DIY Decorating - Staining Wood with Vinegar

DIY Chevron Table

Kitchen Table Ideas
Kitchen Table Ideas | Source

DIY Furniture

I had spent six months looking for the perfect kitchen table that I absolutely loved. When my searches kept coming up empty, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I purchased an INGO kitchen table from Ikea for $69.99. It's small, but so is our kitchen. Most importantly, you can purchase it in unfinished pine-- perfect for this DIY endeavor!


Keep in mind that different combinations of wood and vinegar will produce different results. I used unfinished pine and distilled white vinegar for my chevron table DIY. If in doubt, prepare a small stain solution in a baby food jar and test it out on an inconspicuous area (perhaps underneath the table).

The photo below shows the different stain results achieved on the same piece of wood using different vinegars. This was a scrap piece of whitewood lumber I had leftover from building shelves. I purchased it from Lowe's and whitewood is a bit of a generic term that can refer to spruce, hemlock, or fir trees. Keep this is mind when staining whitewood. Two pieces might come out differently.

Distilled white vinegar gave the wood sample on the left more of a reddish/brownish hue. The apple cider vinegar stained the wood on the right more of a grayish color, almost aging it.

Whitewood lumber with apple cider and distilled white vinegar stains.
Whitewood lumber with apple cider and distilled white vinegar stains. | Source

You Will Need:

  • A piece of furniture (prepped or unfinished)
  • Pencil and eraser
  • Yardstick or tape measure
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • A Steel wool pad, grade #0000
  • Clean, empty jar & lid
  • Painter's Tape or Frog Tape *(see disclaimer in step four)
  • Scissors
  • Paint brush
  • Sandpaper
  • Dry rag
  • Clear sealer (for finish)

Step One: Stain Prep

Place a steel wool pad inside the jar and fill with vinegar. Make sure your wool is immersed. Let it sit and do its magic for at least 48 hours. During this time, the vinegar will begin to dissolve the steel wool. Feel free to shake your jar from time to time. The liquid in your jar at the end of this science experiment will be used to stain your wood. It's going to be stinky-- unless you love the smell of vinegar and metal. I'd suggest doing the actual staining project outdoors or near an open window if you can.

Distilled White Vinegar

Use of White Vinegar for Natural Wood Stain
Use of White Vinegar for Natural Wood Stain | Source

Step Two: Wood Prep

If you are using unfinished wood like my unfinished pine kitchen table, you can skip this step.

If your piece has any kind of existing paint, lacquer, or sealant, it will need to be removed. Sand your wood thoroughly. It's important that all of the bare wood is exposed for this project or it won't work.

Table Before Stain

Table and chairs
Table and chairs | Source

Step Three: Sketching Chevrons

My favorite part of this project is that I didn't have to download and print a chevron template.

The following six steps correspond to my diagram below.

1. Simply measure your surface and draw a line vertically through the middle.

2. Repeat this step and draw a line horizontally through the middle. This should yield four quadrants. Repeat this process as many times as you wish. Continue constructing your grid by finding the center of each new section and drawing a line.

3. My table has two rows and four columns, yielding 8 sections. These eight sections allowed me to easily construct two large chevrons side by side. For more and smaller chevrons, continue measuring and drawing a more complex grid.

4. When satisfied with your grid, draw diagonal lines connecting sections. Each individual square should contain a diagonal line and the pattern will alternate between leaning forwards and backwards.

5. Repeat this step for all rows of your grid.

6. Erase your pencil mark grid-lines and you're left with your lovely chevron design.

DIY Chevron without Template

Easy Chevron Tutorial
Easy Chevron Tutorial | Source

Step Four: Applying Painter's Tape

Using blue painter's tape, tape off your chevrons so they'll really stand out. Line up the edges of your tape alongside your pencil marks. In this tutorial I applied the tape to the outside of my chevrons. Make sure all pieces of tape are rubbed down flat. Use your eraser to remove all pencil marks and grid-lines-- I didn't think of this until much later and I regret it. My pencil lines are still visible :( Learn from my mistake. Don't remove tape until finished staining.

