Now, Kiss That Color Goodbye

The Wood-Kote brand bleach we tried comes, like most, in two bottles. To use it, mix equal parts of the two liquids in a glass or plastic container. Never put either chemical into a metal vessel. (Some bleaches call for applying the two parts separately. Follow the instructions for the one you're using.)

WD314789.jpg Work fast after mixing the two chemicals. The solution begins to neutralize and lose bleaching power just as soon as you start to pour the liquids together.

Once mixed, a chemical reaction begins, wherein the hydrogen peroxide, an oxidizer, acts to neutralize the caustic sodium hydroxide. Neutralized, the solution loses its bleaching power, so mix only what you can use immediately.

Quickly apply the solution to the wood. A sponge makes a good applicator. Keep the surface uniformly wet to minimize streaking. (We held the board at an angle and worked from the bottom up.)

WD314790.jpg Apply the bleach as evenly as possible, and keep the surface wet as you work.

Rinse the solution off the wood with water. To ensure that no caustic soda remains behind, rinse the wood with a mild acid-white vinegar works well-then rinse it once more with water.

After the wood dries, assess the color. You can bleach wood as many times as needed to achieve the color you want. (We bleached the pale piece of red oak in the top photo, and made three applications to the walnut sample.)

Allow the wood to dry thoroughly. Sand with 320- or 400-grit sandpaper, just enough to remove the fuzzy grain from the surface.

  • When the wood you have is too dark for a particular project. In this case, removing some of the color from the wood might make it more suitable, or would allow you to stain the wood to a lighter color.
  • When you have several boards of the same wood for one project and they vary in color. In this case, you can bleach one or more of the boards to match the others. Or, you might bleach all the boards and stain them to a consistent color.
  • When you want to stain one wood to look like another. Removing the natural color from a wood makes matching the color of another wood easier. If you bleach both woods, you can stain them both the same color.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use household bleach to bleach wood?

Household bleach is a chemical cleaning product that is typically used to remove color from fibers and for cleaning and disinfecting purposes. It is not a fix all solution for removing color from wood, but it does work in some cases. You will have better results with lighter and soft woods when using household bleach to lift the color.

What is the difference between bleach and wood bleach?

Bleach is typically a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite whereas wood bleach is a marketed term that encompasses a mixture of solutions that bleach wood specifically.

Do you have to neutralize wood bleach?

After bleaching a piece of wood, it is important to neutralize any solution that might be remaining. First, it’s imperative that all of the solution is dry to avoid chemical reactions. I prefer using a diluted vinegar and water solution before staining or sealing.

Can all wood be bleached? 

First, you will need to remove all finish from wood and restore it to a natural state. Some woods will lighten better than others. Some woods will yellow. Some will be red. It just depends on the wood that you’re working with and I’ve found that understanding the different methods discussed will help you to determine if your wood will bleach.

How many times should I apply bleach to wood?

You can apply bleach as many times as needed until you achieve your desired end look. Just remember that sitting it out in the sun will help with the bleaching process. I like to apply the bleach and then let it sit for several hours or all day in the sun before repeating. It is a multi-day process.

Do you just wipe bleach on the wood?

It’s important to apply in a constant application and don’t put too much bleach on the wood. If it pools, it will might cause spots that look like watermarks.

Does bleach dry out or damage the wood?

Any time you apply chemicals to natural wood, they will dry it out. Water and other substances will raise the grain and make it look rough. This goes hand and hand with the desired coastal look. However, you can always lightly sand any roughness, just keep in mind the sanding might alter the final color.

4. Spray with bleach

Making sure my safety gear was in place, I poured splashless bleach into a spray bottle and gave the table a good once over. I’ve tried pouring the bleach into a cloth and rubbing on other projects, but it was just so dang messy and irritated my hands even through gloves. This is WAY better.

After spraying with bleach, I left the table to dry in the sun for about 30-60 minutes. I decided I wanted it to be a bit lighter, so I repeated the bleach spray process 2 more times, each time waiting for the table to dry in the sun before deciding to proceed further or be finished. After 3 rounds, I was happy with the color!

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How To Bleach Wood Without Bleach

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If you want to stay away from bleach in general, then you may be interested in this unique tutorial on how to bleach wood without bleach! Follow these steps to safely “bleach” your wood referring to the process rather than the substance. 

Step 1: Remove Any Veneer 

If your furniture has any veneer on it then try to remove it. You want to use a chisel to get started and just peel up on the veneer. Once you get it started, it should peel right up easily. This will only get in the way.

Step 2: Counteract The Orange

In order to bleach the wood, you want to oppose the orange color or brassiness in the wood. So apply a water-based stain with a neutralizing greenish tone. It doesn’t need to be green, but it does need to counteract orange. 

Since the stain is just for this purpose, you can dilute it with a lot of water. This will be like a quart of water to less than a cup of stain. Because this is just to get rid of that old warm look to the furniture. 

Step 3: Sand

Lightly sanding the furniture is a great idea after the light stain dries. It will give the new substance something to stick to and get rid of any places where you went too heavy on the stain, which should be light. 

