White Wood Stains – A Complete Guide

Are you looking to add a touch of white to your wood projects? White wood stains are the perfect way to achieve a bright, fresh look. There are many different white wood stains on the market, so it can be tough to decide which one is right for you. In this comprehensive guide, we will review the best white wood stains available and help you choose the perfect one for your next project whether that be furniture, flooring, or cabinetry.  There is a white stain for pine and a white stain for oak and any other wood project you have in thew works.

White wood stain is a popular stain option for many different types of wood. It is a cool, neutral color that goes well with nearly any home design from farmhouse to coastal to modern home design. What’s great about white stain for wood is that it is very versatile and can be used on oak, pine, birch, DIY furniture projects, flooring, cabinetry, interior, and exterior trim, and home decor pieces. Are you considering using white stain on wood on an upcoming project for your home? Are you finding yourself overwhelmed with all the different white stains on the market? In this blog post, we will take a look at 3 different white wood stain options and see how they compare!

Three Good Options for White Wood Stains 

While some DIY’ers may use white paint to achieve that clean crisp look that only white can provide, white wood stains have several advantages especially if you want to enhance the look of the wood grain rather than cover it up like using white paint would do.  We talk exclusively about white wood stains in this post but if you are considering painting check out my reviews on these white paint colors:
Behr Whisper White
Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace

I’ve already shared my thoughts and reviews on my favorite gray stains, blue wood stains, and natural wood stains, today I’m talking all about white stains and how they measure up!

Varathane Whitewash Wood Stain

This water-based white wood stain from Varathane is very easy to work with. It goes on smoothly and evenly and doesn’t require any special equipment or techniques to apply. The whitewash finish is perfect for giving your project a weathered look without having to put in the extra effort of distressing the wood yourself. Varathane white wash stain can be used to achieve that whitewashed look without having to worry about mixing and customizing your own whitewash with paint.

Furniture White Wood Stain.  Side board table white wood stain.
Via Crafted by the Hunts

Minwax Simply White Wood Stain Review

minwax simply white stain - white wood stains
White wood stain on oak floors.  White stain on flooring.
Via Houzz

This oil-based white wood stain from Minwax is perfect for those who want a true bright white finish and still have the wood grain shine through. It goes on smoothly and evenly and can be easily wiped away with a clean cloth if you make any mistakes. It also has a longer dry time giving you more time to work with the stain if you make any mistakes. This stain is perfect for giving your project a crisp, clean look. It can also be used to achieve that weathered look by using lighter coats and immediately wiping away any excess stain. 

Varathane Antique White Wood Stain

This water-based white wood stain from Varathane is perfect for those who want to achieve an antique look. It goes on smoothly and evenly and typically only requires one coat of stain to achieve the desired results. The antique white finish is perfect for giving your project an aged look without having to put in the extra effort of distressing the wood yourself

Antique White wood stain.  Wood stain on wood.
Via The Created Home

Creating a Custom White Wood Stain

The great things about white wood stain is the ability to customize the stain to suit your specific need. If you aren’t finding exactly what you are looking for off the shelf then you may have to try your hand at customizing your own white wood stain or even whitewash paint. You can create a beautifully subtle white stain by diluting any of these stains. You can also add some gray wood stain to your white stain to darken the hue just a bit and give it some added depth. Are you looking for something a bit darker (but not too dark) but don’t want to lose the naturalness of the wood undertones? Add some Special Walnut or Early American Stain to achieve the look.

White Stain vs. Whitewash Paint

We can’t talk about white stains without talking about the difference between white stains and whitewash paint. Though they provide similar looks, there is a difference! 

Whitewash paint is created by mixing water and paint to garner a desired white look on wood. Wood stain, on the other hand, comes pre-mixed with chemicals like those found in regular paints but with more solvent. Additionally, whitewash usually just coats the surface while white wood stains penetrate deeper into the grain of wood.

