How to Bleach Wood Furniture

Bleaching wood furniture is an easy technique that transforms wood tones right before your eyes. In this tutorial, I’m sharing exactly how to bleach wood furniture 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 out how to bleach wood. I love the look of wood grain completely stripped of any stain.

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 makeovers including painted furniture and building things like a window seat but never had I thought of bleaching wood furniture. Once I realized how easy it is to take on bleaching 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 wood furniture gives the wood a lighter and more airy feel that fits nicely with the coastal design that 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!

How to bleach wood furniture a DIY tutorial

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 wood grain on a more muted scale. If natural wood is your taste, then bleaching wood furniture is a great option for you!

Supplies needed for bleaching wood

Paint Stripper
Putty Knife (multiple sizes)
Orbital Sander(or any hand sander)
Sand Paper
Household Bleach
Lint-Free Cloth (or brush)
Gloves (optional)
Safety goggles
Stain (Varathane Weathered Oak)
Polyurethane for sealing

Instructions for How to Bleach Wood Furniture

Step one to refinish any piece of furniture is to clean it well then, 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 an old stain, you can probably get away with just sanding it off with a hand stander. If there’s paint or several layers of paint, then you’ll likely want to use a paint stripper.

Stripping wood furniture to bleach

The most challenging part of this DIY project was stripping the paint off of the dresser. This was a messy job. 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 wood furniture 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 to get started bleaching the wood. 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 the wood.

Paint alternative

Listen, I think bleaching a dresser sounds a lot more complicated than it really is and there are different types of bleach you can use for a project like this. However, using household bleach for this tutorial is really very simple. 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 to the wood 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 simply just rub on a vinegar solution with a damp cloth.

Bleached wood dresser

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 or white wax 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 wood 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 point but added a layer of weathered oak stain. The color now perfectly matches the buffet we use as a TV stand in our living room.

How to bleach wood furniture a tutorial
Bleaching wood dresser

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 Wood Furniture 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 wood. 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.

Best Types of Wood to Bleach

Prior to whitening your wood furniture, take the time to ascertain its type. Different kinds of wood react differently when bleaching; knowing it ahead of time will assist in selecting an appropriate method for bleaching. The types of wood that will yield the best (easiest) results are; Oak, Walnut, Maple, Poplar, and Pine. 

Other woods that have strong red tones can be more challenging to bleach but still not impossible. Woods like Cedar, Redwood, Cherry, Rosewood, and Mahogony may need an extra step or at least more than one round of household bleach.

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.

In Conclusion

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!

Dresser Graphic

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