Making a new crate look vintage by staining with tea

I picked up a new, inexpensive crate on sale at Michael’s for only $3.99. I wanted it to look old, so I surfed around on the internet for a good, non-toxic way to stain it. I’ve heard of staining wood with tea (black tea contains tannins, which can darken wood), but I’ve never tried it before. I thought I’d give it a whirl. It turned out wonderful and it was so great to do it all without gross, toxic chemicals!


First, you take a little steel wool and soak it in some white vinegar (enough to cover the steel wool) for a few days. I let mine sit in a mason jar (with the cap just sitting on top) for 3 days. The steel wool will partially disintegrate, but not completely.


Second, you need some used tea bags. I make a 3 quart pitcher of iced tea every day, so I saved the used tea bags in a bowl for about 5-6 days. That means I had about15-18 family size tea bags all together.


When the steel wool/vinegar mixture is ready to use, place your tea bags in a separate container or bowl. Boil some water, pour the hot water over the tea bags and leave to steep for a few hours.



Discard the tea bags. Brush the tea mixture onto your entire prepped wood project. The tea contains tannic acid that is transferred to the wood.The tea mixture does not need to stay hot for this to work. The color will not really change, it will just look wet. Let the wood dry.


After the entire piece is dry, brush the steel wool/vinegar mixture onto your piece, the color will immediately start to change and will continue to darken as it dries. Let it dry completely. You can sand it afterward (to lighten the color) or leave it as is.




While I was at it, I also stained a little star sign that I picked up at Michael’s for.. you guessed it… $3.99. The star was pre-aged, but the little sign was plain, unstained wood.




Wear gloves.

Cover your work surface (if you care about it)

I’m planning to sand the crate just a little and then add some character to it (not sure what yet). I’ll post an update when I do.

Vi snakkes! (“See you later” in Norwegian)

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26 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The House at Bluebird Lane
    May 24, 2012 @ 23:30:29

    Your stained wood looks terrific! Thanks so much for sharing the “how to”. I’ve tea-stained fabric before, but not wood. Can’t wait to try it! 🙂


    May 27, 2012 @ 15:57:00

    Looks great! Thanks for sharing the technique….I will definitely be trying this in the future.


  3. debbiedoos
    May 27, 2012 @ 16:41:17

    FANTASTIC. Who would think..tea bags! Thanks for sharing with the newbie party.


  4. Amy
    May 27, 2012 @ 18:40:19

    This is a great idea! I have all these supplies around the house too. I am a new follower. I would love for you to stop by my blog, I am hosting a giveaway for a digital scrapbooking software.


  5. Katherine
    May 28, 2012 @ 06:44:55

    great idea!!! love it! hugs


  6. Jennifer @ Town and Country Living
    May 28, 2012 @ 13:26:32

    Great tutorial! Thanks for sharing.


  7. Michelle
    May 28, 2012 @ 15:19:58

    Wow! Great idea! I love the idea of being able to stain wood without all of the noxious fumes! 🙂


  8. Kim
    May 29, 2012 @ 10:39:53

    Awesome idea! I don’t hate the stain smell (I actually like it because it reminds me of my dad and grandpa working with wood) but I don’t like using it myself. This sounds like a great alternative! I’ll have to give it a shot!

    If you have time, I would love for you to share this on my link party:

    Thanks and have a great day!


  9. sherry
    May 29, 2012 @ 17:21:48

    What a wonderful alternative! Thanks for sharing.


  10. Lisa
    May 29, 2012 @ 18:45:20

    I have always wanted to try tea staining. Thanks for the tutorial – I love the rich color the tea gave your crate!


  11. Jan McCormack
    May 29, 2012 @ 20:38:24

    That really looks great! Such a neat idea to enhance the look of a crate, can’t wait to see the updated pictures. And thanks for the tutorial, I might have to give it a shot, I’ve got some crates just begging for attention. : )..


  12. Trackback: The Weekly Round-up: Week 13 | It's a Blog Party
  13. Tami @ Curb Alert!
    Jun 07, 2012 @ 19:31:51

    Thank you so much for linking up to our previous Friday Block Party at Curb Alert! I would love for you to link up again this week and look forward to what you have to share, the link is up and running all weekend.
    Thanks! Tami @ Curb Alert!


  14. mixedkreation
    Jun 09, 2012 @ 03:49:27

    Your crate looks great. I use tea to stain paper, but it never occurred to me to use it on wood, or even fabric for that matter. Thanks you for sharing.


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  16. Heather
    Jan 29, 2013 @ 12:49:20

    Can’t wait to try it! I am wondering if it matters if the tea bags have been used? We aren’t big tea drinkers so I was thinking of using fresh tea bags. Will that make a difference?


    • planetpowers
      Jan 29, 2013 @ 17:53:26

      Hi Heather,
      I doubt it would make much of a difference. I only used previously used tea bags because we do drink a lot of tea and it was a way to recycle them. It worked so well and without all those wood stain fumes and chemicals. Good luck with your project!


  17. Keri
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 16:56:49

    Ha! The first pic looks like a rat in a jar! There seems to be an eyeball staring out of the mixture! On a serious note-this is a great informative post!! Thank you!!


  18. Angela
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 21:52:41

    I did the same thing as you did, but I noticed that my vinegar isn’t reacting as well as yours so I added rusted nails into the mix. When i painted it, I noticed that it turned black instead of the nice brown. Was it the nails that made it turn a different colour?


  19. Kandi
    Sep 30, 2013 @ 23:37:38

    Hello Dear, are you really visiting this web site regularly, if so
    afterward you will without doubt get good experience.


  20. Dan
    Jun 13, 2014 @ 06:55:53

    Hi, I have tried soaking the steel wool in vinegar, its been a few days now but the water isn’t changing colour. The bag the wool came in doesn’t say stainless steel.


  21. Pat
    Oct 08, 2015 @ 15:12:37

    I have a banister to stain and I don’t want to go buy stain. Your idea is perfect. I am going to start tonight. And another big plus, I compost old tea bags so I have a bunch of them hanging around! Thanks!
    ps, Have you tried it with coffee?


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