Thursday, October 18, 2012

Make DIY Natural Wood Stain in 5 Minutes!

Over the last few months I have been building quite a bit of furniture. The main impetus for building my own furniture is to save money and avoid all the off-gassing of all the glues and synthetic components that go into mass produced furniture. Most of the furniture that would be in my price range is made with cheap materials and/or wood veneers that contain many harmful chemicals that pollute indoor air quality. It is also very tricky to find any locally produced furniture whose manufacturing process does not produce a lot of waste. So, per usual I have been doing-it-myself :)

Why DIY Wood Stain?

In the upper Midwest of the United States it is pretty easy to find quality, local lumber or salvaged wood. If you can't find any inexpensive, quality lumber then wood shipping pallets can be a good option if you know where to look and how to disassemble them (more on that later). Worst case scenario you can usually find inexpensive pine lumber at your local hardware store. However, one thing that is hard to find is a good natural non-toxic wood stain. Many wood stains have high Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) -that nasty smell that remains after you stain - or are derived from petroleum products. Some extensive searching has brought up a few eco-friendly options, unfortunately not many of those options were not budget friendly. So what is a guy to do? You guessed it, I went ahead and made my own!

One of my DIY standards is that the project should be simple. So I did some research and found a couple of natural DIY wood stains that you can make in less than 5 minutes. I was also able to make each of these stains for less than $3.00, although you will probably have most of the ingredients in your kitchen already. The recipes I will share with you today are all lighter stains applied to light pine. (Check out this post to make dark brown and black stain or this post  to make dark cherry or mahogany colored stain). If you want a slightly darker color you can apply extra coats of stain. These stains will also require the wood to be sealed afterwards. If you are looking to purchase a natural option look for linseed oil (made from flax seeds) NOT boiled linseed oil (which includes synthetic additives). A good DIY wood sealer is a mixture of olive oil and melted beeswax - check out this post for my DIY Wood Sealant Recipe

Check out below to see how to do it for yourself!

Staining Process:

I made 4 different recipes: Hot Chocolate, Coffee, Tomato Sauce, and Red Wine. For each recipe I did 3 coats. I also used green tea to try and affect the intensity of the colors. 

Process #1 =  3 coats of the recipe. 
Process #2 = 1 coat of green tea + 2 coats of the recipe.
Process #3 = 1 coat of green tea + 1 coat of recipe + 1 coat of green tea. 

Here is a picture that can show you what the wood started out looking like compared to one coat of tea:

Top row has no stain - bottom two rows have the first coat of tea. 

Here is what each piece looked like after the 1st coat:

First Coat from L to R - Hot Chocolate, Coffee, Tomato Sauce, Wine.

Here is what each piece looked like after the 2nd coat: 

Second Coat from L to R - Hot Chocolate, Coffee, Tomato Sauce, Wine.

Here is what each piece looked like after the 3rd coat:

Third Coat from L to R - Hot Chocolate, Coffee, Tomato Sauce, Wine.

DIY Hot Chocolate Wood Stain


Hot Chocolate: 
1 Cup Vinegar
1/2 Cup Hot Cocoa

This ended up not having much more color than just the tea; I am not sure I would make this again.

DIY Coffee Wood Stain
2 Cups Coffee
1/2 Cup Coffee Grounds

This stain looked nice, it was slightly darker than the tea and seemed to get a nice color in just one or two coats. Also extremely cheap and easy to make. (Look for this being integrated into the darker stains next week).

DIY Tomato Sauce Stain
Tomato Sauce:
1/4 Cup Tomato Sauce
1 Cup Green Tea (2 Bags)
1/4 Cup Vinegar

This had a slight red color, but ended up looking mostly like the coffee stain. (I decided to experiment with this one last minute, and I am not sure I would do it again). 

Red Wine:
1 Cup Red Wine 

I really liked this stain. It was such a nice unique color. It also seemed to bring out the grain of the wood in a really nice way. I would definitely do this again. Bonus is that I got this bottle for less than $3.00 at Whole Foods. I would be curious to see if different wines would look different. Best part of the wine stain is that you get to drink the leftovers! (Look for this being integrated into some of the darker stains next week).

