If you’re looking for a natural, non-toxic wood stain, you may want to look and see what you have available in your kitchen for a DIY wood stain recipe. Vinegar, tea, coffee, walnut hulls, and berries are all popular ingredients in wood stains. Refinishing your furniture pieces or wooden surfaces with natural stain can be a fun and easy DIY project that saves you money by utilizing readily-available materials to create a pretty finish. No matter if you want to stain a coffee table or a small craft project, we have the tips and DIY wood stain recipes to give you a range of looks.
There are several natural stains you can use for your projects around the house, but some are better suited for indoor use over outdoor.
Tips Before You Mix Your Stain
Before you start experimenting with DIY wood stain recipes, there are a few important things you should keep in mind. If this is a one-off project, mixing up your stain and testing it before you use it is fine. However, if you’re planning on using it on a bigger project, you’ll need to mix up multiple or larger batches of stain. This makes it important to do it all at once to ensure you get the same hue.
You want to write down every ingredient used and the quantity to give consistent results, and write down the order you mixed things. Take note of how long you allow the stain to sit before you use it. All of these elements can impact the final finished color. If you want to be able to repeat your DIY wood stain recipe and get identical results, you’ll need to know exactly what you did the first time. We suggest making several batches and mixing them together for larger projects to get consistent results.
Difference Between Wood Stain And Wood Finish
Many people confuse wood stain and wood finish, but they’re different things. Wood stains are meant to add color to the piece while wood finishes go on to protect the wood. There are many stains and finishes available to help you get the color that matches your design scheme. Also many of the different stains and finishes have different ingredients and use different chemical compounds, and this can alter the final results.
Why You Would Make Homemade Wood Stain
Why choose to make a DIY wood stain instead of going out and buying cans or premixed and premade stains? There are several reasons for this, and the biggest include:
The problem with a lot of stains on the market is that they have a lot of chemicals. If you want to live a low or no-chemical life, making DIY wood stain may be the best choice to fall in line with your lifestyle. Wood stains are typically considered to be toxic when they’re wet, and they can contain powerful chemicals that release a lot of VOCs when you apply them. So, it’s understandable if you want to go for alternatives with low or no chemical composition.
If you’re a crafty person who likes making them, you may enjoy experimenting with making your own DIY wood stain. You can create a host of rich colors to match your needs. If you have the time and a few common materials, you can easily create different stains to suit your needs.
You may be on a tighter budget and you don’t have the money for all of the stains you need. If you make smaller wood carving projects that don’t need a huge amount of stain and you want a lot of color options, this can save money. If you already have the common household ingredients on hand, it may be 100% free to make small or large quantities of these stains.
There are several reasons why someone may choose to make a DIY wood stain over buying them in the store.
How to Apply Your DIY Wood Stain
To start, make sure that you wear gloves. Even if you think natural products won’t stain your fingers, you’d be surprised to know it can be worse or just as bad as commercial-grade options. You can apply your stain with a foam brush or rag. If you plan on working in a large area, don’t let the wood dry out between strokes or you’ll end up with streaked work. Make sure that you choose an application method that is right for the project size. Start applying a coat of your DIY wood stain and make sure you give the wood piece a thorough coat without saturating it.
Don’t allow the wood to dry. Immediately, follow the first coat with another layer of your stain, and make sure it stays relatively wet. The color should start to take and appear immediately on your piece of wood, so you can gauge when it’s dark enough and figure out how many coats you need to get there. Remember, the color will darken as it starts to dry. Give in two or three hours before you see the final color.
End the project by sealing the wood with the finish of your choice. Most DIY wood stains are water-based, so they don’t offer any protection for the wood. You can use polyurethane or wax-based finishes to seal out the water and keep the wood looking nice. Pick a finish that will survive whatever you want to put the piece through.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar with Steel Wool
To start this recipe, you’ll need a sealable glass jar. Get your piece of steel wool and put it in the jar before you cover it with a layer or apple cider vinegar. Allow it to sit, covered with the vinegar and sealed in the jar, for a day. This will lend a very rich reddish-hued stain. Be aware that the longer it sits, the darker your stain will be. It’ll eventually take on a gray tone due to oxidation and the steel wool.
If you’re after a dark, reddish-hued stain to put on your furniture, blackberries are the way to go. Start by collecting your blackberries and rinsing them to get rid of any debris. Crush your blackberries until you start to see the stain ooze out. Carefully rub the berry pulp on the wood and leave it to sit for a few hours. Once it has dried completely, carefully wipe away the leftover dried out pulp. Exposure to direct sunlight will cause this stain to fade, so use it for indoor pieces.
Bleach is a great way to darker or lighten certain types of wood, but it does have chemicals and a strong smell. You should note that it takes several applications before you start to see a difference, and a few tips for applying and using this medium include:
- After you apply the bleach, putting the piece out in the sun will help pull the color and lighten up the finished product
- Apply it with a paintbrush or a soft rag on dry wood
- Continue to apply the coats of bleach until you reach your desired shade
- Sand the wood after you apply each coat of bleach to get a smooth, neat finish
- Use a peroxide-based bleach instead of a laundry-based bleach as this won’t cause the wood to discolor.
