Best White Wood Stain – A Look at How to Stain Wood White

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Modern life often has us leaving the old way of doing things in the rear-view mirror in favor of innovative methods and aesthetics. In all fairness, this isn’t typically a bad thing considering there are far superior and environmentally friendly products on the market today, but does this mean that we’ll never see the aesthetics we grew up with? Maybe not. Painting wood can obscure its natural grain and greatly reduce its visual impact, which is why many opt to stain their wood furnishings instead. This does eliminate the option of using color though, as wood stain typically darkens or lightens the wood’s natural hue, but maybe there is a middle ground after all? A white wood stain can be the solution to this problem, so let’s find out a bit more about it.




What Is a White Wood Stain?

Before we cover what a white wood stain is, we should probably have a look at what a regular wood stain is first. Ordinary wood stain is essentially a chemical solution with either an oil, resin, or alkyd base. These bases allow the stain to seep into the wood and bind with the wood fibers.

Once bonded, the stain interacts with the wood on a molecular level which changes the intensity of the wood’s color essentially making the wood lighter or darker (or anywhere in-between).

This means that wood stain typically comes in existing wood colors such as oak, maple, redwood, and so forth, however, as technology has evolved so has the color schemes wood stain is available in. One of the most sought-after wood stains on the market today is white wood stain. Why? Well, you might think that you could simply paint any board white, and it would have the same overall effect, and you would be right.

White Stain on Wood

However, when a board is painted white (especially solid board) you lose the effect of the wood’s grain, which will no longer be visible. This can be a deal-breaker, especially when restoring older furnishings, so many people simply opt to stain the wood back to its original color. You could argue that using watercolor paint would allow the wood’s grain to show through, but on the other hand, it would still obscure the grain in some areas where it is less defined since it is still ultimately a coating.

What’s more is watercolor paints don’t have the same adhesion quality, lifespan, or resistance to natural forces as oil-based paint, acrylics, or wood stain. Thankfully, you have the option of using a white wood stain, which is essentially a regular wood stain with pigment added into the mixture in order to produce a color.

This pigment can vary considerably these days, where previously it was only available in existing wood colors there are now considerably more of them, allowing you to stain your wood in practically any color imaginable.



The Difference Between White Wood Stain and White Wood Paint

Now that you know what a white wood stain is, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with how it differs from paint. Although both substances can dramatically improve the aesthetic appeal of your workpiece and protect it to a certain degree, there are certain circumstances under which each is most conducive, this being said let’s have a look at what makes each unique in its own right.


White Wood Stain White Wood Paint
Penetrates wood surface Only partially penetrates the wood’s surface
Allows grain to remain visible Conceals the wood’s grain
Protects wood internally Protects wood externally
Wood treatment Only coats the surface
Binds to wood fibers Does not bind to wood fibers


White Wood Stain

As we mentioned previously, the essential property of white wood stain is that it absorbs into the wood’s fibers and binds to it. A combination of chemical reaction and pigment allows the wood’s color to change dramatically which can make the color significantly lighter or darker depending on your preference.

White Stained Wood

A white wood stain (or any wood stain) allows you to preserve the presence of the wood grain on the surface of the board, this does give the overall aesthetic a more natural look and gives an observer the pleasure of following the natural lines of the wood. This can either create harmony in a space filled with similarly finished furniture or create great contrast really making the piece stand out from other furnishings or other aesthetics in a given environment.

White stained wood is the perfect balance between the wood’s natural beauty while incorporating your color preference, essentially giving the visual impression the wood was grown this way.


White Wood Paint

While white stained wood can be considered to be a sort of additive which changes wood to your desired color, wood paint is something completely different but does accomplish the same goal. While wood stain of any kind seeps into the wood’s fibers and bonds with them, paint is more of a surface covering.

You could argue that oil-based paints act the same way, and you would be right, although they don’t quite interact with the wood the same way and they remain primarily a surface coating, whereas wood stain is considered more of a “treatment”.

White wood paint, on the other hand, is a surface coating that adheres primarily to the surface of a given board, so instead of changing the wood’s color, it rather conceals it and presents itself as the wood’s primary surface.



The Best White Wood Stain

Knowing what white wood stain is and how it works is all well and good, but without knowing which wood stain to choose you might be left a bit confused by all of the choices available to you. For your convenience, here are some of the best wood white wood stain products on the market today for you to choose from.

White Wood Stain


Best Overall: VARATHANE Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain, Quart, Antique White

You might be wondering in which setting a white wood stain works best, and what if it only works on certain types of wood? Well, even though there are white wood stain products that work best on particular surfaces, the white stain for wood from Varathane works well on pretty much any surface you could think of. Whether it be indoors or outdoors, this product works on kitchen cabinets, drawers, railings, paneling, and even doors.

