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DIY Wood Stain using household products

The hardest part about winter has to be that I can’t go outside and paint, cut wood, and all those other things you can’t do inside (especially with kids). However, I have been locking myself in the basement smelling some fumes because I am desperate! But today, I have a fun little project for you that helps with avoiding those fumes! Did you know you can make your own wood stain with just a few household products? It’s true! I remember doing this with my mom when I was a little girl. My grandfather was a painter and showed us how to do this. I haven’t done it in forever and can’t believe I waited this long!

Make your own DIY wood stain using just steel wool, vinegar, and instant coffeeSo let’s gather up some supplies shall we?

What you need: (includes some affiliate links)

– Steel wool (I used 000-extra fine grade)
– Distilled White Vinegar
– Instant Coffee
Quart Size Mason Jar

How to make DIY Wood Stain: (be sure and read my notes at the bottom)

UPDATE: If you are applying to actual wood for a finishing project, you will need to apply several coats until you get the desired darkness! It will not appear very dark until it soaks into the wood. I let the stain dry about 15 minutes between coats. It might not be completely dry, but it worked for me. Once, dry it will look very flat in color. (example here) You will need to seal it with something to get that “wet” look from the stain. It is really is not an exact science, so please test this out before you try it on something important! 

First make sure your mason jar is clean. Then you will take out one pad of the steel wool (pictured above). I sort of broke mine up a little so it wasn’t so tight together and then just push it down in your mason jar. Now just fill it up with your vinegar. Don’t fill it up all the way because it does expand a little. You can see how full mine is above, you might even go with a tad bit less if you want. Now the fun part… add in 1 Tablespoon of Instant Coffee. I prefer instant because it dissolves where as regular coffee would leave the grinds in it. That isn’t the end of the world, but you just have to deal with them when you are staining. That’s it! Now you just have to wait!

Make your own DIY wood stain using just steel wool, vinegar, and instant coffeeIt needs to sit at least 24 hours, but the longer it sits, the richer the color gets. Then once it sits you are ready to use it. I did let mine sit for about 5 or 6 days before I used it. The color just gets prettier (in my opinion) But totally up to you. Test it out each day, see how you like it. Keep in mind though once you apply it to the wood, you won’t see the final color until it is COMPLETELY dry! It gets a little darker as the days go on. So I have to say, if you are looking for an exact color, this probably isn’t the stain you want. If you are going for a reclaimed look, then this is PERFECT! I will be sharing with you soon how to get a great weathered look using this stain ; )

So let’s see how the color looks….

Make your own DIY wood stain using just steel wool, vinegar, and instant coffee


On the left is Minwax’s Dark Walnut, and the Right is the DIY Wood Stain. I wanted you to be able to see the difference. The DIY Wood Stain has a little bit of a gray tone to it from the steel wool, which is what makes is perfect for making wood look older than it is!

Just a few little side notes: 

– you can omit the coffee if you are wanting more of a gray color. This is traditionally how we made it when I was a kid, but I added the coffee for a little bit of a brown color
– this is not an exact science, it is homemade and your results will MOST LIKELY be different every time you make it, so if you are doing a big project, make enough for the whole thing and be sure and apply it at the same time because the stain does change the longer it sits. You could remove the steel wool to try and keep the color the same, but you would have to test this out to see if it works

Make your own DIY wood stain using just steel wool, vinegar, and instant coffee

Want to see how it looks on an actual project? I used this exact stain for my DIY Coat Rack

DIY Coat Rack Tutorial


    • Ashley says

      I’ve heard that too Bobby! I plan on playing with a few difference mix ups : ) I think I’ll give the tea a try next! Thanks for stopping by!

      • Ashley says

        Yes, vinegar can have a strong scent, but I still prefer this to smelling traditional stain during the winter months when I’m working in my basement. Sometimes I do find wearing a mask when working with any strong fumes helps.

    • cnr19 says

      The smell is bad at first, but you can use vinegar to get rid of smells, especially dog pee. We put it in our carpet shampooer. Its an odor neutralizer. It works too.