If you want a darker, deeper, richer DIY wood stain, coffee is a great option. All you have to do is brew the coffee and add water until you reach your desired shade. Let your coffee mixture cool to room temperature and use a brush or rag to apply it to the wood. To get a darker color, let the coffee soak into the wood longer. After 10 to 15 minutes, you can wipe away any excess granules and apply several layers.
Coffee can make a very rich, deep brown stain color, depending on the beans and roast you pick out.
5. Natural Wood Stain Recipe
- Brewed coffee or tea
- Fine grade steel wool
- Glass jar
- White vinegar
We use our leftover food jars to create and store our DIY wood stains. This particular recipe doesn’t have exact measurements, so play around with the ratios until you get a hue you like. You can easily tweak or adjust it to get different colors using the same basic supplies. Start this project by putting the steel wool in a glass jar and covering it with vinegar to soak.
- If you’re after a very weathered gray DIY wood stain, allow it to soak for several days. If you want a lighter color, remove the steel wool after a day or two.
- For a more brown, deeper color, allow the steel wool to soak in the vinegar until it turns a rusty orange color.
While it’s possible to cover the wood with just the steel wool and vinegar mixture, we found that you get better results if you use tea or brewed coffee. The tea or coffee will lend your wood a slightly different shade. Coffee surprisingly has a more green undertone to brown, and tea has a warmer gray hue.
A stronger brew will produce the most color. Make sure that you allow it to cool before you use it, and test your DIY wood stain on a scrap of the type of wood you want to use to see how it looks and reacts. This can help prevent any nasty surprises down the road.
6. Onion skins
Surprisingly, you can make a DIY wood stain using onion skins. They will give you a yellow-hued stain. When you apply it to the wood, you’ll get a pale yellow to warm amber color. All you have to do is put the onion skins in warm water and allow it to soak overnight before using it.
7. Pigment Wood Stain
This is a slightly more involved DIY wood stain, but you can choose to create an oil or water-based stain, depending on your needs. You don’t need a huge amount of ingredients to get nice results either. You’ll need:
- Glass container
- Oil or water (e.g., oil for oil-based pigment and water for the water-based pigment)
- Wood or plastic stir stick
- Powdered whiting or powdered chalk (optional)
Alcohol-based stains also dry extremely quickly, so you can apply your finish as soon as you get the stain on. To create this DIY wood stain, you’ll do the following:
- Mix your stain using one ounce or less of pigment for every quart of alcohol and adjust the amounts as desired. Add pigments to the methanol and stir them regularly for an hour. You can also put the stain mix into a bottle and shake it regularly over the hour to mix.
- You don’t have to wait for your product to be set, and it’s ready to use. If you store it tightly and in a dark place, your alcohol-based stain will last for years. Mark the level on the jar to make sure it keeps a consistent mix.
You can make a durable oil-based DIY wood stain using a high-quality naphtha or gum turpentine if you want to give it a longer open time. This comes in handy when you have a larger project to stain and don’t want it drying out between passes.
Even though this looks intimidating, we promise that it isn’t. For example, we used to think of soap making as being very intimidating and complex. One day, we found that we had the ingredients at home, namely a bottle of non-food-grade oil and lye crystals that we couldn’t use. We decided to take a deep breath and try it. We found that even an absolute beginner could create a multi-purpose, simple soap to use at home. The same goes for DIY wood stains.
- To start, mix your pigment with the appropriate medium. Start by using an ounce or less of pigment per quart of your solvent. Add more pigment to darker the color. The exact measurements will depend on how intense or deep you want your shade to be. Stir it and allow it to sit overnight.
- Adjust the transparency next. You may also want to add powdered chalk or powdered whitening to create a more semi-transparent or opaque look. We don’t recommend hiding the wood’s natural beauty, but a higher opacity can be helpful when you’re working with darker wood species, like Jocobean or ebony oak.
- You can also mix stains in the same medium. This can help you adjust the darkness or lightness of the color itself.
Even though your water-based stain will drive very quickly, it’s important that once you apply this stain, you allow it to sit overnight before you finish it. To create a water-based stain, you should:
- Mix the stain by boiling the water and adding an ounce of your powdered pigment per every quart of water. Add more pigment to darken the color as desired. Remove the stain from the heat and stir it constantly before transferring the container to the counter.
- Allow your stain to sit and cool overnight. Before you use it, put a lid on the container, seal it, and shake it up to stir it. The stain is now ready to go. As long as you store it away from the light, you’ll get a longer shelf life.
Water-based stains are nice for very small projects as they tend to dry very fast, but oil-based stains will stay wet longer, so you can use them on bigger projects.
8. Red Wine
Red wine will stain almost anything given the chance. If it’ll leave stains on your pretty marble countertop, you know it’ll stain wood. You’ll use it as a DIY wood stain the same way you used coffee earlier.
