Bleaching wood furniture is an easy technique that transforms wood tones right before your eyes. In this tutorial, I’m sharing exactly how we bleached a dresser and answering some commonly asked questions about the process.
I’m not sure when I first discovered the idea of bleaching wood but I immediately thought about this chest of drawers that we had floating around our house and knew I needed to figure how to bleach wood.
The dresser I had in mind was a secondhand find that we slapped some chalk paint on and re-stained the top years ago. It was really lovely the way it was but didn’t really fit with the coastal casual vibe that our house now has. I determined it would be a great candidate for bleach and I’m so pleased with how it turned out. It was used as a bedside table/additional dresser in our bedroom since we moved. Before that, it was an additional dresser in the girls’ room. It has floated all over the house(s) over the years.
We’ve done a ton of furniture makeover projects including painted furniture and building things like a window seat but never had I bleached wood. Once I realized how easy it is to bleach furniture (trickier if you are going from a painted piece of furniture to bare wood, like me), it was a no-brainer.
How to Bleach Wood Furniture
Bleaching furniture gives the wood a lighter and more airy feel that fits nicely with those beachy feels I love so much. Now that this piece of furniture is lightened up I’m so happy to have it in a prominent space in our home. I love it so much now that I couldn’t take it back upstairs because I wanted it to be seen. In this tutorial I’m sharing how to bleach wood furniture – I bet it’s easier than you imagined!
Why would you bleach wood furniture?
Bleaching wood furniture removes the stain color of the wood but will allow the wood to retain its natural color. If natural wood is your taste, then bleaching furniture is a great option for you!
Bleaching wood furniture tutorial
Step one to refinishing any piece of furniture is to strip it of any finish it may already have, bringing it to natural wood, whether that’s paint or simply stain and poly. If it’s just a stain, you can probably get away with just sanding it off. If there’s paint or several layers of paint, then you’ll likely want to use a paint stripper.
The most challenging part of this DIY project was stripping the paint off of the dresser. To strip the paint from the piece of furniture and begin to bring it to raw wood, you glop on some of the paint stripper gel, wait about one hour, and then using a putty knife scrape off the layers of paint. It’s ideal to have several sizes of putty knives so that you can work faster on the larger surface areas and use the smaller knife to get in the corners and crevices.
After you’ve stripped the piece, you’ll want to sand down the entire thing until it’s smooth and the wood looks even. Since we had painted our dresser white previously, there were little knots of wood with white paint that had to be sanded out because they didn’t come up with the paint stripper. That’s perfectly normal.
Once the piece is all sanded down, take a lint-free cloth and wipe it clean, removing any excess dust or particles. Now it’s time for bleach. This is my favorite part. I was actually really impressed with the dresser before the bleach but it did look a bit unfinished so I was really excited to see what the bleach would do to it.
Listen, I think bleaching a dresser sounds a lot more complicated than it really is. We simply poured some regular ol’ household bleach into a bowl and used a lint-free cloth to apply the bleach to the wood. That’s it! You can continue to apply the bleach until you get your desired color.
The most important thing to note is that you have to neutralize the wood after applying the bleach. To neutralize, you just rub on a vinegar solution with a cloth.
You can see the difference between before and after bleaching here. The bottom portion has been bleached.
After the piece was completely bleached, I loved how light it was but it still looked a bit uneven so we decided to add some stain. If you prefer – you can stop at this step, add some polyurethane and call it a day. You can also use a two-part bleach (not household bleach) to bring the wood tone even lighter. Two-part bleach is a peroxide-based bleach that will alter the color of the natural wood so if you want your piece of furniture even lighter then you can try the two-part bleach treatment at this point. Before doing so you’ll want to neutralize the wood with a vinegar solution (50/50 white vinegar and water).
We opted to stop bleaching at this post but add a layer of weathered oak stain. The color now perfectly matches the buffet we use as a TV stand in our living room.
After adding the stain, the color was absolutely perfect. It ended up being much lighter which is exactly what I hoped. Not only that, it now fits so much better with my coastal style.
Does bleaching damage the wood?
Bleaching wood doesn’t damage the wood. It does remove any stain or dye in the wood leaving it with a lighter color.
When to use household bleach and when to use two-part bleach
Household bleach works just fine on a lot of woods. If the wood you are working with has a lighter tone, such as pine or white oak, you’ll be just fine with household bleach. If you’re working with darker wood, like mahogany or cherry, using two-part bleach is a better treatment option.
How many times do you apply the bleach?
You apply bleach as many times as needed to get the desired color. If you are going for a really light look, you can apply a round of bleach, allow the piece of furniture to dry, and sit in the sun for a few hours before applying another round of bleach.
If you learn nothing else from this simple tutorial, you should take away that you can absolutely change anything that isn’t serving you in the way you’d like! Since we bleached this little dresser, it now sits in our entryway and greets every visitor we have. I love that it has a prominent spot in our home.
Make sure you pin this tutorial for how to bleach wood furniture to save for your next home project!