Using vinegar to antique wood is easy when you follow step-by-step instructions. Steel wool will dissolve in the vinegar providing a nice silvery stain. Depending on the type of wood you're staining, this technique can offer you another choice for finishing wood with a few inexpensive supplies.
Gather Your Supplies
Distilled vinegar provides a more consistent gray finish while apple cider vinegar often stains brown.
You'll need the following for your project:
- 32 ounces or more of distilled vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 1 quart jar with lid (or other 32 ounce jar)
- 1 bag Grade #0000 steel wool
- 1 chip brush
- Fine sanding paper, grit 120 (removes blemishes)
- Extra fine sanding paper, grit 240 (for final finish)
- Wire mesh strainer
- Clean soft cloth
- Rubber gloves
- Clear wax finish for furniture (Minwax or Annie Sloan)
Instructions for Antiquing Wood With Vinegar
If you're working on a large piece of furniture, such as a dining table, you may want to prepare more than a quart of solution. It's always better to have more than you need than to come up short and have to stop work until another solution has time to percolate. You can always store any leftover solution.
Ratio of Vinegar to Steel Wool
Using the steps that follow, prepare your steel wool solution with the following ratios:
- ½ gallon vinegar; two steel wool pads
- 1 gallon vinegar; three to four steel wood pads
Step One: Prepare Vinegar and Steel Wool Solution
You will need to prepare a solution using distilled white vinegar and the steel wool.
- Cut the steel wool into one-inch pieces and place it in the mason jar.
- Pour the vinegar over the steel wool, filling the jar with vinegar.
- Screw on the jar lid and set the solution where it won't be disturbed for a minimum of three days. You'll know the vinegar is ready when its color is murky. If it is clear, it needs to rest longer.
Step Two: Prepare Furniture
For unfinished wood, give a light sanding and remove all debris with a soft clean cloth. If you're working with finished wood, remove the finish.
- For a light finish, sand it away.
- For a heavily layered finish, use any of the chemical products available to dissolve it and then wipe it away. Once dry, sand any remaining finish.
Test an area on the wood before tackling the entire piece of furniture. Choose the underside of a table or chair to see if the finish is what you want.
Step Three: Strain the Mixture Before Using
For an even finish, strain the vinegar mixture before using. Pour the mixture through the wire mesh strainer into another mason jar.
Step Four: Stain Furniture With Vinegar Mixture
Apply the vinegar mixture using a chip brush. Unlike some paintbrushes, a chip brush is solvent resistant and also costs less than a paintbrush. Brush the mixture in the direction of the wood grain. Allow it to dry completely, which may take a few hours.
Step Five: Seal
Apply a wax sealant, such as Minwax or Annie Sloan, following the manufacturer's instructions.
No Waiting, Instant Vinegar and Steel Wool Stain
Shabby DIY demonstrates an instant vinegar and steel wool solution.
- Heat the vinegar in the microwave on high for five minutes.
- Clean the steel wool with dish soap and water, rinsing it completely clean of any soap residue. Squeeze out any excess water.
- Cut the wool into small pieces and put it in the vinegar.
- Set the jar outside overnight or for 24 hours to release any off-gases.
- If you prefer a darker stain, the video host suggests adding a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide and mixing well.
Finishes for Different Woods
In the video below, Dave the Woodworker demonstrates an apple cider vinegar solution stain on different woods, such as poplar, pine, white oak, and pallet oak. You can conduct a comparison of the two vinegars, such as:
- White oak: Both vinegars will give a gray finish with the distilled vinegar (DV) having a bluish tint.
- Pallet oak: Dave's video reveals a medium brown with a tinge of gray for apple cider vinegar (ACV).
- Poplar: This wood doesn't stain very dark with ACV. You can add more steel wool to achieve a darker stain for this wood and use DV instead.
- Pine: A distilled vinegar will give a gray finish while ACV gives a reddish cast.
Handan and Greg at The Navage Patch tested other types of wood that gave different finishes for distilled and apple cider vinegars, such as:
- Cedar: The distilled solution gives a weathered gray while the ACV result is a medium brown.
- Maple: DV gives a nice soft pale gray while ACV provides a pale tan.
- Walnut: Both vinegars give a gray stain. The AC is a medium gray while the ACV is a pleasant bluish gray.
- Mahogany: The DV is a dark gray while the Walnut stains gray with both vinegar. The AC is a medium gray while the ACV is a dark brown.
- Cherry: The DV has a beautiful medium gray finish, while the ACV is a rustic merging of gray and brown.
Add Herbs, Coffees, or Teas
Many hobbyists and woodworkers experiment to create different stains natural solutions like coffee or black tea. Others prefer using different herb combinations, such as basil, to create stain variations.
Vinegar and Baking Soda
Just two ingredients can make this method work.
Distilled vinegar and spray bottle (use vinegar full strength)
- Baking soda
- Tap water
- Clean cloth
Bob Villa offers this simple vinegar antiquing method.
- Place the wood you're going to antique in a very sunny area.
- Mix equal ratios of baking soda and water to make a paste.
- Apply the soda paste to untreated wood. Make sure you apply a thick layer of the soda paste.
- Use undiluted vinegar in a spray bottle and spray generously over the wood coated with the baking soda paste.
- The vinegar will react with the baking soda to create the graying antique finish.
- Allow wood to remain in direct sunlight for a minimum of six hours.
- Remove the paste with a dry brush, then use a damp cloth to finish removing residue.
- If the finish isn't as dark as you want, you can repeat this process as many times necessary.
Inexpensive Way to Antique Wood With Vinegar
There are several ways you can prepare the vinegar solution to use as a unique wood stain. There are also many ways you can customize the stain by experimenting with different natural additives for a stain that is unique.