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How to Make New Wood Look Old

Today I am sharing how to make new wood look old. This homemade vinegar/tea stain is one of my absolute favorite ways to “stain” wood and it’s great for making newer wood appear aged and weathered. It’s also a non-toxic homemade stain that’s super easy to use and doesn’t cost much to make. In fact, you may already have everything you need on hand!

PINNING this for later! See how easy it is to make new wood look old by using household items to create an a non-toxic homemade stain. upcycledtreasures.com

Materials Needed to Make New Wood Look Old:


Here is a before photo of an unfinished wood crate before I decided to make new wood look old.

PINNING this for later! See how easy it is to make new wood look old by using household items to create a non-toxic homemade stain. upcycledtreasures.com

Step 1:Mix the Steel wool with vinegar and let sit for a minimum of 24 hours

You don’t need a whole piece, 1/3 to 1/2 of a whole piece will work but I just throw a whole piece in a jar and then fill it up with vinegar. I have seen posts where people only waited a couple of hours and others where they waited days, but most people have suggested to let the mixture sit for at least 24 hours. I was too busy looking up venues and cakes and dresses to pay attention and mine sat for about 4 days for this specific project. I did notice the color was rusty brown after 24 hours and even muddier by the time I used it. I have let the mixture sit for a day and other times a few weeks before using it to make new wood look old.

PINNING this for later! See how easy it is to make new wood look old by using household items to create a non-toxic homemade stain. upcycledtreasures.com

Step 2: Brew some tea

After the steel wool has set for 24 hours and you are ready to “stain” your project, you can brew some tea in a separate jar – any kind will do. I kept mine in a mason jar and I used 2 bags of black chai tea for these specific crates, which was more than enough. You can brew more if you plan on “staining” a lot more wood. I have used tea that sat out for longer than a day and some that only sat for about 10 minutes, it worked fine regardless. I like to use my Keurig to brew the tea, and if you want to add coffee grounds to the mix {which will make it darker and also help with the vinegar smell} you can just put a couple of tablespoons in the jar, or keep one of the Keurig coffee filters in the machine and let it brew that on top of the tea. This way it strains the grounds and you don’t have to wipe them off the wood later, but either way works.

PINNING this for later! See how easy it is to make new wood look old by using household items to create an a non-toxic homemade stain. upcycledtreasures.com

Keep in mind that the type of tea you use can can vary the color of the wood, so have fun and experiment. Here is the chai black tea I used on these crates:

PINNING this for later! See how easy it is to make new wood look old by using household items to create an a non-toxic homemade stain. upcycledtreasures.com

This is some green tea and cinnamon tea mixed together:

PINNING this for later! See how easy it is to make new wood look old by using household items to create an a non-toxic homemade stain. upcycledtreasures.com

And this is what some tea and coffee mixed together looks like

PINNING this for later! See how easy it is to make new wood look old by using household items to create an a non-toxic homemade stain. upcycledtreasures.com

Step 3: “Paint” your wood with the tea mixture

Now that you have 2 separate jars, one with steel wool/vinegar and the other with tea, you can paint your wood with the tea mixture using a brush (or rag). You will want to let the tea completely dry to make the new wood look old before continuing to the next step  – this generally takes about 30 minutes to an hour. The photo below shows the top after I painted on the tea mixture. It did get lighter after it dried though. This stuff really does stain the wood so try to avoid any drip marks.

PINNING this for later! See how easy it is to make new wood look old by using household items to create a non-toxic homemade stain. upcycledtreasures.com

Step 4: “Paint” on your steel wool/vinegar mixture and let it dry

Apparently the acid in the tea mixed with the steel wool/vinegar mixture works some magic. It may smell like vinegar but mine actually wasn’t too bad and the smell went away after it dried, although you could always rinse it off. The good news is you will immediately see a difference which is awesome and very satisfying. {FYI: I have also used the vinegar/steel wool mixture first, followed by the tea and it worked just as well}

Step 5: Seal your wood.

At this point, you can protect the stain using wax or some sort of sealer like polyurethane or polyacrylic. I didn’t stain these crates because I didn’t mind if they got banged up, since I wanted them to look old and weathered, but have sealed all furniture pieces and frames I’ve used this on. It adds a bit of sheen and makes it look oh-so-pretty.

