Pinterest Tested: Vinegar/Steel Wool Wood Stain

Welcome to Pinterest Tested! Ever wonder if that miracle cleaner is really miraculous? Or what about that homemade facial cleanser or delicious-looking recipe? This is the place to find out! I am testing Pins that catch my eye to see if they really live up to the claims made on Pinterest. It’s like the Mythbusters of Domesticity! 

If you are a regular reader around these parts, then you know I’ve been working on my downstairs family room lately. I said I would post more about how I stained the desk top. 

Instead of using stain like a normal person, I decided to try something I had seen on Pinterest. 

THE CLAIM: You can mix steel wool and vinegar together, let it sit for 24+ hours, then brush it onto wood to stain it.

Many of the pages I read (HERE, HEREHERE and HERE) said that this technique gives you an antique barnwood look. I thought that would be great for downstairs, so I gave it a whirl.

Here I am painting on the stinky metallic liquid:

I was sure it wasn’t going to work. At first, it looked like I was just brushing the table top with water. I did three coats and ended up with a pinkish, weird looking finish. And the three coats raised the wood grain so much in some areas that I ended up having a few slivers that came out completely. I thought the project was a bust, but I figured I would just add the polyurethane coat and see what happened before I bought a whole new piece of wood and started over.

Well, wouldn’t you know that the polyurethane worked it’s magic and I ended up with a rich, warm, shiny brown finish.

Even though it was not what I had expected, I love how it turned out!
So… did it work? Yes. Would I recommend it? No. 
It is too unpredictable. You just don’t know what color you are going to end up with.
It also raises the woodgrain, causing damage, stress and extra work.
Here’s the worst of the damaged spots:

I tried filling in the gouge left from the raised woodgrain with putty, which just made it look worse. Luckily, it’s under the keyboard, so it doesn’t show.


  1. Hi Jennifer! The desk is really pretty. And I love seeing one of my methods tested. So weird that it didn't turn grey. I'm wondering….did you apply a coat of tea first? In my experience that makes a huge difference in the results of the color. You're right, it is a little unpredictable. Always good to test a small spot first if possible. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Stephanie @ The Styled Soul

    • Stephanie, I did NOT apply tea first. I did a test swatch on a scrap of lumber and it turned the prettiest grey color, so I didn't bother with the tea. I don't know why the desk turned out a different color. It was the same wood and I did it the same way…. weird.

      Thanks for the tutorial and for stopping by my blog!

  2. This is my favorite way to get a distressed look. I have used it probably 3-4 times on different projects and all have turned out perfect. The only thing different I did was to add a layer of tea stain to it. I also used new lumber.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here