint wash on the surface.
  6. Once the surface is dry, if it’s still not the color you want then repeat steps 3-5 until you are pleased.
  7. When you are done make sure to seal it!

Note; If you want a more translucent look and more wood grain to show, use more water and less paint. If you want a more opaque look, use more paint and less water. Ultimately this is a personal preference and will require some experimenting. It’s best if you have a sample piece of wood to try out first before you begin applying the wash on the entire surface.

applying tan wash or paint wash to pine wood
Heart pine wood after paint wash or tan wash

As far as sealers go, I’ve got a few resources for that. Always seal the finished wood!

Best Clear Coat for Wood for a Lasting Finish

How to Seal Painted Furniture for a High Traffic Finish

Do you need to seal whitewash furniture and wood?

Like I said there are a few other ways to create a paint wash. I’ve even seen some creators dip a wet rag in an undiluted paint can and then wipe the surface. The problem with this is that it can create an uneven blotchy look. This is why I prefer to mix the paint with water BEFORE applying it to the surface.

Another tip; If you want an non blotchy finish try using a wood conditioner before you apply the paint wash.

Wasn’t that easy? I wish all my paint projects were this simple. For more simple paint techniques like this check out my painting and refinishing page here.

Thanks for stopping by!