How To Use Wood Bleach To Lighten Wood

There are many different things you can do to darken the wood, from painting it to staining it. But even when painting wood a lighter color, the color looks lighter but the wood itself just looks covered. It can be difficult to make the wood look lighter. 

wood bleach
Image from MANDARINA STUDIO interior design

But there is one technique that has a few different strategies attached. This is called bleaching wood and it is as old as bleach itself. So give it a try if you are interested in lightening your wood without making it look unnatural.

What Is Wood Bleach?

As you already know, bleach isn’t just for cleaning, it can also work as a lightening agent, which is often used for hair. But it can also be used to lighten the color of the wood in floors, furniture, and siding.

Bleached wood is often used because it has a light, vintage, beachy, shabby chic, farmhouse look. Yes, it can fit into any of these categories or even all of them! That’s why so many people are looking for this guide!

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.

Types Of Wood Bleach

Image from Jessica Jubelirer Design

There are generally only four types of wood bleach used for bleaching wood. Though they now make specialty items for this purpose these are the four main types of bleach traditionally used to bleach wood.

Chlorine Bleach

Plainly put, this is the common household bleach used for cleaning white objects, appliances, and laundry. It won’t remove pigment from wood but will remove dyes, so make sure you know what your stain contains. 

Though chlorine bleach is more for cleaning than bleaching wood, it can be used for both. For cleaning, it is better to dilute the bleach significantly, only adding about a cup per gallon of water to clean wood furniture.

This type of bleach isn’t ideal for bleaching wood and it won’t even lighten most woods. This is why another type of bleach is a better option.

Wood Bleach

Of course, wood bleach would be a good option for bleaching wood, that’s what it was made for. The bleach usually comes in two bottles. One with an A on it and one with a B on it. They each have a different purpose. 

One container contains lye and the other peroxide. Neither will do a wonderful job of bleaching wood on its own but when they are mixed together, they are a natural wood bleaching duo. Just make sure you follow the instructions. 

Oxalic Acid

Oxalic acid is also more of a cleaner than a wood bleacher. It can remove nasty marks left by metals or scuffing. It is purchased in a powder and needs to be dissolved in water in order to apply it to the wood.

Although when you apply it, it is considered “bleaching wood” it isn’t that great at lightening the wood. But it can restore the wood to its natural form before the stains were left on it by tools and other intruders. 

Peroxide

Peroxide is one-half of the mixture used in wood bleach. It can work great as a wood cleaner but doesn’t necessarily lighten the wood without the lye that works as a strong soap. Just be as careful with this as you are with strong bleach.

Peroxide is also strong when concentrated and it can lighten some wood. Though it doesn’t work as well as bleach made specifically for bleaching wood, it is worth trying if you have it on hand but nothing else. 

How To Bleach Wood Without Bleach

How To Bleach Wood Without BleachView in gallery

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.

Is Bleaching Wood Safe?

Image from knickerbockergroup

If you wear a mask, gloves, and cover your skin, then bleaching is safe to do. If you clean the furniture after you get done bleaching, then it is safe to use the furniture. You know you didn’t clean well when there’s a lingering bleach smell. 

It’s pretty easy to find the bleach smell and where it is coming from. But if you are opposed to using chemicals, the white wax process is easy and can work just as well on the right type of wood, so give it a try!