We’ve stained a LOT of wood in our DIY days, and here on the blog we’ve featured everything from our favorite any-color colorwash DIY wood stain trick to gel stain to faux stain and so many beautiful staining projects. But one thing we hadn’t tried out yet was homemade DIY wood stain recipes — we’d seen them around, but never put them to use in our projects. So we set our team to work, scoured the cupboards, and mixed up 4 different stains using regular household ingredients. These homemade wood stains are inexpensive (like cost-you-pennies cheap), easy to make yourself, and easy to use without the strong smells of off-the-shelf stains. You can also customize the look of the stain with different pre-stain wood treatments (as shown in the video) so you can give the wood a beautiful dark stain or more of just an aged stain, depending on what you’d like for your project.
Watch the video about our DIY stain experience here on our YouTube channel, and read below for a brief description of each stain and some pros and cons of homemade DIY wood stain. We used these stains in an upcoming project, which you’re gonna love, so be sure to subscribe and stay tuned!
How to Make Homemade DIY Wood Stains
Pros and Cons of Homemade DIY Wood Stains
Pro: DIY wood stain is inexpensive.
Like, really inexpensive. Especially if you catch a sale, you could buy all of the ingredients to make several batches of DIY wood stains and multiple recipes for about what you’d pay for a quart of pre-made stain. And a lot of the ingredients (like vinegar or steel wool) are probably already sitting in your pantry or garage.
Pro: DIY wood stain is easy to make yourself.
Just pop the ingredients in a jar, loosely cap it, and wait 24+ hours for the science magic to happen. But that leads to our first con…
Con: DIY wood stain takes time.
If you need the project done and stained today, mixing up your own stain won’t meet your deadline since it takes time for the vinegar, steel wool, and other ingredients to break down enough to create the homemade wood stain to age the wood. However, if you watch the video, you can see the some of the pre-stain wood treatments could also be used as stains, and those mix up really quickly. Our favorite colorwashing technique is also really fast, with no wait time required. So even if you’re down to the wire and need the wood stained right away, there are still homemade stain alternatives that will work in a hurry.
Pro: DIY wood stains don’t stink like off-the-shelf stains — no VOCs!
Because these homemade wood stains are vinegar based, they’re safe to use indoors without maximum ventilation — although unless you really love the smell of vinegar, we’d still suggest having good air flow 😉 plus that will help the stain dry more quickly, too. I will admit, the vinegar-based stains took me back to my high school photography class days (yes, back in the days before everything was digital) and the vinegar-y smell of the darkroom.
Pro AND con: DIY wood stains require more coats for heavy coverage.
If you really need a one-coat stain, a homemade wood stain recipe won’t give as deep a color as an off-the-shelf stain will (based on our recipes and experiments). The longer the steel wool dissolves in the vinegar, the darker your first coat of stain is likely to be. If you want to control the color more, having a lighter shade per coat can be a pro: more coats of a lighter stain can help you get the exact shade you want. You can also adjust the depth of the stain by using a homemade wood conditioner (like vinegar, coffee, or tea) like we showed in the video.
Pro AND con: DIY wood stain doesn’t “shine” without a topcoat.
If you’re going for a more rustic, reclaimed, weathered, or aged wood style, a homemade wood stain is perfect. If you want a more polished “shine” to the finished wood, you’ll need to apply a coat of poly or some type of sealant to add a bit of shine. Again, this can be a pro or a con depending on the look you’re going for.
Con: Each batch of DIY wood stain is different.
Since each batch of homemade wood stain will be slightly different, if you want the stain to be consistent across a large project, you need to mix a large batch. Off-the-shelf stain generally gives consistent results from one can to the next.
DIY Wood Stain Recipes
As we showed you in the video above, we mixed up 4 homemade wood stain recipes and tested each recipe with several homemade pre-stain wood conditioners straight from the kitchen pantry! The possibilities with homemade wood stains are so vast, you could mix and match all day to get just the color you want.
*Note that we tested these wood stains on inexpensive “whitewood” pine board scraps from our local home improvement stores. Different species of wood will react differently to these DIY stains, so test a board to get the right combination for the look you want.
DIY Wood Stain Recipe #1
Stain A: white vinegar + steel wool
DIY Wood Stain Recipe #2
Stain B: white vinegar + steel wool + instant coffee
DIY Wood Stain Recipe #3
Stain C: apple cider vinegar + steel wool
DIY Wood Stain Recipe #4
Stain D: apple cider vinegar + steel wool + paint
DIY Pre-Stain Wood Conditioners
As you can see in the video, we were really surprised to notice that the pre-stain application of white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, black tea, and coffee made more of an impact on the finished color than the makeup of the stain itself. (This might have changed had we left the stain to dissolve longer, but that’s an experiment for another time!)
Next week, we’ll show you how we put these pretty stained boards to use! There’s a bit of a sneak peek up there… so stay tuned! Have you ever used a homemade wood stain? What did you think?