That’s it! Enjoy your new, “old” piece of wood!

PINNING this for later! See how easy it is to make new wood look old by using household items to create a non-toxic homemade stain. upcycledtreasures.comPINNING this for later! See how easy it is to make new wood look old by using household items to create a non-toxic homemade stain. upcycledtreasures.com

One thing I would suggest is making sure you put down a newspaper or a drop cloth or do this in an area you don’t mind getting dirty. The steel wool/vinegar stain is actually pretty dark and I didn’t realize it may splatter and stain something. You may also want to wear gloves so it doesn’t get all over your hands, although washing your hands about 10 times will get rid of it. Ha.

I actually ended up whitewashing these crates right before our wedding just to make them look a bit more weathered.  I basically painted on a mixture of 50% white paint and 50% water, let it sit for about a minute and then wiped it off with a rag. Here is a photo of one set up during the reception:

PINNING this for later! See how easy it is to make new wood look old by using household items to create a non-toxic homemade stain. upcycledtreasures.com

We have used this DIY stain to make new wood look old on too many projects to count, including our rustic media stand, dining table, and wood frames on our gallery wall.

PINNING this for later! See how easy it is to make new wood look old by using household items to create an a non-toxic homemade stain. upcycledtreasures.com

additional tips

Updated Notes based on previous reader questions: I used 2 tea bags for this specific project {one probably would have been fine} and the type of tea doesn’t matter either, although different teas and woods can have a variation in color. I used black chai tea on this project and it smelled sooooo good but have also used green teas, lavender tea, basic lipton tea, etc. Again, the type of tea and type of wood can make the “stain” color vary.

Distilled Vinegar vs. Apple Cider Vinegar and why isn’t the color changing?

Although I used apple cider vinegar on this specific project, I have also tried it many times using distilled vinegar. The first time I used distilled vinegar I left the steel wool in the jar for 8 days since the color in the jar still hadn’t changed, and was as clear as day {which is why I just kept letting it sit}. However, as soon as I took off the lid the steel wool started to disintegrate. Then when I stirred it the jar became dark and the mixture still worked perfectly. So letting the mixture get some air had a reaction which then made the color show.

So yes, both apple cider vinegar and distilled white vinegar have worked for me. I have also heard that balsamic vinegar will work but may have a greenish tint.

As for the amount of steel wool, on this project I used about a third of one piece, but I honestly prefer to make this stuff in large batches now since I use it so often. So I will generally throw one steel wool in a jar, old {clean} takeout containers {Chinese soup containers are the best!}, or large yogurt container and then fill the rest up with vinegar. Anything with a lid will do to store it for later use. I don’t store the tea/coffee since I just make that right before, but you can.

Adding Coffee Grounds to Make New Wood Look Old

I pretty much always add coffee grounds to the tea mixture to darken it up even more, plus it helps cover up the vinegar smell a bit. You may be left with some coffee grounds on the wood but can just wipe it off. Make sure to wipe off the grounds right away though, otherwise, you will be left with spots afterward. Of course, the coffee grounds are not necessary and I didn’t use any on the wood crates in this post.

I have even thrown both the vinegar/steel wool and tea/coffee grounds mixture into a plastic bin when I stained some wooden easels that we used at our wedding, and some picnic baskets. I also put the mixture in the sink when I stained our wedding wands, and I cleaned the sink afterwards with no “stain” left behind. Although the mixture worked just as good when combined {which makes it easy to stain oddly shaped projects}, I find that on furniture it’s more consistent if you “paint” on one mixture followed by the other vs. using them as a combined mixture.

I have used this stain on so many projects I can’t even keep count, like my rustic industrial desk, wedding chair signs, wedding wands, easels, picnic baskets, frames, keepsake boxes etc. It has worked every time and I love the results! My favorite thing to do is to add a whitewash on top of the stain to create an even more aged effect.

Wooden box with DIY stain

Have you used this DIY stain to make new wood look old before and how did you like it? Be sure to read even more helpful tips in the comments!

additional resources

Looking to make metal rust? Check out our video below:

You can also check out this post on how to make metal rust in less than 10 minutes.

PINNING this for later! See how easy it is to make new wood look old by using household items to create a non-toxic homemade stain. upcycledtreasures.com