Homemade Steel Wool and Vinegar Stain

A few days before my daughter was born I picked up supplies to try my hand at making steel wool and vinegar stain. After testing it out on a coffee table project that never saw the light of day, my daughter was born. And…POOF! I forgot all about my homemade stain. It was like…

A down on its luck single coffee table of three who never had the chance to hold a cup of coffee after its maker stained its soul.

Lifetime channel, get at me!

Two houses later and I’m back at it again, but this time with my dining table. Funnily enough, Rach could deliver our second daughter any day now. But things have changed.

I’m not the same stain-wastin’ fool no mo. Yes, it’s true. I’ve been upgraded! And Rick 2.0 never lets no homemade steel wool and vinegar stain go to waste! Let’s DO THIS!

Building off of my unending (and frankly, annoying) enthusiasm, grab your steel wool and pull it apart like so. You probably shouldn’t do this over granite counter-tops like I am since it makes a fibery, wooly mess. But my wife has long given up on trying to tame my unnecessarily messy self. Perhaps Rick 2.0 needs a firmware update…NAH!

Now that you’re done JUDGING me, take your freakin’ white vinegar and pour it in the jar. Tighten the lid and bring the jar to eye-level and hold it there for 2 minutes.

Now that you’ve looked silly for literally minutes, stash your jar away for 24-hours and call me tomorrow.

When I came back to my jar it looked exactly the same as it did the night before. I expected a color change! Plus, everyone (the internet) told me to give it 24hrs and I would be all set. Ignoring the clarity of the jar, I decided to test it out on some scrap wood.

IMAG1597And would you look at that! Science, you sly dog. You win AGAIN! I bet you’re proud of yourself. It’s been…what? Twelve years since my D in Chemistry? Funny how it only takes twelve years for shame to turn into indifference to turn into pride.

IMAG1625Use a synthetic bristle or foam brush to apply the stain. I modified (cut) a foam brush so that it would fit into my mason jar. Apply your homemade steel wool and vinegar stain generously and with the grain.

Try to do it piece by piece as any overlaps (accidental second coat) will show up darker. If and when this happens (see the top-left corner of the table), we’ll just sand out the dark spots with a fine grit sandpaper(200+ grit) and re-apply stain until properly blended.

Apply as many coats of homemade steel wool and vinegar stain as you like, it’s your project bro! Give the stain a few hours to properly dry and then apply your favorite finish. I used Rust-Oleum Ultimate (water based) polyurethane.

Good luck!

love, rick 2.0


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

September 23, 2014 at 04:09 AM

Awesome, may have to use this on my Farmhouse Table I got off of Craigs list!!

September 23, 2014 at 11:09 AM
– In reply to: Liz

Give it a shot! I was really surprised by how great it turned out!

October 25, 2015 at 04:10 PM

what kind of wood did you use for the top? could you please email me at I love how that color turned out and want to make sure I build the table with the right materials

October 25, 2015 at 04:10 PM
– In reply to: sam

Hey Sam I used plain old 2×4’s from home depot or lowes. That’s it! I believe I put 2 coats of the homemade steel wool and vinegar stain on it.

March 18, 2016 at 03:03 PM
– In reply to: Rick

THanks man started the table last night ripped each board to 8 inches used biscuits and glue hopefully I’ll sand this week and start staining , so you used 2 coats of the mix that sat for 24 hours ?

March 18, 2016 at 04:03 PM
– In reply to: sam

Awesome!! Glad to hear you’re joining it correctly with biscuits! Yep, I let the mix sit for about 24 hrs and then applied two coats. Best of luck and let me know how it goes Sam!

April 13, 2016 at 05:04 PM
– In reply to: Rick

so I stained the table today , the 4 by 4s reacted instantly to the stain .. the top did not .. I put 2 coats on as I’ve done on previous projects I’m going to let it sit till tomorrow , any thoughts ? sand down and maybe put tea then try again ?

April 13, 2016 at 06:04 PM
– In reply to: sam

Hey Sam, How much time did you let the homemade stain soak and how much time did you hang out to see if the top changed color? You may have to let your steel wool and vinegar stain soak longer. I would see how things look tomorrow, try to put another coat of tea/homemade stain and assess from there. Please let me know how it goes!

Terra Gazellereply
November 20, 2016 at 02:11 AM
– In reply to: sam

Some wood has little tannin..that is what turns dark with the vinegar stain..if you want something like pine to stain..pine has little tannins..use black tea brewed as a wash over your wood first. It will turn the black tea will give your wood the tannins it lacks.

April 14, 2016 at 05:04 AM

I let the mix sit for a solid 24 hours , the 4 by 4s were from lowes untreated and they reacted awesome , the table top changed a little but not as much as the base , I’m going to try and scuff and put another coat on , the base has these really cool streaks in it kind of like your top , but I think my issue is I used a 2 by 10 from home depot to make the tops .. so maybe 2 different types of pine 2 different reactions . I’ll keep you posted after todays adventure

April 14, 2016 at 03:04 PM

Not working .. may have to sand the top and retry formula

April 18, 2016 at 08:04 PM
– In reply to: sam

Any luck?

September 18, 2016 at 08:09 PM

So, my mixture made my wood orange! I’m bummed about it

September 18, 2016 at 11:09 PM
– In reply to: Laura

Orange? Hmm! Do you think your wool rusted? What kind of lumber/steel wool were you using?

Deanna Maidwellreply
November 22, 2016 at 11:11 AM

I wonder if I could use this on my hardwood floors without sanding them and then poly them… Thanks for the tip!

December 07, 2016 at 11:12 AM
– In reply to: Deanna Maidwell

You would probably have to sand them down before applying any type of stain to them. Happy to help!

Ashley Kreply
April 05, 2017 at 10:04 PM

Hi Rick! So I’m also attempting this little project in the hopes of staining a beech wood art supply box! I’m at 24 hours of soaking and it’s still clear. Does it stay clear always? I have about a week to wait for my box to come in the mail so I’m in no hurry I’m just wondering what to expect.

April 11, 2017 at 09:04 AM
– In reply to: Ashley K

Hi Ashley! Very cool project! The mixture will be clear the first 24-hours to even a few days. By the end of the week though it should start to show some rusting (and probably already has by now). Good luck with your project!

Ashley Kreply
April 11, 2017 at 10:04 AM
– In reply to: Rick

Thanks Rick for getting back to me! Actually it started clear the whole week is going I let it sit until I removed the wool. Then the contents of the jar got a little orange. Stained a really cool grey though. Thanks!

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