Step 4: Apply White Wax

Now, this is the secret. All you need to get that white bleached look without any bleach is white wax. If you wax your furniture with white wax, you can get that same look without any harmful chemicals. 

Make sure you use a wood finishing wax that is made for this purpose. It will look washed out when you finish but not “white-washed” which is completely different, albeit attractive, look. No, this is a bleached wood look.

Step Three: Repeat Step Two

Easy! Once your homemade wood bleach has dried just reapply your bleach solution and let dry in the sun, again.

You may be satisfied with 1-2 coats, but if youโ€™re working with something like mahogany you may need 4+ coats.

It just depends on the species of wood you start with and the end goal you have in mind.

Keep in mind, each type of wood likely has its bleaching limits.

How I Painted the Nightstands

I painted the tops of these nightstands in a gray/blue color. I loved how the cool blue balanced out the warm wood tones.

Once my paint was dry, I applied 3 coats of poly to the painted portion only.

For the final finishing touch, I added new black knobs that I purchased at Home Depot.

I allowed my poly to dry for 24 hours before staging.

But keep in mind it takes 28 days for paint/poly to fully cure before itโ€™s ready for heavier use.

PIN THIS TUTORIAL FOR LATER

PIN THIS TUTORIAL FOR LATER

How To Bleach Wood

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Bleaching wood is a step-by-step process but it isn’t all that difficult. Here is how you can use bleach to bleach wood, the traditional way to lighten wood while allowing it to keep that natural wood grain.

Note: the bleach used in this guide varies. We will talk more about the different types of bleaches later. Wood bleach is recommended as it was formulated for this purpose and offers the most consistent results. 

Step 1: Clean The Item

The first step is to use a good cleaner to clean the furniture or floor. You want to use something fairly strong and do a good job. After you clean it, you can wipe it down with a wet rag and then dry it.

It’s very important that you always work with dry surfaces unless otherwise noted in the instructions. This is a good rule of thumb that will save you from making some very common mistakes, like with painting for example. 

Step 2: Strip The Wood

This is a very important step that requires patience. It’s important to remove the stain on the wood by using a wood stripper. Apply it thickly with a bristle brush of medium size, covering the entire item.

You may need to let it sit for a couple of hours, so take a break and grab a drink. When you return, you can make the next step much easier because you didn’t get impatient and start doing it too early.

Step 3: Scrape, Scrape, Scrape

Using a putty knife, scrape off the stripper and any finish that it has peeled off. This is satisfying to watch and even more satisfying to do yourself. So enjoy this step. If the stripper didn’t work, you may need to go another round.

But you will need to scrape it fairly rough, but don’t do it rough enough that you leave dents in the wood. After you scrape all that you can off, it can be helpful to finish up with a good sanding to help the next step.

Step 4: Start Bleaching

Now you just take a bleached rag and apply it to your wood as if you were cleaning it. Do a medium amount at a medium pressure level. You can do this as many times as you want just let the bleach dry between each coat.

If the wood is naturally dark it will take more coats. The more you do the lighter and more washed-out the wood will look. So keep doing it until you are happy with the result. 

Step 5: Cleaning And Finishing

Clean the wood with just water. Then, after a day or so you can wash it with soap and water. After that, all that is left to do is either enjoy it the way it is or finish up with a sealer on top, which is like a clear coat.

This will protect the wood, make it shiny, and ensure it lasts longer than it normally would. Though it is completely up to you whether you add this topcoat or not. It may take away from the natural look.

2. Scrape + scrub off stain

This is the most satisfying and the most messy part of the whole process. I LOVE watching that disgusting old stain get scraped away…but then things start to get a lil’ messy. Be prepared. Wear old clothes. Trust me. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I tried to do what other bloggers have recommend and only use plastic paint scrapers to help avoid digging into the wood, but man…they did not work well. I figured the table was already beat up anyway, so after awhile I switched to the metal scraper and it worked way better.

For the carved legs, I switched to a couple of brushes with metal bristles so that I could really get into those hard to scrape crevices and crannies. There was NO way I was going to get out all of the stain that had settled into the depressions in the carvings, but you what? I ended up liking it in the end, because those darker areas really set off the carvings and detail! Less scraping, pretty details. Win win.

BleachingWoodFurnitureTips and Tricks

When bleaching wood furniture, be sure to work in a well-ventilated area. The caustic nature of bleach requires use of full safety gear, and simply opening the windows may not be enough. For that reason, we recommend working outdoors and using fans to blow away fumes as you work. Additionally, be sure to test the wood you plan on bleaching before you start your DIY project. Not all woods react the same to bleach, so you may need to tweak your formulation to get the results you desire. Likewise, use a ceramic or glass container to hold any bleach you’re dipping out with a paintbrush or rag as the solution may discolor metal vessels, and take your time as you work to avoid splashing other areas of your project, the surfaces around you and your clothing.

Now that you know one method to bleach wood furniture, you have yet another tool in your refinishing arsenal. With a little hard work and help from the Real Milk Paint Co., you can create unique pieces that pop by bleaching wood furniture.

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