I'm looking to paint a red oak commission piece and the client asked about a "white wash" type finish instead of purely opaque white paint such that the grain shows through.

I was wondering if there are thinners that can be added to regular latex white paint to do this?

  • 1
    Some Q&A about these sorts of finishes already. Search for "white wash". Might be a good place to start. Otherwise, what research have you done?
    – user5572
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 21:19
  • Try a google search for pickling stains for oak . Its basically a white pigment stain. I've used it before to give oak a bleached look. White oak gives an even lighter appearance.
    – Ashlar
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 22:35
  • 1
    This isn't really a milk paint question so I'm editing it so that it is easier for future searchers to find, if relevant to their project.
    – Graphus
    Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 11:22

3 Answers 3


You can do what you want by merely thinning white wall paint with water1. It's not a perfect way to do this2 but it works.

However the adhesion of the diluted paint may end up highly compromised, and additionally the coating is very thin, so in general it would be extremely easy to wear through or damage a finish such as this in other ways. Merely dragging the unglazed ring on the underside of a coffee mug over the surface may leave visible wear.

So a clear topcoat (waterbased poly should work well) would be highly desirable.

Another option uses the same clear finish but as part of your starting point. In effect you make a white-tinted waterbased poly. Mixing different brands could work here. But for safety, to ensure chemical compatibility, it would be best to use two products from the same range — you could for example mix the General Finishes white poly into one of their clear waterbased polyurethanes, to make a cloudy clear finish or a weak white finish depending on how you want to look at it.

1 Because you're working with oak, and because you'll be painting on a very watery mixture, it may be advisable to use distilled water for the thinning instead of tap water. Your tap water may contain enough dissolved iron to cause dark staining in the red oak.

2 The ideal method to thin paint for this sort of thing would involve diluting with more carrier, not just more water. But there's no simple recommendation for that sort of thing. An artists' acrylic paint range such as Golden's have numerous products to pick from, but these are not generally made to provide high wear resistance, just to use as bonding agents or 'medium'.


There are thinners for latex paints, you could totally do it with the latex paint, but there also white tint dye base, for ex. https://www.homedepot.com/p/Varathane-1-qt-Classic-White-Tint-Base-Water-Based-Interior-Wood-Stain-339584/305626822 - one coat will let the grain show through

It's really bout what exactly a client wants. Historically whitewash was limestone based, the simplest recipe I've seen was ~5:1 mason limestone to table salt dilited to an appropriate thickness, does the customer want this or just whitish finish with grain showing through?


I have seen the use of iron fillings dissolved in vinegar to add a bleached aged look to white oak and white ash. To make this up use distilled white vinegar, I know it's a synthesized product but it works from what I've seen. For every gallon of vinegar add 1-2 pounds, or until it would dissolve anymore. You can get iron fillings from brake shops that regrind brake drums and discs. It will look a bit red until it dries.

  • I think the down vote is because a "white wash" finish is generally whitish, while iron will turn the wood red.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 18:09
  • The finish actually comes out looking faintly like whitewash or old sun bleached wood. Don't believe me give it a try, if I'm wrong I'll admit it. Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 20:32
  • It would be fairly dark gray because of a reaction between the tannin in the oak and the iron... And you'll be stirring a long, long time to get iron filings to dissolve in vinegar.
    – gnicko
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 20:47

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