So I am sure you have seen the DIY vinegar stain ALL over Pinterest for a while now. I have looked for tutorials. And looked for other tutorials. And found a wide variety of directions. And I have done it a few times myself. So I thought I would share this easy, affordable process and my experience with it.
Wood to be stained
2-4 Tea Bags (optional= for darker color)
Vinegar (any kind)
Steel Wool (finer is better, they say)
Gloves (or your hands will be stained for a week)
Two Mason Jars + a Lid
Coffee Filter or Paper Towels
Fine Sand Paper (optional)
Clear Wax or Polyurethane (optional= for shine)
1. The vinegar and steel wool need some time to become friends. For a big batch, I put 3-4 “pillows” of steel wool into a large mason jar and fill it to the top of the steel wool with regular white vinegar. Basically you need enough vinegar to coat whatever you want to stain (and it takes time so you want to be sure you have enough the first time around), you want to stuff that amount of vinegar pretty well with the steel wool. The recipe does not have to be exact. I use a mason jar, put plastic wrap lightly over the top and barely screw a lid ring on lightly over that so it can breathe. It stinks so I put it outside for 24 (medium color) to 48 hours (very dark color). There is going to be a chemical reaction inside the jar which creates pressure, and on my first attempt, it actually popped the lid off my Tupperware container and splattered dark stain all over my kitchen (washes off with scrubby sponge). Once it gets going, you will see bubbles and hear fizzing much like carbonation bubbles. The vinegar does not really change color like you might expect, so don’t be waiting for it to get dark in the jar.
2. Optional, if you want darker color: This step can be completed ahead of time or just before staining. Steep some tea bags and let the tea cool. I steeped 3 tea bags in 2 cups water. Adjust this for how much water you need to coat your project. Toss the tea bags and simply brush the tea all over the wood you are going to stain. Let dry. This will not change the color of the wood, but later will aid the chemical reaction with the vinegar and the wood, creating a darker color during that process.
3. Pour the vinegar mixture through the coffee filter or paper towels to strain out any debris in the liquid. Brush the stain onto your wood. This is the fun part. You don’t usually see an immediate color change, but it will start to gradually change and keep changing for a few hours. Here is a shot of the change a few minutes in:
and here is a shot showing freshly applied stain at the top of the stack and about 30 minute-old stain at the bottom:
Don’t mind my messy kitchen! If you look closely at the crate stack you can see that the top, fresh, stain is more grayish, while the middle is a little reddish and the older stain at the bottom is almost purplish. This change happens as it dries. After it is several hours dry, it returns to a regular brown. If there is any reddish or purplish color left after it dries you can very lightly sand it to remove some of that residue.
One tip: since there isn’t an instant color change, be slow and careful to make sure you get every bit of the wood covered. Otherwise, after you are into the project or even finished, places that you missed will show up. This stain is more forgiving than regular stain because it is just vinegar and dries slower, allowing a more even finish. But if you allow it to dry all the way and then try touchups, they will show. Try to get it all the first time. The beauty of this process is that once the vinegar is dry, it can be handled again and is not tacky like real stain.
4. So here is what you have now, compared to raw wood:
You can either be done now (for an outdoor project I would leave it at this), or add a coat of wax or polyurethane for shine and protection.
I have not tried Polyurethane, but I know that other Pinners have.
You can also see how dark and true brown it dried. All my projects have been pine, ranging from common board, stain-grade plywood and cheap craft store crates, and they all are a very slightly different hue. I did the tea wash on the adaptable frames (above) which is why they are darker, and skipped that step on the crates so they are lighter. On the crates I sanded them lightly, especially hitting the corners and edges, and it really gave them a worn and cozy look. I have not tried this, but here is a pin I found on achieving different colors with the stain.
One last tip: I have seen pinners use the mixture after two weeks (very dark), but you probably can’t keep this for projects too far in the future...
Oh, also there were warnings about how serious this chemical reaction was and how you should wear gloves, eye protection and a mask and leave the mixture outside. So I’ll go ahead and pass those along so I don’t get sued. I did not wear a mask but I did work in a well ventilated area, and after the first kitchen mishap, I did let the mixture steep outside the other times. Tiny amounts of the steel wool dissolve in the vinegar (so I’ve read) and so I could imagine it would not feel good to get vinegar and steel dust in your eyes. I will wear eye protection next time.
Cost for my initial supplies was about $10 and it made me about 4 good sized batches of stain.
So there you have it. What do you think? Is this process more or less daunting than store bought stain?