    • Ashley says

      I’m sorry you are not happy with it. It doesn’t appear dark at first and it does require multiple coats. You also have to apply a top coat sealant to get the true color to come through. Let me know if you have any questions.

      • cnr19 says

        I made two jars. One with some paint and a regular jar. But im not really traditional. I actually hope that the paint works but I dont want it to be solid. I would like it better if it was streaky red. My room is done in burgundy/red and gold. It’s a soft beautiful gold. It’s not metallic.

  1. says

    I love this technique! I do a similar one, hadn’t seen it this way. I will try it. The one I do, you make the steel wool vinegar combo and set it aside, no coffee. Then, while you wait for that to “cook” I make a strong batch of black tea or coffee, and paint my boards in it and really let it soak in. Then after it dries, I go over it with the steel wool vinegar mix, and it changes color right before your eyes. I will have to try your method and see how it goes!

    Here’s one of the times I did it:

  2. Jen says

    After going to the store to get the wood stain and completely not reading about the DIY wood stain tutorial…I came home and found I had no coffee or tea, so I used Mexican vanilla. It smells good and it’s dark. Do you think it might work at all?

    • Ashley says

      Hey Jen! I am not entirely sure how that would work. It seems like it would. I just kinda threw the coffee in there and hoped for the best : ) But I suppose it just depends how it reacts with the vinegar. What I’d probably do is rub it on some wood by itself… if it changes the shade at all, I’d go for it. : ) Hope that helps a little! I’d love to know how it comes out though if you do end up trying it!

  3. JaneEllen says

    Wonder how you could make a gray stain. I’d love to stain a table top light grayish, just can’t by the stain right now. This stain sounds good and love that you can make it as you need it. Don’t some people just use vinegar and steel wool to stain wood? Am I thinking of wrong idea? It’s late and I’m working on ideas to make for a craft show in mid Dec. Will be staining/painting several small pieces of wood to make holiday signs with. Want a rustic look. People here don’t like distressed. Any advice or suggestions you can offer will be greatly appreciated.
    If you reply would you please direct to my email address? Thanks
    Enjoy the season.

  4. Michelle B says

    I was wondering on the diy stain is it okay to use the fine ( 0 ) grade (that is what I already have) or should I use the 000 grade of steel wool? Thank you! I really like your coat rack and I might try to make it!

    • Ashley says

      Hey Michelle, I apologize for the late response, It shouldn’t really matter too much. I would think the only thing that would happen is it might take the vinegar a little longer to break it down, but it should work just fine! Good luck, and have a great weekend!

  5. Melissa Clary says

    My husband built me a pallet book shelf out of pine. I love the look of this stain and I want to stain my shelf but have never worked with stain. When I paint I always wait on clear sunny weather. Since this is not painting, would I need to wait for a clear sunny day? We have had and still have a lot of rain in our forecast and I’m anxious to get this done. I’ve even considered doing it inside my house. Is this a bad idea?

    • Ashley says

      Hey Melissa! The good thing about this stain is that it is just vinegar… so while it does have a strong scent, it’s not much worse than cleaning with vinegar : ) You would still want to use a drop cloth, but I use it all the time in my basement during the winter since the regular stuff has such strong fumes. Good luck and have fun! I would love to see any pictures of your finished product :)

  6. Darwin Lindquist says

    I use Apple Cider instead of regular Vinegar and skip the coffee But I use Wine Tannin painted on the wood with a rag soaked with tannin and water mix then go over it with apple cider steal wool mix and the wood turns black a nice flat black just food for thought thanks for the Idea

    • Ashley says

      Thanks Trinity! : ) It is so fun to use. I would have never known either, my grandfather was a smart man…. and a painter ; )

  7. AE says

    Hey there, I love using this stain for all my DIY projects. I did have a question about one thing I have repeated trouble with. After the stain sits, it leaves behind a layer of rust dust, how do you completely remove that? I always seem to leave a trace behind.