VARATHANE Premium Fast-Dry Wood Stain
  • One-coat coverage with a fast-drying oil-based formula
  • High-performance stain enhanced with nano pigment particles
  • Highlights natural wood grain to reveal wood's beauty
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Staining with a white wood stain might leave you desiring more than one coat, but thanks to the high-quality formula from Varathane you can rest assured that you’ll only have to use one coat as its formula not only produces a potent final color finish but dries in under one hour to boot!

The Varathane team has also made sure that they have considered what you get for your dollar, offering this product in volumes all the way from 8 oz to a full quart in some of the most reasonable prices around.

The trick behind the high-quality color in this white stain for wood is its nano pigment particles that really make the white pop off the wood, offering the same eye-catching intensity of a white paint without you having to sacrifice displaying your wood grain and natural form.


  • Versatile
  • High-quality finish
  • High-quality adhesion
  • Only needs to be applied once
  • Reasonably priced


  • Long drying time
  • Could be slightly cheaper
  • Results may vary my color choice
  • Limited color range


Best Finish: MINWAX Wood Finish, Half Pint, Simply White

If you’re a bit of a purist and you don’t really want to deal with a whitewash wood stain that completely saturates the surface of your board, this product from Minwax might be right up your alley. This whitewash wood stain provides you with a light finish that simply shades the wood a white hue without suffocating the grain and forcing you to acknowledge its presence.

MINWAX Wood Finish
  • Deeply penetrates wood pores within 5-15 minutes of application
  • Easily applied with a clean cloth, brush, or foam applicator
  • Provides a rich color that enhances the natural wood grain
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While other wood stains claim to brighten up your board and really make it pop, the Minwax sells you no such illusions, stating upfront that they provide a light tasteful finish that provides the distinctness of a white wood stain without making it the focal point of the board. This might come as quite a surprise considering that it penetrates into the wood’s fibers quite deeply, and this is attributed to the light pigment added to the stain.

If you enjoy the finish of this wood stain but still wish that you did have a more pronounced white finish after the stain has dried and set you could simply apply another coat and allow it to set in, if you are a bit nervous about this you can rest assured that since the finish of this wood stain is so light, you could theoretically apply three to four coats before you achieve any jarring results.

This is the wood stain for the purest who simply want a taste of modernity in their furnishings without the commitment of a harsh stain or paint.


  • Deep penetrating formula
  • Easy to use
  • Reasonably priced
  • Light finish
  • Versatile


  • Works best on darker woods
  • Multiple coats must be used for a stronger effect
  • Limited color range
  • Long drying time (4-6 hours)


Best Value: GENERAL FINISHES WIPT Water Based Wood Stain, Whitewash

In contrast to the other wood stain products we have had a look at thus far, this product stands out in the way that it is actually quite flexible. When we say flexible, we don’t just mean versatile, we mean that you could bend the color and intensity of this wood stain to your will if you so wish. You see, unlike most wood stains on the market today, this product from General Finishes is water-based which on the one hand means it’s not quite as robust as let’s say, oil or alkene-based wood stains, but on the other hand it means you could modify both the color and intensity of this wood stain with the right pigment additives.

  • Water-based stain formulated to be similar to oil-based stains
  • Low odor, low VOC, easy water clean-up and non-combustible
  • Create custom colors by intermixing our other wood stains or paints
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General finishes really have thought of everything when they created this wood stain, not only is it low cost, but it can be applied with a cloth, brush, or sprayer depending on your preference, and because it is virtually odorless it can be used indoors without having to crack every window in the house and leaving your furniture in a vacant room to dry up. This is probably for the best as water-based stains don’t do too well in outdoor environments, so if you were thinking about using this on your patio furniture, you’re out of luck.

However, as a consolation prize, you do have one of the safest woods stains on the market considering that due to its water base, it is not combustible. So, if you were hesitant to put your furnishings close to your fireplace, you can rest assured that you won’t end up with kindling the next time the odd spark flies around your living room.


