Painting and staining wood furniture often provides just the results you want, but sometimes DIY projects need a little something extra. In those cases, consider bleaching wood furniture to achieve a unique look. While bleaching wood is a relatively simple process, it requires lots of preparation due to the caustic nature of the medium.

Reasons to Bleach Wood Furniture

Sometimes metal stains mar the look of a wood finish, and in those instances, a quick treatment with Hydrogen Peroxide and Sodium Hydroxide or Oxalic Acid Wood Bleach by the Real Milk Paint Co. can often even out the tone. Likewise, when a piece of furniture has mottled, discolored or blotchy wood, using household bleach to treat it brings a more uniform look to the color of the wood so you have an attractive surface to stain or treat with Pure Tung Oil.

Additionally, bleaching wood pieces offer a fuss-free way to create an on-trend Scandinavian blonde wood design and works well as a precursor to adding whitewash to your home decor.

sample of a lightened wood cabinet using a bleaching solution

Wood Furniture Bleaching Supplies

When planning a DIY bleach wood project, you need an array of supplies close at hand to start the bleaching process. These include:

How to Bleach Wooden Furniture

1. Clean the Wood

cleaning the wood furniture with a damp cloth

Start your bleach wood furniture project by first cleaning the wood you plan on bleaching. To do this, put on your safety gear, add Tri-Sodium Phosphate wood cleaner to a clean, lint-free cloth and wipe down the surface to see what’s underneath all the dirt and debris.

Once clean, you should be able to see if you need to use a stripper or paint remover to take off underlying stain or color before you continue. If you find you need to strip varnish, shellac or milk or chalk paint from the wood furniture, do so now by using Soy-Gel Professional Paint Remover or Milk Paint Remover according to the instructions on the containers.

2. Scrape and Sand

scraping and sanding wood's natural color before bleaching

If you’ve treated the piece with paint stripper or remover, use a metal or plastic scraper to remove and discard any residual finish that comes up. Next, clear the entire piece of stripper or remover, grab a hand sander or sandpaper sheet and scrub down the furniture until it’s as close to raw wood as possible.

Keep in mind that detailed sections such as turned legs typically take lots more sanding to get close to raw, so you may want to use a courser grit sandpaper here . Finish everything off with a light buff with the 120-grit sandpaper to create an even appearance while leaving the wood grain open to accept the bleach. If you wish to further distress, remove old stain and detail your piece, do so now using the steel wool pads and wire brush.

3. Apply the Bleach

applying bleach to wood's entire surface easily with a spray bottle

Now that everything is sanded, wipe down the surface again with Tri-Sodium Phosphate and prepare for bleach application. While you can wipe down the surface with regular household bleach or glide it on with a paintbrush, a faster, easier and more effective application method – especially in darker woods – is using a spray bottle. You should note that different types of wood bleach have different application methods and safety instructions. Read and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines carefully.

Simply mix your splashless household bleach at a 1:1 ratio with slightly hot water in a spray bottle, shake it up and begin spraying the solution on the wood furniture. Spray each section evenly, being sure to prevent pooling and dripping as you go, then let the saturated wood furniture sit in the sun for at least 15 minutes to dry.

softwax perfect for bare wood or bleached wood

Repeat this step until you get the color of the wood that you want, then continue to step 4.

4. Seal the Bleached Wood

Now that you’ve bleached your wood furniture to just the right wood color, it’s time to seal it and preserve the look you’ve created. For a matte sheen that dries hard and comes in a range of colors from clear to black, consider Soft Wax by the Real Milk Paint Co. to finish your bleached wood piece.

Want to condition and seal your bleach wood furniture piece? Try using our natural Wood Wax to bring out the grain as well as add a smooth surface sheen. To showcase the wood look of your bleached wood furniture makeovers, consider completing your piece with any of our all-natural oil finishes.

Bleaching Wood Furniture Precautions, Tips and Tricks

oxalic acid wood bleach from Real Milk Paint

As part of our safety precautions, when bleaching furniture, be sure to work in a well-ventilated area. The caustic nature of bleach requires the use of rubber gloves, and simply opening the windows may not be enough. For that reason, we recommend working outdoors and using fans to blow away fumes as you work.

Additionally, be sure to test the piece of furniture you plan on bleaching before you start your DIY project. Not all woods react the same to bleach, so you may need to tweak your formulation to get the results you desire. Likewise, use a ceramic or glass container to hold any bleach you’re dipping out with a paintbrush or rag as the solution may discolor metal vessels, and take your time as you work to avoid splashing other areas of your project, the surfaces around you and your clothing.

When done, dispose of any leftover bleach and contaminated materials according to local hazardous waste disposal regulations. If you plan to keep the remaining bleach, keep it and other chemicals in their original containers with labels intact and store them out of reach of children and pets.

Now that you know one method to bleach furniture pieces, you have yet another tool in your refinishing arsenal. With a little hard work and help from the Real Milk Paint Co., you can create unique pieces that pop with a bleach wood furniture project.