How to Clean and Refinish Barnwood in 3 Easy Steps

I am SO thrilled to share part 1 of my dining room farmhouse shelves with everyone today.  And by part 1, I mean how to clean and refinish barnwood in 3 easy steps (reclaimed wood, any old wood really) !!

How to clean and refinish barnwood in 3 easy steps. Great tutorial on how to get the farmhouse look by cleaning up some reclaimed wood or barnwood

One rainy, gloom and doom day in Pittsburgh (which is basically most days), I dragged took my family to an old warehouse that was right under our noses, which I had found on craigslist.

This place was the mecca of reclaimed wood.

I had scoured the internet for weeks looking for someplace that sold reclaimed wood.  Apparently, all I had to do was look locally!  It was meant to be 😉 (cue husband rolling his eyes)

They had tons and tons of old barnwood of all types.

I was drooling all over this place.  I mean there was SO MUCH reclaimed wood everywhere.  I wanted it all.  Thankfully the kids were there so I couldn’t admire, and then subsequently buy, every piece of wood there.

We walked away with two giant pieces of wood about 13 feet long each.  We paid $80 total, BUT, I’m getting two farmhouse shelves and 2 giant frames out of the wood.  So, that’s $20 for each project, which makes it more budget-friendly.  Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Here are a few pictures of the uncleaned, unfinished wood:

Get the farmhouse look: 3 Easy Steps to refinish barnwood.

Get the farmhouse look: 3 Easy Steps to refinish barnwood.

Get the farmhouse look: 3 Easy Steps to refinish barnwood.

It’s ok, I won’t judge you if you have all the heart eyes right now.

Now, these boards were DIRTY.  I kind of liked the dirt, though, in a weird way.  It makes you wonder where did it all come from?  These boards would have such a story to tell, you know, if they weren’t made of wood 😉

Step 1: Cut and Sand

First, cut your wood down to the length/width you need.  We cut both boards down to an equal width that fit our dining room shelf idea.  We had the perfect amount left over to make two frames, too (DIYs for those coming soon!)

Next, sand that edges of the wood.  You don’t want any splinters hanging out ready to jab you!  I used a power sander around all edges of the wood.  I then used a large brush to brush away any excess dirt in preparation to clean them.

How to clean and refinish barndwood in 3 easy steps. Get the farmhouse look with your own barnwood or reclaimed wood DIY project.

Step 2:  Clean

Now, you guys, I tried a few different ways to clean the boards.  But, the fastest and most effective way is to use a power washer.

I know it’s not something everyone just has lying around (unless you’re married to my husband and have my FIL, since, between the two of them, we could open our own Home Depot).

The wood isn’t going to be smooth.  There will probably be nail holes, cracks in the wood, and maybe even chunks missing out of it.  It’s just too hard to scrub clean every nook.

It took me maybe 10 minutes to power wash each board.

If you’re thinking “I don’t have a power washer and I’m not buying one” I totally understand.  But, good news!  I checked a few hardware stores and you can rent pressure washers!!  So, this is an added expense but well worth it, in my opinion.

I was even more in love with them once they were sparkly clean.  I was so worried that washing away the dirt would wash away the character, but it really helped the true beauty of the wood shine through.

How to clean and refinish barndwood in 3 easy steps. Get the farmhouse look with your own barnwood or reclaimed wood DIY project.

How to clean and refinish barndwood in 3 easy steps. Get the farmhouse look with your own barnwood or reclaimed wood DIY project.

How to clean and refinish barndwood in 3 easy steps. Get the farmhouse look with your own barnwood or reclaimed wood DIY project.

Step 3: Seal

The last step to clean and refinish your reclaimed wood is to properly seal the wood.

I used Minwax Polycrylic Water Based Protective Finish in Clear Satin.  You guys, this stuff is AMAZING.

Once the wood was dry from its cleaning, I used a regular paint brush and sparingly applied the Minwax finish.  Make sure not to use too much.

I only needed one coat of the finish to completely transform the wood into store-bought quality.  I’m telling you, I cannot believe how well it turned out.

How to clean and refinish barndwood in 3 easy steps. Get the farmhouse look with your own barnwood or reclaimed wood DIY project.

You can see below, the finish goes on white so you can see where you’ve applied it and then magically dries into the most beautiful finish ever.

How to clean and refinish barndwood in 3 easy steps. Get the farmhouse look with your own barnwood or reclaimed wood DIY project.

I don’t want to show you too much of the finished product.  You’ll see the result this weekend when I FINALLY reveal my farmhouse shelves that I’ve been swooning over.

Here’s a little sneak peek :

How to clean and refinish barndwood in 3 easy steps. Get the farmhouse look with your own barnwood or reclaimed wood DIY project.

I was so pleasantly surprised at how pain free it was to completely transform the barnwood.  All 3 steps were completed in one afternoon!

I hope this tutorial is helpful!  Please let me know if you have any questions 🙂

Check craigslist, ask a friend, get some reclaimed wood!  It’s not a scary project at all and the end result … beautiful doesn’t begin to describe it.

cannot wait to show everyone the farmhouse shelves!

Wishing you a joyful day!


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  1. Ha ha…you’ve searched all over and that place was only a few blocks away! Reminds me of a time last year when I was searching all over Craigslist for antiques for our home and came across a store just down the street from us. Who knew? I don’t think I have ever came across free barnwood in recent years. Thank you for sharing how easy it is to clean and polish!!

  2. I always thought that those ugly old molded planks are just junk but I can see such a difference it looks absolutely gorgeous, and with the new finish will last forever too.

  3. Ohmygoodness. I just refinished my deck (cleaning it with the pressure washer) but I don’t think I would have ever even thought about using the pressure washer to clean and prep barnwood. So smart. Pinning!

