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The bleach wood look has been popping up on my Pinterest for a while now and I was itching to try it out. So when I found this $60 solid wood table on FB marketplace just a block away from my house, I jumped on it. I figured it would be the perfect fit as a play table in Emma’s room and also a great piece to try out the bleach method without the pressure of making it perfect. I actually love the “perfectly imperfect” look, but had no idea how it would turn out on my first try. When we moved, I swore off DIY and gave most of my tools to my parents, but my crafty side got the best of me with this and I had to ask for my sander back!
- Disposable brushes
- Plastic scraper
- Plastic drop cloth
- 00 Steel Wool
- Wire bristle brush
- Odorless Mineral Spirits
- Assorted grit sandpaper
- Hand Sander
- Sanding block
- Unscented Bleach
- Tack cloths
- Optional: Polycrylic
First,I wiped down the piece with water and a sponge to get all the cobwebs and any weird dirt or residue off. Then I set it on a plastic drop cloth so that I didn’t have to worry about getting the stripper on the garage floor.
Next, I applied a thick layer of Citristrip to the entire visible table surface. I didn’t bother with the underside since you wouldn’t be able to see it in the end. There are stronger stripping chemicals out there, but Citristrip is supposed to be the least offensive from a toxic fumes standpoint, so I went with that and made sure to use it in the garage. I allowed the Citristrip to sit overnight which in retrospect may not have been the best idea. The container said you can leave it on for 24 hours, but I found that it got pretty dried out and goopy, making it really hard to scrape off. So when I do my next piece, I will leave for shorter time periods and apply more than once if needed.
I also wrapped the table in plastic wrap since I had read before trying this, that it would help lift the stain better. However, I don’t think it was worth the extra effort or yield much or any benefit. But it was worth a try!
Scrape off stripper and watch the old stain come up! I used a plastic scraper so I didn’t do too much damage to the wood, but since I knew I would be sanding it and using it in Emma’s room, I was not all that careful. I also used the metal bristle brush to work into any cracks that I wanted to lighten. I only did that for a couple spots on the top surface since I wanted to keep the stain in the crevices on the legs and sides.
Since I left the stripper on overnight, it got SUPER goopy and really hard to get off, especially on the legs. They are very curvy so I ended up having to use the steel wool dipped in mineral spirits to get the stripper off.
Once I had most of the stripper off, I went over the entire table with the steel wool and mineral spirits to clean off as much residue as possible.
I spread this project out over 2 weekends, so the table had time to fully dry out after the stripping step before sanding. The stripper managed to get the laquer off and some of the reddish stain, but there was still a fair amount of color left on the table. So, first, I used an electric hand sander with 60 grit sandpaper to get the bulk of the remaining stain off. It came off pretty quick! The hardest part was the curved legs since I had to do some hand sanding on them. Once I felt like I had enough of the stain removed, I went over it with 120 grit sandpaper just to smooth it out a bit. I knew I would be bleaching it and was going for the raw antique wood look, so I didn’t worry about getting every last bit of stain off or having the sanding be perfect. Part of the charm is the rustic vibe it has - of that is what I told myself!
Here is the fun part!! After sanding, I used a tack cloth to get as much of the dust off as possible. I set the table out in direct sunlight and it was a pretty hot day. Using a white rag (and wearing gloves!) I generously applied unscented bleach directly onto the wood. The table sucked up the bleach so fast!! I coated the entire table with bleach, let it dry, then applied more, let it dry, and so on, till I had done that about 9 times. The bleach dried within just a couple minutes at first, so the whole process did not take long. I then left the table out in the sun for the rest of the day to let the bleach do it’s work and dry into the wood.
The next day, I checked and was super happy with the light tone of the wood so decided it was good to go. To get the bleach residue off, I hosed it down really really well with just plain water till I felt like all the bleach was gone. Then I dried the table off with a towel so that it didn’t get any water damage.
The bleach opened up the wood grain a bit, so I went over the whole table very lightly, by hand, with 220 grit sandpaper. I had planned to seal it with matte polycrylic, but I found I really loved how the wood felt completely raw and unsealed. So I just left it like that!! Most people would say that is a no-no, but since this was just going to be a play table, I thought it would be ok to break the rules on this one. BUT, if it were going to be in my living room I would have applied a layer or two of the polycrylic to protect it from stains or liquids. The polycrylic I found has a matte finish and will dry clear, so it will not add any of the yellowing that we worked so hard to get rid of.
And that is it!! The whole process was a learning experience, but really easy too. I am glad that I was able to do this on a play table for the first time because it took a lot of pressure off me to try to make it perfect and I really like how imperfect it is!! Adds so much charm and is such an inviting piece. Emma is drawn to it and it is already being used and loved.