  • Reasonably priced
  • Easy to use
  • Quick-drying
  • Can be used with multiple application methods
  • Virtually odorless
  • Colour can be manipulated


  • Water-based
  • Cannot be used outdoors
  • Color intensity can vary by color selected
  • Does not penetrate as deep as other stains



How to Stain Wood White

Now that you know what to look for in a wood stain it’s a good idea to know how to stain wood white. Whitewashing your wood is a great way to protect your wood and spice up your living space without having to apply paint, it also lasts far longer than most surface coatings and grants protection to your wood against things like mold, rot, fungus, termites, and moisture. Let’s have a look at some of the things you will need and how to apply white stains on wood. You will need:

  • Wood stain
  • Sanding paper and/or a power sander
  • A brush/cloth/roller (depending on your preference)
  • Gloves
  • A fabric face mask with a filter
  • A tarp

Prepare Your Workspace

Although staining is essentially a simple process compared to painting, you should prepare everything you need beforehand to avoid any potential accidents or mistakes. Arrange your workspace in a manner that everything is easy to find, once you have done this ensure that you have laid down a tarp to protect your flooring from any stray bits of stain that might end up there.

Once you have laid down your tarp ensure that your workpiece is accessible at all angles and that your range of motion is not restricted by the space. Once you have your workspace and your tools arranged pop on your gloves and your face mask before doing a final check and moving on to the next step in the process.

How to Stain Wood White


Remove Your Existing Finish

You might be inclined to skip this step if you are working with a fresh board, however, this step still might still apply in regard to sanding down your workpiece. If you are working with an older board that already has paint or stain on the surface, you should consider removing these coatings before applying your wood stain.

If you already have paint on the board you will need to apply a paint stripper and use sanding paper to expose the raw wood core underneath.

If you simply have an existing wood stain on your board, use sanding paper or your power sanding to remove the existing stain and allow the wood to breathe for a bit before moving on to the next step in the process.


Apply Your Wood Stain

Generally speaking, there are people who prefer wood stain and those who don’t, but we’d like to think there’s a wood stain out there that even the most devoted purest can appreciate. This being said, there is a lot of debate around which is the best way to go about applying wood stain, so for the sake of simplicity let’s have a look at two of the most common ways you could go about this. Most people agree that using a roller can be tricky because the nap absorbs quite a bit of the stain and therefore not much stain seeps into the wood.

Whitewash Wood Stain

Most people prefer using a brush or a cloth to apply their wood stain, and both have their own advantages and disadvantages depending on your reference and the base of the wood stain you will be using. Using a brush is more efficient, particularly if you are using one with the correct width and following the length of the board.

Using this technique will require starting off with a light amount of wood stain and adding more coats as you see fit, and although this might take longer it actually requires considerably less effort than using a cloth.

Using a cloth essentially entails rubbing your wood stain in, and although this does allow you to work fairly quickly you might end up expending more effort than if you were to use a brush. This technique does allow you to control the intensity of the stain in certain areas though, so you could use a combination of both techniques if you so wish.


Allow Your Stain to Absorb and Dry

Once you have applied your first coat you should be able to see within the first hour or so whether the intensity of the stain is to your liking. If not, allow the stain to dry for the manufacturer’s recommended time period before applying your next coat. Ensure that the surface is clear of wood particles or dust that might have accumulated during the drying process before applying the next coat.

Remember that once you have allowed the stain to dry for the manufacturer’s recommended time period, it is extremely important that you assess the quality of the wood stain.

White Stain for Wood

White stains on wood that are water-based will be almost opaque in appearance and resemble what water-color paint looks like on paper, and you will likely have to apply more than one coat. Oil-based white stain on wood will be much more pronounced and will require fewer coats to get the same aesthetic effect, and you will also be able to use furnishings treated with this type of stain outdoors, so keep this in mind when selecting your wood stain.


Now that you know what the best white wood stain looks like, how to apply white wood stain, which white wood stains you should consider for your next projects, and how wood stain differs from paint, it’s time for you to go out and put your newfound knowledge to the test! Remember to choose an application method that works best for you, always wear your gloves and your mask, and have fun!



Frequently Asked Questions


How Does White Stain Work?

Whitewood stain is different from paint but fulfills the same basic function. Where white paint is what is known as a surface coating that sits on top of the board’s surface area, a white wood stain is a treatment that seeps into the wood’s fibers. The stain contains pigments which is what gives it its color without obscuring the wood’s natural grain.


Can You Use White Stain on Pine?

A white wood stain can be used on pine. In fact, white wood stain products work particularly well on pine and can be applied using a rag, brush, or roller depending on your preference. Many prefer staining pine to preserve the presence of the wood’s intricate grain on the surface while adding their desired color.


Can You Put Wood Stain Over White Paint?

While you can put white wood stain over white paint you won’t achieve the intended effect of either substance, which will leave you with a fairly unique aesthetic. Craftsmen old and new typically agree that if you are going to stain a given board, you should remove the paint of the existing stain to get the full effect of the treatment.