Picture of tea staining
Think that staining wood means stinky lacquers, rubber gloves, and long drying times? Think again!
I'll show you how to stain wood to look weathered and old, with nothing more than household items, and with results achieved in a fraction of the time.

Naturally aged wood has a great faded look that occurs from oxidization;  this is usually achieved by leaving the wood outside, exposed to the elements until it has a faded, aged patina. Depending on the type of wood and weather conditions this can take weeks, even months. Luckily there is a simple method to achieve almost the same results and it can be done in a few days, instead of weeks. Though this Instructable is called tea staining, it's actually the steel that's doing the staining.

This classic woodworking trick uses three common household ingredients: vinegar, steel wool, and tea. The best part about these ingredients is that even close substitutes work well!
Don't have white vinegar? Use any other type of vinegar.
Don't have steel wool? Use any other steel bits (staples, nails, shavings, etc.)
Don't have tea?...what's wrong with you?!

The process is easy:
  • Pull apart steel wool and submerge in container of vinegar for 10 hours or more
  • Steep tea for 1 hour (any temperature water will do)
  • Brush steeped tea onto bare wood, ensure complete saturation - let dry completely
  • Brush vinegar + steel wool solution into tea-saturated wood

Why does it work?
  • Tea has tannin, a bitter astringent that occurs naturally in many plants.
  • Tannin is also found in many other organics, such as wood. Wood with high tannin content does not need the tea solution
  • Brushing wood with tea adds more tannin, allowing the vinegar/steel solution to have a stronger reaction.
  • When steel wool is combined with an acedic acid (vinegar) it causes the steel to oxidize (rust), making iron acetate
  • When iron acetate reacts with the tannins and turns the wood a dark colour.
Making iron acetate produces hydrogen gas, do not seal containers and keep in a ventilated area.
Staining will occur mostly on wood surface, be careful if you need to sand afterwards.
The tannin content of the wood is the predominate factor in the darkness of the stain. Experiment, and have fun!

Have you used this technique to stain wood? I want to see it!
Share a picture in the comments below of your tea staining and I'll award you a 3-month Pro Membership on Instructables.com and a digital patch!.
Good luck!

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Here's my go at using the tea staining method. I used Lyons Black Tea from Ireland steeped for more than an hour. The steel wool soaked in the distilled white vinegar for days. I think the workbench is really nice looking. After it cures over night, I'm going to give it a couple of coats of polyurethane. I have attached several photographs showing the work. Thanks a bunch.
workbench project.jpg006.JPG
Here is the tea stained work bench polyurethaned with the lower shelf in place. Project complete. Yay!

Nice! Looks great!

mikeasaurus (author)  brianchadorourke2 years ago
Wow, that looks incredible! I love seeing how light the wood started and how rich and deep the colour is now. It really looks great with a coat of poly applied.

Thanks for sharing, enjoy the patch and the 3-month Pro Membership!
atruong42 months ago

Hi there, could you please tell me if this method is food-safe or not?

lui133 months ago
So it's a type of brown but with a coat of black i don't know though so if you have any thoughts that can help I would appreciate it
mikeasaurus (author)  lui133 months ago

Applying multiple coats will achieve a darker colour. Experimenting with ratios and application time will yield different results, so best to try a few techniques out on some similar scrap wood first.

Good luck!

lui133 months ago
So it's a type of brown but with a coat of black i don't know though so if you have any thoughts that can help I would appreciate it
lui133 months ago
That's a really cool way to stain
I was wonders if you can help me recreate a stain it looks like it's a two part color
phzietsman made it!3 months ago
This worked like a charm! The piece of wood I used did buckle a bit, which might be due to the fact that is was soaked?

The second image is of the wood before it was stained.
mikeasaurus (author)  phzietsman3 months ago

Looks great!

Water will warp wood, but you should only be coating the wood with the solution not submerging it/soaking it completely. Experimenting with the ratios and application techniques will provide some interesting results. Thanks for sharing!

LauraKL3 months ago
I initially read instructions on another site and had my steel soaking in a glass jar with vinegar with the lid ON. Luckily it didn't blow up, but do you think I ruined it?
mikeasaurus (author)  LauraKL3 months ago

Try it and find out! The nice thing about tea staining is that you're going for a weathered look, so any errors you made in preparing will ultimately add to the finished effect. Good luck!

victoria.vincent.58 made it!4 months ago
Woo all done! Put about 3 coats of the two mixtures on and absolutely love the finished color. Thanks again!
mikeasaurus (author)  victoria.vincent.584 months ago

That staining looks great. Thanks for sharing a picture of your results!

Hey, I know I'm very late to the party but this instructable was awesome. I tried it on a scrap piece of wood and it was really light. I'm going to try again tomorrow, I bought better steel wool and threw some nails in there as well. Do you recommend coating it with protectant or is it fine to leave it as is? It'll be for indoor use. Thanks!
mikeasaurus (author)  victoria.vincent.584 months ago

Make sure your steel has had time to soak in the vinegar, the idea is to accelerate to creation of iron oxide (rust). You can easily apply more than one coat of this solution to build layers on your piece.

