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Homemade Natural Wood Stain

Make a simple natural wood stain with steel wool, vinegar, coffee or tea.

I love using homemade natural wood stain. It is a beautiful option for a rustic or weathered wood stain. And even better, this stain is cheap! 

Its so easy to make a DIY wood stain out of steel wool and white vinegar. But I also love adding a layer of coffee or black tea to give it even more depth. 

I have used this inexpensive homemade wood stain for many projects. All of the wood in my office & craft room was stained with this natural wood stain. Which was great since we remodeled the entire room for only $100.

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Desk built in a closet and then stained with a DIY wood stain.

The top of this farmhouse coffee table was also stained with the natural wood stain, but with a few differences. I love the difference in the color.

Part of the color difference was due to the wood species, the other part was due to the wood stain recipe.

Farmhouse coffee table with iron accents and a weathered gray natural stain on the top.

Since I have used this stain so much, with varying results, I thought it would be fun to document the way the differences in the recipe looked. That would make it easier to repeat my favorite combination on future projects.

So I put together video on the differences in the DIY natural wood stain. It’s fun to see how the wood reacts to the variations of steel wool, vinegar, coffee and tea to create a variety of beautiful stains.

Natural Wood Stain Recipe

Supplies:

This recipe does not have exact measurements. The fun part of natural stain is that it can be adjusted and tweaked to get difference colors from the same (or similar) supplies. 

Start by soaking the steel wool in the vinegar in a glass jar.

  • Let is soak for a couple days for a weathered grey wood stain. To keep the stain light, remove the steel wool from the vinegar.
  • Let is soak until the vinegar becomes orange with rust for a deeper, browner stain color. 

You can paint just the steel wool and vinegar on the wood, but I have found better results by including a second element: brewed coffee or tea.

The coffee or tea will give the wood slightly different coloring. I found the coffee had a greener undertone to the brown and the tea was a warmer gray color. 

A strong brew will give you the most color. Make sure to let it cool before using. 

Make sure to test your natural wood stain on a scrap of the type of wood you are using to see how it reacts before using it. Here is a picture of teh finished experiment between my two vinegar mixtures and coffee and tea.

Two pieces of wood stained with different homemade natural wood recipes to show the difference in color.

How to Apply Your Natural Wood Stain

Make sure to use gloves. You may think this natural stain will not stain your fingers, but it is just as bad or worse than other stains!

You can apply the stain with a rag or a foam brush. If you are working on a large area, do not let the wood dry between strokes or you will get streaks. So make sure to pick a method that is right for your size of project.

Start by applying a coat of the brewed coffee or tea (make sure to cool it first). Give the wood a through coat, but do not soak it.

Use a natural wood stain to add color to wood on a budget.

Do not let the wood dry. Immediately, follow the layer of coffee or tea with a layer of your vinegar mixture. Make sure the vinegar mixture does not dry between strokes or you will get streaks. 

The color will start to appear immediately on the wood, but will darken as it fully dries. Give it 2-3 hours before you will see the finished color. 

The top of a farmhouse console table stained with DIY natural wood stain.

Finish off your project with a finish of your choice. The DIY wood stain is water-based so it doesn’t offer any protection to the wood surface.

I have used both wax and polyurethane finishes on my projects stained with natural wood and both have worked great. Pick a finish that will hold up to the use your project will get. 

Two pieces of wood stained with different homemade natural wood recipes to show the difference in color.

Homemade Natural Wood Stain

Yield: Small Jar Of Wood Stain
Active Time: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 3 days
Total Time: 3 days 10 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: $5
Make a simple natural wood stain with steel wool, vinegar, coffee or tea.

Materials

  • White vinegar
  • Brewed coffee or tea
  • Glass jar
  • Steel Wool

Tools

  • No tools needed!

Instructions

    1. Start by soaking the steel wool in the vinegar in a glass jar.
    2. Let is soak for a couple days for a weathered grey wood stain. To keep the stain light, remove the steel wool from the vinegar.  
    3. Let is soak until the vinegar becomes orange with rust for a deeper, browner stain color. 
    4. You can paint just the steel wool and vinegar on the wood, but I have found better results by including a second element: brewed coffee or tea.
    5. The coffee or tea will give the wood slightly different coloring. 
    6. Make sure to test your natural wood stain on a scrap of the type of wood you are using to see how it reacts before using it.

Did you make this project?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

Have you tried any natural wood stains? Share your favorite recipe in the comments.

-Kati with picture of blog author Kati

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Katherine Webb

Friday 11th of February 2022

Thanks so much for this tutorial! I’m over in the south of England, about to start sanding back some vintage kitchen chairs, and the tea with the lighter vinegar is exactly the look I’m after :-) xx

Sue

Tuesday 18th of January 2022

Hi Kati. I stripped a pine coffee table and applied a pre stain thinking I was going to stain. Then found your project. I love the finished look. My question is do I need to remove the pre stain before trying this method?

Kati

Tuesday 18th of January 2022

Hi Sue, I do not know if the pre-stain will be an issue for your. My suggestion is to test it on the underside in a spot that will not be visible to see how it turns out.

Treena

Tuesday 2nd of March 2021

Hi Kati, Thank you so much for sharing this! We have a baby on the way and I'd like to refurbish some old furniture as well as build a few pieces for the nursery. Your coffee table is the perfect colour! Which did you use, coffee or tea to stain?

Treena

Wednesday 17th of March 2021

@Kati, it did! Thank you!

Kati

Wednesday 17th of March 2021

Congratulations on your baby! For the coffee table I used the tea stain and the vinegar after only a couple days of soaking the steel wool to get the lighter stain. Also, I used a wax as a sealer instead of a polyurethane finish that tends to darken the wood as it soaks into it. Hope this helps!

Leanne

Friday 22nd of January 2021

Hi Just found your blog, can I ask and I apologise in advance if already asked but does staining with tea, coffee and vinegar have a smell afterwards at all, and does it linger? I would be selling my wood makes and wondered how I can be more eco friendly. Thanks Leanne

Kati

Thursday 11th of February 2021

Any smell is gone once the stain is fully dry (after about 24 hours).

Gray Fox

Friday 2nd of October 2020

Hello Kati,

Woodworking noob here. Your coffee table in this post (with the blue and beige book on top of it) looks amazing! I'm planning on building a dining room table and would really appreciate it if you could please let me know what species of wood you used on it as well as the finish? It's exactly the color scheme I had in mind. Thank you!

-GF

Kati

Tuesday 27th of October 2020

For the coffee table I used white wood for the top. It is a soft wood, but very inexpensive. Just know that the soft wood will get dents and dings easily. The finish I used is the natural stain in the post with a wax sealer.

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