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 get a free Pro Membership to Instructables!
<p>Hello, just wondering if this is food safe? I'm making a chopping board with pine but I need it to be darker and I can't find any food safe stains to use...</p>
<p>Wow superb work</p>
<p>My Image is a pair of bent wood rings made from shavings from the same small piece of maple, the darker one I stained with the iron acetate solution alone as after testing on scraps I found the wood had sufficient tannin naturally to achieve the silvery-black look I wanted without the tea.</p>
<p>That;s awesome! I really like the dark colour of that ring.</p><p>Thanks for sharing a picture, enjoy the Pro Membership!</p>
<p>Thanks, It turned out pretty awesome. I'll definitely be making more with that method.</p>
<p>Perfect instructions! My weathered wood shelves came out EXACTLY like I wanted. I used family size tea bags for the tea and let my steel wool completely dissolve in the vinegar before I used it. It worked perfectly. Will the vinegar smell dissipate?</p>
<p>What is the type of wood you used?</p>
<p>looks really good!!</p>
<p>Looks great!</p><p>The vinegar small will diminish in a few days, best to let off-gas outside if you can. Are you planning on applying more finishes? </p><p>Thank for sharing a picture of your results. Enjoy the Pro Membership!</p>
<p>My husband uses this stain and it works very well for us. The double doors in the attached pic are one of many products he has hand crafted then used this stain on. We love it.</p>
<p>Best of luck</p>
<p>will this method work on beech,do I give the beech one coating with the tea and then apply the steel wool liquid has many times has I need to get the colour I need</p><p>Thanks</p>
<p>I can only find the white malt vinegar from tesco,will this work with the steel wool,does the jar have to be sealed or does this not matter</p>
<p>I think any vinegar will work. I wouldn't seal the jar though, when steel oxidizes it can build up pressure in a sealed container. </p><p>Try it out and share your results!</p>
<p>How much vinegar was used? </p>
Hi! I'm just wondering, would this method be ok on MDF? I know traditionally staining &amp; MDF don't really go together, but what I'm after is actually the look of staining under a chalk paint or crackle medium distress finish (so not necessarily a wood grain look). Any help is hugely appreciated!!
<p>MDF is tricky to stain becasue it's so absorptive it's tough to get a uniform look without using a lot of product. Since MDF can be inexpensive (and found in a lot of thrown away furniture) you should do a test piece to dial in your approach.</p><p>I'm interested in your results, please share what you find out!</p>
Thanks Mike! I was going to test it sometime in the next few days. I'm concerned about absorbency too, especially around the edges. I might try priming part of my sample. Think I'm going to use the chalk paint &amp; distress rather than crackle finish because I want to transfer some text onto the piece too. Wish me luck!!
<p>MDF is tricky to stain becasue it's so absorptive it's tough to get a uniform look without using a lot of product. Since MDF can be inexpensive (and found in a lot of thrown away furniture) you should do a test piece to dial in your approach.</p><p>I'm interested in your results, please share what you find out!</p>
<p>Hi,</p><p>I have used this method in the past on my dinning room table. I am considering doing this as a siding for the exterior of my home. However, I am unsure of what i would need to seal it with for it to sustain all the different weather conditions in Colorado. Do you have any recommendations? Thanks for any advice!!</p>
<p>Try a deck sealant. Remember to do a small sample first and test it out before committing to your finished piece. I'd love to see pictures, good luck!<br></p>
<p>I am going to have to try this with my wood pallet projects!! thanks for the tutorial :) will share when done (probably after xmas)</p>
can you apply tea stain on top of the steel wool stain ? with the same outcome
<p>Layering stains is the best way to achieve depth. Experiment with a few mixtures to find the desired look. </p><p>Good luck!</p>
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.
Here is the tea stained work bench polyurethaned with the lower shelf in place. Project complete. Yay!
<p>Nice! Looks great!</p>
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. <br /> <br />Thanks for sharing, enjoy the patch and the 3-month Pro Membership!
<p>Hi there, could you please tell me if this method is food-safe or not?</p>
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
<p>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. </p><p>Good luck!</p>
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
Hi <br>That's a really cool way to stain <br>I was wonders if you can help me recreate a stain it looks like it's a two part color
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? <br><br>The second image is of the wood before it was stained.
<p>Looks great! </p><p>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!</p>
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?
<p>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!</p>
Woo all done! Put about 3 coats of the two mixtures on and absolutely love the finished color. Thanks again!
<p>That staining looks great. Thanks for sharing a picture of your results!</p>
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!
<p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>I'd love to see a picture of your wood when you're done staining!</p>
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!
<p>I want to do this to a knife block. Will the stain cause my knives to rust? </p>
<p>you can apply a clear coat sealant after the tea staining if you like</p>
<p>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</p>

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Bio: I'm Mike and I make crazy things at Instructables HQ in San Francisco. Follow me and try a few of my projects for yourself!
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