DIY Chevrons

Shabby Chic Decor Project
Shabby Chic Decor Project | Source

Disclaimer: Despite my best abilities, I did encounter a little bit of seepage (refer to picture below). Overall, I do like the design it created. It gives the finished table little nuances of character. If you'd like to guard against any stain creeping under the tape, I'd suggest trying green Frog tape. It has a special gel that forms a barrier between what's under the tape and what's next to it. I would have used it for this project but I only recently learned about it.

Steel Wool Stain on Wood and Bleed Through
Steel Wool Stain on Wood and Bleed Through | Source

Step Five: Applying Stain

Open your jar of steel wool wood stain and let it sit for about ten minutes. The solution should look murky by now but if for some reason it doesn't look ready yet, it may oxidize just a bit more as it sits uncovered (mine did!).

Apply the DIY wood stain to your furniture in long even strokes, working with the grain of the wood. It may be tempting to work in the direction of your pattern, but working with the grain ensures consistent coverage. It might seem like it's not working at first. Your wood may only appear a slight bit darker... as if it were wet. Keep working until your first coat is complete. Within a few minutes, you'll see the wood darken. Since the results don't happen right before your eyes, it's really important to finish each section or coat to keep your coloring even. Allow to dry in between coats. More coats will create darker colors.

Natural Wood Stain DIY

Vinegar and Steel Wool Home DIY Projects
Vinegar and Steel Wool Home DIY Projects | Source

Step Six: Sanding

Sand paper is a big helper for this DIY table wood stain. You can use it to sand parts that might have come out too dark. You can also use it to buff out any places where stain pooled/dripped and dried into a dark little mess. I used sandpaper to give my table edges and corners a good scrub to expose some of the pine color again. This gives it more contrast and character. Give your entire table a quick sand job to prepare it for sealing. Sand in the same direction as the wood grain. If you prefer a more aged and shabby chic look, use a coarser sand paper and work against the grain and even in circular motions. Use a dry cloth to wipe away any sawdust.

Dining Table Ideas

Do it Yourself Home Decor
Do it Yourself Home Decor | Source

Step 7: Sealing

Sealing is important. It protects your table from everyday use and makes your beautiful design really shine. Literally. Without sealer, the all natural wood stain looks very drab and muted. By this step, you'll have noticed that there is a big difference between how the table looks each time you apply a fresh coat of stain and how it looks when it's 100% dry. Sealer gives the table that wet shine look. I used a primer/sealer by Martha Stewart and applied three coats. While I used a primer/sealer, it's important you don't use it as a primer on your piece. Absolutely nothing should come between the bare wood and your steel wool stain. I don't mean that figuratively either.

Natural Stain for Wood

Diy Home Decor
Diy Home Decor | Source
Wooden Table and DIY Stain
Wooden Table and DIY Stain | Source

© 2013 Heather Rode

Comments 27 comments

Courtney 3 weeks ago

Just curious if your lid was bowed out? Mine has been sitting for about 20 hours and when I went to check on it, the lid was bowed out. Just wondering if yours was like that as well.

traderadiators profile image

traderadiators 12 months ago from Glasgow, UK

I did this on my hardwood floor in my hallway, it really works well!

Sandfog1215 14 months ago

Very cool, Heather! It looks almost like inlaid wood, classy DIY (Y)

tinagleisner profile image

tinagleisner 15 months ago from NH Seacoast

Love your design & thanks for letting me share one of your photos on my blog - here it is

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 17 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Heather, that's a cool design to do with vinegar. Beautiful work with those photos! Voted up for awesome!

Malori 18 months ago

I accidentally bought steal wool with soap

jamie 19 months ago


try adding hydrogen peroxide to your mix and letting it sit uncovered for about an hour after you put everything in your container. After that you should be safe to cover it and let it sit as long as you want. The peroxide will intensify the color and the combo of peroxide and sitting uncovered will lessen the gasses and give what gasses are produced some time to escape. I had a similar problem using pennies instead of steel wool today, and this corrected it the second time i tried.

Jill 19 months ago

I finally decided to do this- I learned after a long wait, you need to use metal cap on the vinegar/steel wool or it wont work. Plus my vinegar bottle which was plastic is now bowed out and looks like a bomb, I don't dare attempt to open. I don't know what happened but isn't good. Its been seeping for 10 days. I carefully placed outside just in case. My hands are stained awful to from opening cap on the other. Be careful when using, use gloves. Has anyone had any issues with reaction from vinegar and steel wool- explosion of bottle??? Please let me know your thoughts. great colors from the one which was okay- thanks for sharing

sana 2 years ago

I liked very much the idea of stain wood.