    Thank you!

    • Ashley says

      Hmm…. I’ve never had actual dust left on the wood. It does leave a very flat and almost chalky feel and I just put shellac right over that : /. But it’s never a dust that I can actually blow off. Maybe just try running a shop vac with a brush attachment over it to remove any residue… that’s would I would do ; )

  8. Mike says

    hi, is this supposed to go clear? The liquid in the jar is dark but when I put it on a brush it’s clear. Thanks!

  9. Shane says

    Hi, I am researching wood stain for a project. i have seen people use boiled pot of coffee and no vinegar, no steel wool. is this good to use and do you have to put a coat of something after your done?

    Thank you

  10. Shane says

    Hi, I have been looking at painting a wood pallet. I have seen other diy wood stain and wondering how it would look if i didn’t use vinegar and just a boiling pot of coffee and also, do you put a coat of something on it afterwards?

    Thank you

    • Ashley says

      Hi Shane. I have heard of people using just coffee. I’ve never personally done it, so I’m not certain of the results. But I would just test it out on a scrap piece of wood in the same species you plan on using for your project. I would always suggest putting some kind of sealant on it unless it’s maybe a decorative piece you hang on the wall or something like that. But if it will be touched or moved on a regular basis the finish will start to fade and is likely to rub off on things you don’t want it to. Sealing also gives it a nice finish to the touch. If you are aren’t keen on the look of a finished piece, I would suggest using the zinsser satin shellac. It’s not very noticeable and leaves kind of that rough look in my opinion, plus it dries really fast! Hope that helps!

  11. Linda Wilson says

    Hi Ashley, just found your blog about DIY wood stains. Loved the tutorial, we moved into an older house last fall, and have been renovating some of the rooms. Have you tried the DIY making your own stains to put on floors with real wooden floors? We have two or three rooms that we have removed the old carpeting, and want to sand the floors, and then I would like to stain them a dark espresso look. I would like to know what you would use for a sealer that would hold up to every day traffic. Can’t wait to check out other projects in your blog…I know it will inspire me!! Linda Wilson

    • Ashley says

      Hey Linda, I’ve never tried it on such a big area before. I would think it would work as long as you seal it. My hesitation would be how it would react to sunlight since I know that can affect floors with a regular finish on it. However, this type of stain doesn’t really give you that deep espresso look to it. It has a bit of a red tint to it because the rust of the steel wool caused by the vinegar is what gives you the color. I’ve never sealed a floor before, but I am pretty sure there are sealers specifically for that. I would imagine you would need an oil based sealer so that it will hold up to the foot traffic. Hope that helps some ; ) Let me know if you have any other questions!

  12. Adelia McAndrews says

    I love the vinegarfor staining but I was experiementing and used balsalmic vinegar for a darker color ondriftwood and I love the color but the vinegar smell remains very strong. Any ideas for neutralizing the smell?

    • Ashley says

      Hmm, once I sealed mine I didn’t have any odor left. I’m assuming it would be because of the balsamic (which now I am totally going to try)! Maybe just try setting it outside in the shade for a bit to air it out. I hope that works!

  13. Katie says

    I live in a tiny town, and I was only able to find a steel scouring pad. It’s likely going to take weeks to break down, but I’ll try to send a pic once it’s done!

    • Ashley says

      I’ll be interested to know how that works out for you, and would love to see a picture! : )

  14. Barbara says

    Hi Ashley, I’m so intrigued! Can you tell me if I’m going more for the dark walnut color, is it achievable? If so, just let it sit in jar much longer? Thank you so much for this tip, can’t wait to try it♥

  15. Ashley says

    I’m not sure if it will get that deep brown look, but mine has been sitting for almost 2 weeks. I can test it out and send you an email with the two different pieces so you can see the type of difference there is as time passes : ) I’ll see if I can get that done tonight after the kiddos go to bed ; ) If you don’t hear from me though, please shoot me an email or message me on facebook… my mommy brains is awful these days, lol!

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