How To Stain Wood With Tea, Vinegar, and Steel Wool {Now The ONLY Way I Stain!}

Staining wood with tea, vinegar, and steel wood really couldn’t be much easier. You’ll see in the tutorial below that the steps are very simple…but just like many things in life…the secret to getting it just right is in the details!

The how-to be low is short and sweet.

But pay close attention to the tips tucked into the material section and the “IMPORTANT NOTES” afterwards…you’ll love the result even more if you take the time to get it perfect! 

Also, many of you asked for a tutorial on how I actually constructed my frames…that’s coming next week! Stay tuned!


  • RAW wood (This is important! Any finish on your wood is going to effect how the ingredients react. If you’re using wood that already has a finish, wood that is old and you don’t know if it’s been finished/sealed/waxed etc., or if you have wood that you’ve sanded down to remove any of those things, YOU MUST FIND A PLACE TO DO A TEST PATCH! The bottom of the table top, inside a drawer, somewhere! I personally have only ever used this method on raw wood and people ask me can it be done on wood that’s been finished. There are so many possible finishes it is impossible to give a definite answer. You MUST test it first to see!)

  • Vinegar / Steel Wool Combo (This is pretty easy. Fill an old mason jar with vinegar. Dump in a clump of steel wool you get at your local hardware store. Let it sit FOR A LONG TIME! I let mine sit for about a week. Actually, to be totally honest, I keep a batch of this stuff brewing in my garage year round so I’m ready to stain whenever the feeling hits me, but I know not everyone stains wood on a whim. You’ll see that after about a week the steel wool has almost completely dissolved and your potion looks like rusty water…that’s just right! If your steel wool floats at the top and doesn’t sink to the bottom after a few days, just get it a quick shake…most times the steel wool breaks up almost immediately. Let it sit for a few days more though before you use it!)
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  • STRONG tea (The stronger the better! And any tea will work…as long as it’s strong! An important note here is that while you can let your steel wool and vinegar mix sit for ages in your garage, the same is NOT TRUE for your tea. After awhile your tea loses it’s “umph” and won’t react. Make a fresh batch for each project!)
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  • Paint brush (Don’t waste money on a fancy expensive brush! I do like a wide brush when I’m staining like this, but it doesn’t have to cost a lot!)


  • Paint your wood with your tea and let it completely dry.
  • Paint your wood with the vinegar / steel wool mix and watch the magic happen.
  • Repeat these two steps one more time if you want a darker stain.

See what I mean? The actual technique couldn’t be easier, right?

*So here’s the quick science lesson here which may help you understand how this works, and why the set up and steps are important. At least, this is what I *think* happens here…remember I was a math major, science isn’t really my thing!*

The tannins in the tea react with the steel wool and vinegar mix. That’s why the stronger the tea (the more tannins!) and better the reaction you will get. Make sense? The first coat, the tea, will really not do much. After it dries, you may not even be able to see a difference in the color of your wood! But the magic happens when you then apply the steel wool / vinegar mix…You will instantly see the color change!

IMPORTANT NOTE #1: Yes, you will see an instant change in color when you apply the steel wool / vinegar combo, but that’s not where the change stops. Your wood could continue to darken for an hour or two! DO NOT jump to repeating the steps until you’ve let your piece completely dry. You may find that after a few hours, you really don’t need/want that extra coat and once you put it on there, there’s no going back!

IMPORTANT NOTE #2: You don’t have to do both steps again. Maybe you put the tea on again and it darkened just enough? Don’t feel like you have to finish with a coat of the steel wool and vinegar.

IMPORTANT NOTE #3: Be careful at your corners! Really be careful anywhere the mixtures could pool or where you may accidentally get a little more, like at the edges of your pieces. Those places are really getting an extra coat, so they may be end up being darker! Don’t overload your brush and you’ll minimize the possibility of this happening!

IMPORTANT NOTE #4: If you’re like me, you’ll probably want to finish this with a coat of wax. I just use clear. Let the stain itself do the work for you. Let the wax just give it that nice polished look!

So now my little secret is out! Have fun staining away! And send me pics of your finished pieces…I’d love to see!

Nikki, In Stitches


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12 Responses to How To Stain Wood With Tea, Vinegar, and Steel Wool {Now The ONLY Way I Stain!}

  1. Thank you for this awesome idea and instructions – I tried it and it worked – only problem was I rested the wood on a round dish before it was dry and now have a slight lighter round stain ?, do you think I could just stain this area or am I doomed ?.
    Thank you

    • Nikki says:

      I think you could definitely sand it down some and try again! In fact, just by sanding it, you may work the stain edges out enough that no one will ever notice! You may not even need to stain again!
      Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

  2. Rich says:

    Question please:
    What kind of vinegar, cider, white, rice wine etc..?
    Thank you !


  3. michelle says:

    I just did this on a tabletop and love the completed look and color but need to finish so food/glasses/liquids can be set on it. But I don’t want a shiny finish. I just read I shouldn’t rub on polyurethane as that will make it darker and I want to keep the current look/color. I read hear and hear other places, that wax is best. Have you used any particular brand or have good experience with finishing that you can give me some feedback? Or anyone reading? Thanks! There aren’t that many wax options at my Home Depot either so not certain what to think!

    • Nikki says:

      Michelle, I really like Annie Sloan’s clear wax. That’s what I use on all my stained pieces. It may be a little more expensive than other brands, but one tub will last you forever!

  4. Christine Herbst says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I am definitely trying this technique! If it works for me, I will be doing this on approximately 300 ft. of baseboard trim. Approximately how much vinegar/steel wool mix and tea would I need? Also, is there a residual vinegar smell or does the wax mask this?

    • Christine Herbst says:

      One thing I want to point out is that because the chemical reaction between the steel wool, (iron, Fe), and vinegar, (acetic acid, HCH3COO), there is a product of hydrogen gas which builds up in the container. It is best to either put holes in the cap to let the hydrogen gas escape or let the lid just sit on top without tightening it.

      • Nikki says:

        Thanks for the heads up, Christine. I’ve never had a problem with that happening, but it’s always better to play it safe!

    • Nikki says:

      Christine, a little bit surpringly goes a very long way here! And nope…I’ve never noticed a smell!

  5. Christine Herbst says:

    I forgot to ask – what type of wood do you typically use? We are on a tight budget and plan to use pine. Will this work as well as more expensive wood such as oak, maple, or cherry?

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