How to Paint Pickled Cabinets

Pickling, sometimes called "liming," is the process of bleaching and rubbing a topcoat of white pickling stain on and off wood cabinets. A pickled faux finish brightens the wood and gives the cabinets an aged, worn look. The process of pickling cabinets works best with natural, unfinished wood, but you can apply it to dark pre-finished cabinets to lighten the color. Purchase pre-made pickling stain or use oil or latex paint diluted 25 percent with water.

Remove cabinet hardware before pickling the cabinets.
  1. Remove all hardware from the cabinets, such as knobs and screws. Place the hardware in resealable plastic bags. Label the bags for easy replacement later.
  2. Gently wash down new cabinets with a wet sponge and allow to dry. Sand the surface with the sandpaper to smooth out the raised grain. If the cabinets are pre-finished, prepare a solution of trisodium phosphate (TSP) according to manufacturer directions. Scrub the cabinets well and rinse thoroughly. Allow them to dry.
  3. Apply the pickling stain to one or two cabinets at a time to prevent premature drying of the stain. Brush in wide sweeps. Allow the stain to sit on the wood for 10 minutes and wipe dry with a cheesecloth or lint-free rag. Allow to dry while you continue to the next batch of cabinets. Continue this technique until you have covered all cabinets with the first coat.
  4. Apply a second coat of stain. Apply the stain to one or two cabinets at a time. Allow the stain to sit in the wood for 10 minutes and wipe dry with a cheesecloth or lint-free rag. Continue this technique until you have covered all cabinets with the second coat. Dark wood or pre-finished cabinets may require an additional coat.
  5. Apply a thin coat of satin topcoat polyurethane sealer to all cabinet surfaces to protect the pickled finish. Allow to dry. Apply an additional coat according to manufacturer directions.

Things You Will Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Resealable plastic bags
  • Marker
  • Wet sponge
  • Clean, dry, lint-free rags
  • 120-grit sandpaper
  • Trisodium phosphate solution
  • Bucket
  • Washcloths
  • Pickling stain
  • Latex or oil paint diluted with water
  • Paintbrushes
  • Cheesecloth or clean, dry rags
  • Satin topcoat polyurethane sealer


  • You may wish to remove the cabinet doors and pickle them in a separate work area. This will allow them to dry without being disturbed or interfering with activities in the kitchen.
  • Try pickling a small, inconspicuous area of the cabinets before delving into the project. Test the pickling effect to develop the color and opacity you want to achieve.


  • Choose a non-yellowing oil paint or your pickled whitewashed finish with yellow with time.
  • If you use latex paint, work quickly or work in very small sections. Latex paint dries quickly.

About the Author

Rebecca Mecomber, a former radio broadcaster, has been a professional blogger and writer since 2006. Her articles and interviews have appeared in "The Wall Street Journal," Salon.com and several other publications, covering topics such as Federal Trade Commission policy and media regulations, blogging, home improvement and New York travel.

Photo Credits

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