1 pint hot water
4 teabags of green tea (I used Tazo Om) 
*Different teas will give you different colors. Check out this blog for more info on using tea as wood stain. 

Very effective if you just want to protect your wood and give it that slightly aged yet glossy look. The tannin in the tea actually reacts with the wood to bring out the color change. (Check out this post to make dark brown and black stain or this post to make dark cherry or mahogany colored stain). 


These stains were all very effective. They were all super easy to make and can be made by materials that you most likely already have in your kitchen. There are no harsh chemicals involved in the process and cleanup is a snap. If you are looking for a nice light stain that can be made on a budget without any complicated processes I would definitely recommend one of these stains. They are also super easy to apply and dry within an hour (probably closer to 30 minutes). I applied the stain with an extra foam brush I had, but it can just as easily be applied with just an old rag or sock. There is no need for fancy paint brushes (unless you would really like to use one).

As you probably noticed this batch of stain won't leave too much color. Although that can vary depending on the type of wood and the intensity of the tea or other stain recipe you use. (It is always a good idea to test it out on a spare piece of wood or the underside of a project first). Also the colors get a little more noticeable over time as the stain interacts with the natural tannins in the wood. This stain serves best for those who want to bring out the natural grain in the wood and take away the bright starkness of the raw wood. For those looking for darker colors, check out this post to make dark brown and black stain or this post to make dark cherry or mahogany colored stain. To seal the wood use a varnish, shellac or my DIY Beeswax Wood Sealant. 


  1. Ben- this is a really sweet idea. My roomate just made a loft bed for herself to maximise space usage, but its just raw boring pine 2x8's from the hardware store. I'll link her to this post.
    I wonder if its just the camera you were using, but it didn't seem to me that the stains left very much color. So I'm looking forward to next weeks post for the darker-shade recipes.
    What kind of brush are you using? Synthetic or horse-hair?

    1. Thanks Jay! I updated the conclusion section of the post in response to your comment as I felt they were great questions. (You can pretty much use any type of brush or rag). I will try and take some better pictures next time as well, as I think that will definitely help. The darker shade post should be up tomorrow :)

    2. I find in my experience, especially when trying out the red wine stain, dipping a rag into the stain is the easiest and quickest way to go.

  2. Stroke of genius, Ben. Seriously, sweet stains and a super fun read. It's so sensible and the DIY part is easy and fun. It makes me feel like I could do it....this weekend....if I wasn't going to be spending it catching up on homework ;) really looking forward to reading more.


    1. Thanks Stacy! I just added another post for some darker colored stains that are also easy to do. Thanks for following my blog and let me know if you have any projects that you would like to see me tackle in the future!

  3. Ben this is pretty darn cool! What would you say to the non-believer? You know that guy who gets on this awesome blog and is all like "Oh man, that hippie stuff doesn't work. I'll stick with my carcinogenic store-bought brand." I'm excited to see more of your articles; it's empowering that you're trying to make stuff that you've never made before. I guess you don't need any special skills, other than being okay with not doing it perfectly the first time? There's such a fear of building things (I succumb to it all the time), because we don't "know how to do it." Well that's how you learn! Right?

  4. Hi Ben, thank you for posting this. I did a search for non-toxic wood stains and this is pretty much what I was looking for- something I could make myself using coffee, teas and things in my kitchen. I am a photographer and want to mount my photos on wood panels and I want the wood to look like the wood in the background of this blog.
    Can you tell me what you used to get this look?
    thanks a bunch!

  5. Pick your stain. Make sure that the stain will not change the grain the of the wood. Stains are normally matched to the grain and color of the wood, so pay attention to these details when buying a staining product.

  6. a single coat of tea stain on raw untreated wood has brought out a lot of black flecks in the wood. I understand the tannin process and in addition to your blog I've also read up on the experiences of several other bloggers who have experimented with tea as a stain, I did add the vinegar as suggested too. Any help on what I may have done wrong or how to remedy or correct this would be a huge help, thank you so much for your time and tutorial!!

