Vinegar Stain on the Big Boy Bed

Have you ever stained something with vinegar? It’s got to be one of the strangest crafting experiences I’ve had, but I’m so pleased with how it turned out!

For Edmond’s new big boy bed, I decided to try this new-to-me wood finish. I wanted a stained look, specifically in a gray tone, but being five months pregnant, it probably wasn’t the best idea to use a regular stain. I’d seen posts on Pinterest about vinegar stain that were gorgeous, and the idea was very intriguing. So I popped a #0000 grade steel wool pad in a jar and mixed up a quart of apple cider vinegar based stain. It sat for two or three days before I tested it. The color was much more brown than I expected on my pine board, so I went back to Pinterest for a little more research. I mixed up another jar but to this one I added about half a cup of balsamic vinegar and let it sit for 6 hours. Then I tested again.

Here on this test strip you see 5 pretty distinct colors, but there are only two different stains in use here! I couldn’t believe what an impact the timing of the tea application had on the color. I really liked the gray tint that the Balsamic added to the Apple Cider Vinegar mix, but it didn’t sit long enough to develop a deep, rich color like my first batch of straight Apple Cider Vinegar stain. However, that color was a little more brown than I was going for.  In the end we decided to mix it all in together, and it’s a good thing too, or I probably would have run out of material.

Mom came over to help me with this project because she was so intrigued by the idea of a homemade stain. I mixed up 4 cups of black tea at double strength (8 regular tea bags left to steep for several hours) and we started painting it on with foam brushes. There was no change in the color of the wood at this point, but according to all the Pinterest posts, the tea adds tannins to the wood that are vital for the reaction that occurs during the vinegar step. I myself have no idea why it’s necessary, I just knew it was.

Then we immediately began brushing on the stain mixture with regular paint brushes. It was amazing to watch. With each brushstroke there was almost no color but within 30 seconds the color had shifted. It darkened further as it dried.

There were a couple times we commented on the wisdom (or lack thereof) of choosing such a large project for the first with a new finishing method, but I’m actually really happy with it! And bonus, everything cleaned up with simple soap and water!

A few notes about the process:

  • One blog I came across stressed the importance of letting the vinegar and steel wool steep with the lid off. I also made a batch of stain with white vinegar, and it got really rusty. I don’t know if it was a lid issue or just a fluke, but it’s worth noting, I think.
  • I recommend wearing rubber gloves for application. Even with the gloves my fingernail beds wound up stained black. It took about a week, but the color is gone from them now.
  • Most tutorials I found suggested removing the remains of the steel wool pad when the desired color has been reached. My understanding is if it’s left in the vinegar, it will break down further and the color will deepen.
  • A lot of posts talked about how bad the stain smells, but I didn’t find it offensive at all. The rusty smell bothered me more than the vinegar.

I still have to seal the wood, but I haven’t decided what to use. I’m leaning toward a wax of some sort. Why stop experimenting now?

We picked up two twin mattresses at Ikea (They come rolled flat like a giant sleeping bag. Isn’t that wierd?!) Right now we’re using our regular guest room bedding. I’ve picked out something different for EO, but I haven’t ordered it yet.  

With the trundle popped up, it’s nearly a king sized bed. It fills the entirety of this little room, but hopefully it will be comfortable for the 2 or 3 overnight guests we have each year!

EO won’t be moving in for a few months yet, but he seems pretty excited about this big bed! He loves using the stool to crawl up on top and throw his little body around!

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5 Responses to Vinegar Stain on the Big Boy Bed

  1. Nancy clewell says:


  2. Beth says:

    It is absolutely beautiful, even better in person! What an awesome project and great space for a little guy❤️❤️!!

  3. Barbara DeJardin says:


  4. Pam McNicoll says:

    It was a great project. And yes, he will love his new bed!! You were brave to take on the whole project – Proud of you!!
    Love- Mom

  5. Pingback: A Little Boy’s Room | A Guy, A Girl, and a Really Old House!

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