Start by putting on gloves and dipping a lint-free rag into the red wine. Apply the stain to the wood, working in the direction of the grain to get the best results. After the first coat dries, you can go back and apply another one until you’re happy with the color. To finish, seal it with a wax or sealer.
Tea is the perfect DIY wood stain for darker-hued wood as it produces a lighter color that highlights the wood grain. To make this stain, you want to boil two cups of water and add your tea leaves to it. Keep boiling the tea leaves until you get a very deep tea concentrate. Depending on the color you want, you may have to add more tea leaves as they boil. Lightly brush the hot tea mixture onto the wood until it’s 100% coated and stained. You can seal it once it dries to make it last longer.
Tobacco gives you a very pretty brown stain when you soak it in an ammonia mixture. Get a glass container with a lid and add equal amounts of ammonia and water. Mix it well and add in your tobacco. Allow this mixture to sit for several hours. You’ll notice the color start to bleed out, and it’s now time to strain off the liquid and brush it onto the wood.
11. Vinegar, Metal and Tea
If you want to get a deep black stain, you’ll need a metal object, vinegar, and tea. Add the metal object to a glass jar and pour in equal amounts of tea and vinegar to cover it. Allow it to stand in a dry, dark place for a few days and you’ll see a chemical reaction start. You can introduce salt to speed up the oxidation process and intensify how black it looks. It’s perfect for adding small stained details to wood or fixtures, and it gives you an almost permanent stain, so make sure you try it on a small piece of wood before you apply it to your main project.
12. Vinegar and Pennies
Any metal object plus acid will give you a chemical reaction that you can use to create a DIY wood stain. Get a glass of white vinegar or lemon juice and add a metal object like pennies. Allow this mixture to sit for a week in a dark place. You’ll end up with a very pale, blueish-color that is a fun alternative to brown-hued stains.
13. Vinegar and Rusty Nails
Combining vinegar with rusty nails in a jar will give you a reddish-hued stain. To make this option, all you have to do is soak rusty nails in white vinegar in a glass jar. The vinegar’s acetic acid will dissolve the iron compounds on the rusty nails to give you this color. If you want a bright red color, you’ll have to let it sit for a few more days or weeks.
14. Walnut Hulls
Using a walnut hull powder to make your DIY wood stain will let you add as much or as little pigment as you want to create it. It also gives you the option of taking up less space as you can store the powder and mix it as needed rather than making jars or stains and having to store them on your shelves. However, this also requires a few extra steps to make the powder from the hulls, so it’s slightly more labor-intensive. To make this DIY wood stain, you’ll:
- Peel the Hulls – If you want to preserve and store walnuts, you’re going to have to remove the hulls anyway. If you have a small bunch of walnuts, you can probably remove the hulls by using a chisel and a small hammer. If you have a big amount of walnuts, you’ll want to get a de-huller. When the hulls are difficult to remove and firm, set them aside for a few days. The hulls will soften enough to easily remove them.
- Chop the Hulls – Once you get the hulls removed from the nuts, chop them up as finely as you can and put them aside.
- Dry the Hulls – Spread very thin layers of your chopped hulls on mesh-bottomed racks and put them in a dry, cool place to dry. Stir them once in a while until they have a leathery texture with a black or dark brown look.
- Grind the Hulls – Get a food processor or coffee grinder and grind up the dried walnut hulls. By running them through several cycles, you can get a very fine powder.
Once you’ve transformed your walnut hulls into a fine, usable powder, you can make your DIY wood stain. To do so, you’ll need to get:
- Grind your dried out hulls. Using a coffee grinder or a food processor grind up your dried hulls. By running your hulls through multiple times, you can make finer powders.
Walnuts make a very rich stain, and you can alter the colors by adding more of the powdered hulls.
Now that you’ve turned your walnut hulls into a usable powder, you’re ready to make your wood stain. To do so, you’ll need:
- Glass jar
- Walnut-hull powder
Start by getting a pot of water and putting it on to boil. Once it reaches a rolling boil, you can mix your stain by adding an ounce of the walnut hull powder to each quart of water. If you want a darker color, add more walnut hull powder to deepen it. Remove the mixture from the heat and give it a good stir.
When it cools, transfer your DIY wood stain to a glass jar and let it sit overnight. Before you use it, shake the container well.
15. Walnut Husks
If you don’t want to go through the trouble of drying out the hulls and grinding them to a powder, you can use the husks to produce a black walnut stain. You’ll need:
- 15 walnuts
- 1 gallon of water
- Glass jars
First, remove the walnut husks, just like we did when we created the powdered hulls. Put the husks inside a pot and fill it with a gallon of water. Place it on the stove and bring it to a boil. Allow the husks to boil for an hour, making sure you stir it periodically. Remove it from the heat and allow it to sit and cool down. Get a strainer and carefully separate the husks from the stain, making sure you don’t spill it. Transfer your stain to the glass jars and shake it before you use it.
You can make DIY wood stains relatively easy using ingredients you have around your home. We’ve given you over 15 different options, and you can experiment and see which ones come up with the best stain for your projects.