I tried it at home. After 5 days, the color of vinegar still not changed...!!!! Still transparent ! I used lemon vinegar: the one which is transparent. What can I do to obtain stain color? Help please

Thanks a lot

Deborah Sexton 2 years ago

I didn't know vinegar would stain wood. Great table patterns

Heather Says profile image

Heather Says 2 years ago from Buckeye, Arizona Author

@jellygator-- Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing :)

@cclitgirl-- That sounds great! Let me know if anything gets posted online as I'd love to check it out :)

@Dolores Monet-- I was impressed the first time I tried it too! Science is a beautiful thing. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting :)

jellygator profile image

jellygator 2 years ago from USA

Awesome article. Bet this will give me some ideas for wood floors I encounter, too. Sharing it on my real estate page.

cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 2 years ago from Western NC

Very cool! I have a whole living room that I'm going to re-do and you gave me some great ideas! Thanks for this. :)

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 2 years ago from East Coast, United States

I never knew you could stain wood with vinegar! The results are impressive and I love the chevron design. I'd never try it, I am too afraid of seepage. But a plain stained table top would suit me just fine.

Heather Says profile image

Heather Says 3 years ago from Buckeye, Arizona Author

@Laura Schneider-- Thanks! I'm glad you stopped by. Thanks for the kind words :)

Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 3 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

Amazing article! I never thought of combining vinegar stains with a pattern to turn the plain into the fabulous! Great article--voted up, awesome, shared... This one's a keeper! Great visual layout and easy-to-follow instructions, too.

Heather Says profile image

Heather Says 3 years ago from Buckeye, Arizona Author

purl3agony-- I know exactly what you mean. I have so many projects that get put off and re-imagined. It's frustrating and awesome sometimes. Let me know :)

purl3agony profile image

purl3agony 3 years ago from USA

I pinned this when you first published this hub, but I still haven't gotten the nerve up to try it :( What I was hoping would be my spring project might now become a fall project (or maybe a project for NEXT spring), but I still want to give this a try! So gorgeous!!

Heather Says profile image

Heather Says 3 years ago from Buckeye, Arizona Author

Lizz-- Thanks for stopping by today! I enjoyed your feedback :)

Sharkye11-- I do love awesome projects that are cheap! Thanks for reading and commenting :)

moonlake-- Thanks for stopping by and sharing :)

randomcreative-- You're right; the possibilities are practically endless. I have more ideas in mind for sure. Thanks for reading and commenting :)

Glimmer Twin Fan-- Thanks for the kind words and shares :)

purl3agony-- Thanks for stopping by! I hope your project comes out great. You'll have to let me know and I'd love to see pictures :)

Heather Says profile image

Heather Says 3 years ago from Buckeye, Arizona Author

veticalslicer, you're absolutely right. You need to use steel wool, grade #0000 as I stated above. Thanks for commenting.

veticalslicer 3 years ago

A small word of caution to anyone wanting to try this. My steel wool took three weeks to be begin to visibly break down and change the color of the vinegar. I bought mine on Amazon and, without really paying close attention, ended up buying "Heavy Duty Extra Course #4" steel wool. Whatever it is that makes it "heavy duty" apparently also retards the oxidation process considerably.

purl3agony profile image

purl3agony 3 years ago from USA

Love this project! I've been thinking about doing a similar staining project on my bureau, but didn't really know how to go about it. Thanks so much for this informative hub. Pinning immediately :)

Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

This is really cool. Loved it. Shared, pinned etc.... Love the pics and everything.

randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 3 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wow, very cool! I had no idea that you could stain wood with vinegar. I liked so much from your article. Great overview and beautiful table! There are so many possibilities for this technique.

moonlake profile image

moonlake 3 years ago from America

Great photos how neat I have never heard of doing this. You explain it very well. Voted up, share and Pinned

Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 3 years ago from Oklahoma

That is a really interesting technique! You provided great photos too. This would really be useful for so many different projects. And cheap too! Thanks for sharing the idea as well as your personal experience with the project. Voting and sharing.

Lizz 3 years ago

Your photos are super helpful, and your finished table is beautiful! Good job!

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