  4. I live in the area and was wondering: is the shop called Construction Junction? If not where is the place you got the barn wood at?

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Amanda! So happy to have a local reader 🙂 It was actually not Construction Junction, though, I am moderately obsessed with that place too. It’s on Butler Street in Lawrenceville across from Neid’s Famous Fish. They don’t have a website and the original Craigslist ad where I found them isn’t still posted. From what they told us, they are open on Saturdays from 11am-4pm. Hope this helps!

  5. Thanks for sharing!!! I am currently working on a couple of reclaimed wood projects. We got the wood out of my great grandfather’s house that is falling down and has about 50 years of dirt on it.
    I myself don’t own a pressure washer and for jobs like this I run down to my local car wash and pop in a few quarters and pressure wash away. I’ve cleaned several rusty, crusty, nasty barn finds that way. It may not be quit as “pressurey” as a pressure washer but it sure does the trick!
    Easy and cheap way to clean without a pressure washer!

      1. Thanks Kelly for that tip. Just finished cleaning my barn wood at the car wash. Now they are drying and will be finished off tomorrow.

        Anyone who reads this and lives in the Reno, NV area – great barn wood source – Red Barn Antiques in Minden!! Tons of barn wood!!

  6. Sarah, I think you’ve convinced me to try our power washer on a stash of barn wood I’ve been hoarding! Thanks for the inspiration – and the nudge!

  7. HI! I love this post. Do you think the shelves would work as well with reclaimed barnwood Black Walnut wood?

  8. I also don’t have a pressure washer, but would a steam cleaner work as well? If not I could try the car wash idea! I just bought an old piece of wood from a mine that was built in 1910. I’m hoping to turn mine into a shelf as well!

    1. Hi Emily! I don’t think a steam cleaner would work unfortunately. It’s the pressure that really gets into all the little nooks of the wood. I’m SO jealous of your old wood finding! What a perfect shelf! You can rent a pressure washer from most home improvement stores. And girl, pressure washing is seriously so fun haha. We have siding on our house and I love to pressure wash it. Also good for a deck or patio! So you can make good use of renting one!

  9. I found a table, large and heavy that someone was throwing out, it is completely weathered and grey. Just out of curiosity I took a hand planer to it in just one spot, the results were amazing! It’s a beautiful red wood. What kind I’m still not sure of but it is bright red! I have searched the internet looking for a way to get it back to its natural beauty without me having to hand plane the entire piece. Grueling and tedious work by hand. This is the only article I found that returns wood to its natural beauty! Everyone else is trying to do the weathered look! Thank you so much!

  10. Hi, Enjoyed your tutorial. I’m wondering when you power washed the wood did you use any kind of soap in the cleaning process? Thanks,

  11. When pressure washing barn wood, use the medium setting, not the highest pressure. This medium setting will help keep you from damaging softer species of these old treasures. I had to learn the hard way in the past, but this is how I always clean my boards also. Great website you have here.

  12. I have a beatiful piece of barn board that my SIL gave to me in hopes that I would turn it into a beautiful hanging piece for her cottage (with her favourite saying painted on it). Thanks for the tips on cleaning the board. I have a question about cleaning a paritially painted board. While the board has definite signs of aging and is flakey, the bottom portion has weathered red paint- its beautiful and I’d love to keep as much of the paint as possible. Any tips on cleaning to preserve the paint (thinking a stiff brush?). Once cleaned, if using the minwax as you suggested, are you able to paint/scribe or stencil over the minwax?
    Thanks for the helpful tips.

  13. Don’t have a pressure washer and don’t want to rent one? Go to the coin op car wash. They have pressure washers that will cost a few bucks for 5 minutes vs the cost of renting.

  14. What PSI is your pressure washer? Does it matter? Thinking of investing in one but I don’t want to get one that’s too strong and/or too weak if that matters. Thank you!

  15. That looks great! Gotta a question…doing a fireplace mantle in a big piece of reclaimed barn wood. I’m going to sand it slightly because of the splinters, also don’t want to lose the look. Does the poly and/or the amount of finish you did allow for easy cleaning such as dusting?

  16. These steps are so simple! As soon as you said to use a pressure washer I thought, ok we have one but maybe I’ll go to the car wash instead of hauling it out. We have a HUGE old barn. Built in early 1900’s & as far as I’m concerned, the whole thing can be torn down. People ask if they can take pictures of it. So I managed to get a window frame out, clean it up, put a bare black tree vinyl decal behind it & a vertical flower pot with fake lavender or something under it for my wall.

  17. Hi there, do you have any concerns about any woodworm type beasties that might still be in the wood, unseen?

  18. Hi was wondering if you did anything special with the fresh cut ends? I have a piece of gray barnwood and my ends have the fresh cut look now that we cut the board down

  19. Wonderful blog! I have learned so much! I have a ton of projects because we are remodeling a very old home…it also has a barn! I don’t know about you but I see old wood and my head is swimming in ideas. I also wonder about the back story of the wood…is that weird? Thanks so very much, I thoroughly enjoyed this blog!

  20. Great tips for cleaning… But are there any concerns about insects nested deep inside old barnwood? We are making indoor shutters from 100+ year old barnwood.

  21. Thanks Sarah
    We just bought an old farm and one of the buildings is full of old barmwood. Now my summer will be spent cleaning and preparing the wood for some projects. 🙂

  22. Looks great! How did you hang the wood shelves? We are doing a similar project and are struggling with floating shelf brackets. Thanks!

  23. What grit of sandpaper did you use? My wood is quite rough and am concerned about dusting it and leaving pieces of dust cloth behind. Not sure how far down it can be sanded without the wood losing its character. I don’t want to mess this up! 🫨

    1. I’d recommend a medium grit sandpaper and just go slow to make sure you don’t oversand! 🙂