By Cora L. Diekman

Published on September 23, 2016

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Photography by PIA WINTHERS VIA NORDICDESIGN.CA
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Photography by STIJLBLOEM STUDIO

Bleaching furniture is THE new thing – a very beautiful, wonderful technique that allows you to lighten the color of wood furniture to varying shades of faded rustic loveliness.  Why paint when bleaching allows the organic appearance of natural wood to shine through?  Keep reading for a step-by-step tutorial on achieving this Scandinavian-inspired look.

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First things first – be sure you’re working with real wood furniture and not a veneer.  This sounds obvious, but well crafted pieces can be deceiving, and bleach can do serious damage if applied to anything other than wood.

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Also note that bleaching is completely different from whitewashing (above), which is the process of applying a diluted paint solution to lighten the overall color topically.  Bleaching is a chemical process that does exactly what you imagine – bleaches the color from wood resulting in a lighter version of the original color, or (depending on the wood) a white or gray hue.

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Photography by POPULARWOODWORKING.COM

Different woods will react differently to this process.  This example illustrates just how much the end result can vary.  Experts also note that some woods such as cherry and satinwood react poorly to bleaching, and should not be considered for this process.  Always test on a small, inconspicuous area first.

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Photography by RETHINK DESIGN STUDIO BLOG

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

In addition to your bleach solution, you will need the following:

1 – 80-grit sanding sponge

2 – Orbit sander with 120-grit pads

3 – Bucket

4 – Craft foam brushes or nylon paint brushes

5 – Terrycloth

6 – Latex gloves

Optional: Linseed oil

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Photography by HARDWAREWORLD.COM

There are various methods for bleaching wood, but an A+B bleaching system is generally recognized as the most effective way to lighten the overall color of wood.  These solutions are readily available for purchase in home improvement stores and online, and are quite affordable.  Daly’s is one such brand, available here from Hardware World.

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Photography by RETHINK DESIGN STUDIO BLOG

Step 2:  Smooth The Surface Of Your Wood

If wood is in excellent condition, this step may not be necessary.  However, if the surface is damaged or uneven, sanding is recommended.  Begin with the sanding sponge, and scrub the surface until any obvious rough patches are removed.  Then finish up with the orbit sander. Wipe the surface clean of any loose debris, and now you’re ready to bleach!

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Step 3:  Apply Your Bleach

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully for this step, but in general, you will need to mix the two solutions and apply evenly with a craft or paintbrush.  Allow to dry 2-3 hours (or according to package directions) and then apply a second coat.  Be sure to use latex gloves during this process, and always work in a well ventilated area.

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Step 4:  Seal With Linseed Oil

This step is optional, but experts found that it provides a nice ‘milky’ finish and helps to seal the wood post-bleaching.  Apply with a terrycloth towel and rub in evenly.  Allow to dry for 10-15 minutes, and apply a second coat if desired.

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Photography by RETHINK DESIGN STUDIO BLOG

Here is one example of a successful bleaching before and after.  Not only does the bleaching process lighten the wood, but it also helps to repair and disguise damage and discoloration, as in reclaimed wood.

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Photography by PIA WINTHERS VIA NORDICDESIGN.CA

While this look is popular in Scandinavian designs, bleached or faded wood also plays well with rustic farmhouse interiors, too.  For a finish that appears more rustic than modern, skip the sanding steps in the beginning.

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Photography by CHRIS TONNESEN FOR STYLE AND CREATE

Wood bleaching is also extremely versatile, as this technique also works just as well on floors and wood paneling, too.