  7. Ben, what do think of my idea of using the sediment from my whole house well water filter? It's iron in the water and it is an orange shade. on pine it looks like "Pumpkin Pine".What should I seal it with?Do you see any negatives to this? Thanks, Rob

  8. Hi Ben,
    I found your article to see if anyone else had previously tried kitchen ingredients to stain butcher block and it's occurring to me that it could be interesting to try some fruits and veggies with strong staining quality like beets, (or turmeric if one wants some yellow in the equation!)
    Cheers, thanks for the article.

    1. I like the Turmeric idea very much. Have to try this tomorrow.

    2. Silvia, did you try the Turmeric? How did it go???

  9. I liked your post on steel wood staining with hot chocolate staining before staining it with the steel wool and vinegar solution. What kind of hot chocolate do you use? Is it just cocoa powder and vinegar or did you use some sort of hot chocolate mix?

  10. Very cool! Now I'm contemplating doing this with my teak chairs...

  11. For the hot chocolate color, is it vinegar mixed with liquid hot cocoa or is it just the cocoa powder?
    Also, is it pure cocoa or a hot chocolate mix

  12. Have you ever tried staining by boiling acorns? They are loaded with tannin, and will most likely give the wood a strong brown color.

  13. Beet juice makes a great stain too...Give it a try.

  14. Hi, I'm confused!
    I saw the darker stains and clicked the link to get here.
    So to make the hot chocolate do you literally mean 1/2 cup of hot chocolate (that's already made like with water) or do you mean just the hot cocoa powder?

    Same with the Coffee - are the 2 cups of coffee liquid or 2 cups of coffee grains?

    Thank you! Also would it work to put the steel wool in the recipe and leave it sitting instead of doing two different coats?

  15. I carve natural tree fork slingshots and have tried coffee grounds with
    ok results. I carve mostly hardwoods. Has anyone tried mixing ingredients with alcohol, like 91% denatured? How about clays and earth

    1. Coffee extracted with denatured alcohol is a much more effective stain. I use it routinely for projects.

  16. Would that work on outdoor wood furniture made from teak??

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  18. Great post I must say. Simple but yet entertaining and engaging... Keep up the good work.

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  19. hi, I just wanted to say how much i enjoy reading your blog. in a world full of spin, it's nice to get some fact-based analysis. keep up the good work.

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  20. For your sizzling chocolate bars coloring, will it be vinegar mixed with liquefied sizzling hot chocolate or even will it be just your hot chocolate powdered?
    Additionally, will it be natural hot chocolate or even a sizzling chocolate bars mix.

  21. I made this amazing table but, being a total DIY idiot, I mixed up the steps and put the finish on before I had done the transfers of the wine logos onto the wood, so of course they didn't actually transfer. Is there anything I can do to fix this or am I stuck with my table without the wine logos? Thanks for the awesome idea and the instructions

  22. Has anyone tried a tea stain on flooring? I am thinking of doing a green tea + blueberry or pomegranate stain mixture for my pine floor and then using a good quality acrylic finish. Any reason that this would not work? Will the stain color last if the finish sealer is non-yellowing?

  23. Thank you so much for sharing! I did a pre-stain with coffee and food coloring and then a final coat of steel wool dissolved in about 2 1/2 cups of white vinegar and 3 tablespoons of balsamic and ended up with a BEAUTIFUL rich espresso color!

  24. Wondering if this beeswax sealer would work in a chicken coop that will have sanded pine board walls. Chicken coops are very dusty. I would probably wash down the walls once a year and reapply if needed but I'm wondering if that much dust would stick onto this finish. Thanks so much! I know I can use this on many projects.

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  27. Wow, this is absolutely brilliant! I hate the strong fumes from paints and stains that's why I have a lot of woodwork projects that I don't stain at all. How long does the stain last, by the way?

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