This staining penetrates a little, but not very deep. Leaving your piece unfinished is fine, but any scuffs on it might show nice wood underneath. Coating your piece will provide a little more protection.

I'd love to see a picture of your wood when you're done staining!

Thank you! I will post a picture tomorrow when it's dry. If I apply more coats of the steel wool mixture, will it make the wood darker? That is the result I am going for. Thank you again!
DanielS510 months ago

I want to do this to a knife block. Will the stain cause my knives to rust?

mikeasaurus (author)  DanielS510 months ago

you can apply a clear coat sealant after the tea staining if you like

nickis11 year ago

I am hoping someone can lead me in the right direction. I am currently making a cigar lamp and was thinking of staining or painting the shade with pigment made from old cigars, (chesseeee, I know), I thought that it might be a cool idea for the cigar lover (grandfather)...Can I use the vinegar method to create the stain, or Do I need to go more commercial? Any suggestions would be much appreciated.. Thanks, Nicki

mikeasaurus (author)  nickis110 months ago

Try it out on a scrap piece of wood first! I'd love to see the results

Conditor Artes made it!1 year ago

I tested this out on a Home Depot project and it turned out beautiful. I substituted steel wool for rusty nails and paper clips.

End result my favorite wood color.

mikeasaurus (author)  Conditor Artes1 year ago

That rich stain looks really good. Thanks for sharing.

Enjoy the patch and 3-month Pro!

ValéryR made it!1 year ago

I used this method to stain the box I made with pine wood (which is very very very clear, nearly white) for the '47 phone I hacked into a mic for my band.

I first tried with only two bags of tea that I steeped in about 100 ml of water for two hours. But the result was not really satisfying, the wood just became like light grey, and I wanted it to get more brown.
So I tried again with 4 bags of tea and I added two big spoons of ground coffee. And that gave me exactly what I wanted (cfr. pictures) : the wood got more brown and dark.

However, now I'd like to finish the wood with a wax or an oil that could darken the wood even more. What would you use?

(sorry if there are some mistakes in my english ;-) )

mikeasaurus (author)  ValéryR1 year ago

Love that colour. As for finishing, I'm a pretty big fan of Danish Oil (or boiled linseed oil). It won't darken the wood dramatically, but it has an easy application, a nice matte finish, and the really let's the natural grain stand out.

Thanks for sharing, enjoy the 3-month Pro and digital patch!

alexis231 year ago
I used apple cider vinegar and my steel wool had blue specs in it (from soap-it a was pretreated SOS pad I found at my parents house). I used a green tea bag and let it seep for about two hours. This wood was left over from a bed frame my boyfriend and I made. I am going to try staining again but with a regular wool pad and see if the color will be lighter. My end idea is to make a headboard OR a little step stool. I want to perfect my stain color first :)
mikeasaurus (author)  alexis231 year ago

It looks good so far, try steeping the steel wool longer or use rusty nails to get a darker look. I'd love to see your finished results.

Thanks for sharing, enjoy the 3-month Pro and digital patch!

If you used teas that had different colors would that color be transferred?

myrrhmaid made it!1 year ago

I used this technique on some old cement stakes I made into a signpost. I love the way it turned out! Thanks for the inspiration! I want to try this with some variation using oak tree leaf tea and balsamic vinegar/steel wool.

mikeasaurus (author)  myrrhmaid1 year ago

Looks great! Thanks for sharing your application. Enjoy the 3-month Pro!

Could you do the same with the alcohol instead of water? I mean to put the steel wool in the alcohol.. I am going to try it but before.. does anyone have the knowledge of the chemical reaction in this case.

I am wondering if the tea bag would extract in the alcohol as it does in water.

Here's my wood so far, testing it out before i use it on my box project!

mikeasaurus (author)  TaZedPhanTom1 year ago

Digging that colour. I want to see the final application on your project!

Thanks for sharing, enjoy the Pro Membership.

Will do, Ill send you a pic when i'm done, im also modelling a prop rifle with wood and pvc and im going to apply this beautiful and cheap tea staining.

bricobart1 year ago

Thanx mike, I'm impressed with the result!


Please give that membership to anyone else - got a stock untill 2089 ;)

mikeasaurus (author)  bricobart1 year ago

Nice application. Too bad the zombies won't appreciate the pleasant earthy tone of the handle as you bash in their heads.

The pizzaboy neither. Made a terrible mistake this evening. Not my fault that the streetlights are down. Let's call it collateral damage. The good news: got some pizza's for free. And a scooter.

Just finished the top of my bedside cabinet. We wanted the old wood look and the tea/vinegar stain gave us exactly what we wanted. The top is oak trimmed in pine and now has a great gray black patina to it. Perfect!

mikeasaurus (author)  builderboyd1 year ago

Digging that dark colour. Thanks for sharing!

Enjoy the 3-month Pro Membership

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