You may control the transparency of a mixture made with whitewash paint depending on how much water you add. However, if you want to emphasize the wood’s grain, a wood stain is far more appropriate. 

How to Choose Between White Stain or Whitewash Paint

You will certainly want to look at your project and see what finish is best for you and your project.

Both have the relative same ease of use but you may be able to control the desired finish a little better with whitewash because you are able to make it a thin whitewash or a thicker whitewash which controls the amount of white that you are putting on the wood. Here are some other things to consider before choosing the best option:

Aesthetics 
Staining your wood project leaves the natural wood grain showing it gives the wood a more rustic and unique appearance. Whitewash paint has better overall coverage. It covers the entire wood piece so it appears more uniform and less unique and rustic. You’ll see less of the wood’s natural tone and perhaps only subtle grain will show through.

Penetration
Stain penetrates deep into the grain of the wood to provide more protection. Whitewash Paint provides a water-resistant outer layer on the wood but does not go deep into the surface.  With both techniques, some type of protectant may be necessary depending on the use of the item.

Adhesion
White wood stain adheres and penetrates deep down to the wood fibers. Paint is only a surface coating and does not penetrate the wood at all. Therefore, the pigment can be removed by using a paint stripper. To remove wood stain from your project you will have to use a power sander and sandpaper to reach deep into the wood piece.  This is something you will want to consider if you think you may have a design change of heart down the road.

Tips for Using Custom Wood Stain

  • I would always recommend testing your custom wood stain on either a scrap piece of material or on an inconspicuous location just in case it’s not exactly the look you were hoping for.
  • Unless you are using precise measurements for your custom wood stain be sure to make a large enough batch to stain the entire piece as it can be very difficult to replicate a custom wood stain recipe.
  • Choose stains with similar undertones to avoid the clashing of undertones in your final product. 

Now that you have hopefully selected your stain color it’s time to decide what type of stain is right for your project.

Types of Wood Stain

It’s important to be aware of the different types of wood stains before you even apply your first coat of stain. Knowing the difference between water-based, oil-based, and gel stains will help you prepare for your project.

Water-Based Stain

Water-based stain is not as durable as an oil-based stain but this can be overcome by using a few coats of polyurethane once the stain has dried. Water-based stain is much easier to use than oil-based stains and comes in a far greater variety of colors than oil-based stains. 

Oil-Based Stain

This is the most durable type of stain. Thus, it can be used in areas subject to tear and wear. It can also be applied to exterior wood, such as patio furniture, decks, fences, and house trim. While many manufacturers make oil-based stains water-based stains come in a far greater variety of colors. If you do choose an oil-based stain be sure to only use the stain in a well-ventilated area so the odors can be very strong.

Gel Wood Stains

Gel stains are oil-based or water-based stains that have been made to prevent the stain from dripping or running down the vertical surface. Because a gel stain finish is less affected by surface flaws, many DIY’ers prefer to use gel stains on wood that tends to blot or is known to contain many flaws, such as pine wood.

Tips for Staining Wood

Wood Staining Supplies You’ll Need

Lint Free Cloth or a brush or rag if desired

Wood Conditioner

Stain(s) of your choice

Gloves if desired

Wood finishing coat (like polyurethane)

Before you start your woodworking project, clear around your space making sure it’s free of dust and debris, lay out a tarp, and make sure the wood is clean and dry. A lot of people like to use a wood conditioner to avoid having any unevenness in the final product, but if you do choose to go this route just make sure that it’s completely dry before continuing on. Once you’ve finished staining your project, put some sort of sealant over it; I prefer using polyurethane.

One other thing to keep in mind is that different types of wood look different with the same type of stain. White stain on pine is going to look a lot different than white stain on oak.

So there you have it,  a comprehensive guide to white wood stains! Be sure to do your research before beginning any project and most importantly, have fun and enjoy the process! After all, that’s what DIY is all about. 🙂

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