Before you can proceed with any lightening process, other than regular opaque paint applications, you will have to strip the present finish from your wood cabinets. Use a commercial paint stripper, following manufacturer’s directions carefully.
After the finish has been stripped, you may want to lighten the wood before the “pickling” treatment. You can use a commercial two-part wood bleach, available in caustic industrial-strength formulas.
When working with a commercial bleach it is important to precisely follow directions. However, it is often easier to work with regular household bleach diluted by an equal part of water.
Scrub the wood with this solution and let it work about 15 minutes. Repeat until you get the pale shade you want. Then neutralize the bleaching action with an equal mixture of vinegar and water and a final rinse of clear water. In the bleaching process be careful not to saturate the wood with too much moisture for a long period of time. Moisture will tend to raise the wood grain. Wipe dry after each wet solution treatment. When the wood has thoroughly dried, sand it lightly.
Now you are ready for the “pickling” process, which is a way of tinting open-grain wood by brushing on a solution of thinned-down white or pastel paint and then wiping off most of it. Today you can use regular paints thinned downed or purchase thinned-down, commercial versions that can be applied full strength and then wiped down to the desired tinting effect.
If you use regular paint for the “pickling” process you may need to experiment with the paint-to-solvent ratio (start with a ratio of 3 to 1.)
Use water to thin latex paints, mineral spirits for oil-base. The degree of transparency in the “pickling” finish will be determined by thinning of the paint with the solvent and how much wiping you do to remove the tint from the surface and grain of the wood.
Use a soft, dry rag to wipe most of the paint solution away. Wipe across the grain so that the residue highlights the wood’s natural texture. Open-grained wood will absorb pigment faster. Experiment with different tints and applications in an inconspicuous area to find the shade and technique that suits you.
You can use the same process to finish an unfinished or stripped and sanded wood floor. For protection, apply a polyurethane varnish to both the cabinets and the floor. You may even want to reconsider wood flooring in the kitchen area. Although polyurethane varnish will protect the finish from water spotting and grease spots, it may tend to scratch and you will have to renew the polyurethane coating periodically.
Be wary of commercially prepared wood flooring products that claim durability in the kitchen. Most tend to water spot and become permanently stained when installed in a kitchen environment.