I scored this beautiful vintage coffee table with lovely brass wheels at a local estate sale… for $25!!!
I knew from the moment we laid eyes on her that I wanted to try to bleach the wood. I’ve seen some beautiful projects from Natalie (vintage porch) & Erin (cotton stem), and just couldn’t wait to try it myself.
I had done my research and thought I had a good idea of what to do, but I was wrong. I tried taking what I thought was the simpler route and used my orbital sander to take the shine off. But when I tried to bleach it, the color didn’t change.
I went back to the sander & sandpaper.
Let me tell you, after about an hour and a half of straight sanding, I was over it. And I still wasn’t finished. So I called it a day to give my arms and hands a rest, hoping to pick up the next day.
Well, I woke up more sore than I was the day before, so I called in sanding backup: my hero hubby!
He did a fabulous job, but still couldn’t get into some of the crevices of the wood. I decided to go ahead and try the bleach to see what would happen. It bleached really well on the raw wood spots, but as suspected, the crevices and places with stain still did not change. Turns out you have to take it all the way down to the raw wood in order for the bleach to work.
After some serious trial and error, here’s what I discovered you need to do if you want to bleach wood furniture. Learn from my mistakes and do these things!
- Orbital Sander (my favorite!)
- Sanding Block
- Sandpaper sheets
- Leaf Blower- I’m serious 😉
- Lint-free cloths (dry & wet)
- Bleach (household Clorox bleach is what I used)
- Spray Bottle
- Safety Goggles
- Rubber Gloves
- Stripper (I used CitrusStrip)
- Mineral Spirits & steel wool
1. Sand as much surface as you can with the orbital sander & sanding blocks/sand paper.
Protect your face with safety goggles & a dust mask.
Use a rough-ish grit for this step. We used anywhere from 100-120 grit. Be sure to sand with the grain, so that you do not get noticeable sanding marks in your wood. The top of our table had a variety of grain patterns, so I made sure to always sand with the grain, even though it wasn’t particularly easiest.
Once the furniture is sanded completely, use the leaf blower to blow off the sawdust & wipe it down with a dry lint-free cloth, followed by a wet lint-free cloth.
—Here comes the part I can let you know up front, but that I learned the hard way.—
2. Use CitrusStrip on crevices & places you cannot reach by sanding.
You will thank me later. The goal is to get your piece of furniture completely down to raw wood if possible. Do not apply bleach before you get all the stain off of your piece of furniture. It just will not work.
Be sure to wear all the protective gear for this step: safety goggles, mask, rubber gloves. You should probably even wear close-toed shoes. (If you watched my instagram stories, you know I did not)
Follow the directions on the can/bottle of your stripping agent.
After the CitrusStrip sits on the wood for about 30-45 minutes (or the recommended time according to the product you use), use a wire brush to scrape the stain out of the crevices. I used a few lint-free cloths during this step. I would occasionally wipe the wire brush out on the cloth, and once I scraped most of the varnish out of the crevices, I wiped the surface down with a dry cloth as well.
Use mineral spirits + steel wool to remove any remaining gunk or goopies (technical term) before moving on to the next step.
3. Give the surface a light sanding and prep for bleaching!
For this step, I quickly ran 120 grit sandpaper over the entire surface of the table. I used the leaf blower & lint-free cloths to remove the dust and let it dry completely before spraying with bleach.
4. Bleach Time!
Ordinary household Clorox bleach works just fine for this step. Put on all the protective gear again, and pour some bleach in a spray bottle and douse your piece of furniture in it.
Be sure to not let the bleach pool on the top. It will create an uneven look that you will have to sand out and reapply. You can lay the piece of furniture on its side to prevent this, or use your gloved hand to glide the excess onto the ground.
Leave your furniture in full sun, to help the bleach work its magic. You will have to do some sun chasing and rotate your furniture for even bleaching. I would set a timer and rotate every 15-30 minutes.
In order to get the color you desire, you may have to reapply the bleach and follow the above instructions two or more times.
VERY IMPORTANT! Once you have achieved the desired level of lightness, wipe the furniture down completely with a wet lint-free cloth to neutralize the bleaching process. *Keep in mind, polycrylic will darken the wood a bit.
5. Apply topcoat for protection.
I used Polycrylic in a matte finish. Same rule applies here as far as applying with the wood grain. Be sure to lightly sand with 220 grit sandpaper between coats.
Because ours is a coffee table, I opted for 2 coats on the sides and legs, and 3 coats on the top for extra durability.
Admire Your Hard Work!
This was no easy feat, but I’m confident if I had another piece of wood furniture to bleach, it would be much easier following the steps above. If you choose to do a bleached wood project of your own, please let me know how it goes! And as always, post any questions in the comments!