When I started my adventures in homemade wood dye, I figured it would be a big project, but not a hard project.
Boy. Was I wrong — and then some.
You’ll notice I used the word “disaster” in the title. And, well, that about sums it up. I didn’t permanently dye something the wrong color. And I didn’t ruin anything. But, well, now I know why I’ll be sticking with commercial wood dyes for the… well, probably forever.
A Plan Is Hatched
I’m fascinated with the idea of homemade wood dye. Actually, I’m fascinated with the idea of DIYing a lot of things and hacking stuff and doing it myself. I’m kind of independent like that.
I tried to make homemade wood dye before, and it didn’t go well. It’s a long story about a nick in a chair and my attempt to fix the marred wood with coffee. It totally didn’t work, and I have no idea why. Probably because the chair is a quality chair with quality finishes, and so on.
So, as I started this dollhouse adventure, I’ve stuck with the commercially available stains, dyes, and paints. They are fine, get the job done, and are almost always available. Plus, they come in an array of colors and finishes, so I have a lot to choose from.
That said, there are, of course, problems with the commercial stuff, like, you know, the chemicals. I’m in no way against them, but, let’s face it, they have a bad reputation for a reason.
Hence the thought of homemade wood dye. More specifically, homemade wood dye that’s made out of non-chemical stuff. Since I’m trying to avoid purchasing things right now (except the essentials which is really just food at this point), I figured I could give it a shot and make my own wood dye.
So, I researched homemade wood dyes, found some fabulous ideas, and gave it a shot.
And then, well, read on, friends. Read on.
How to Make Homemade Wood Dye
As always, I started with research. I found a ton — a ton, I tell you — of homemade wood dye recipes. Some of them involved food coloring. I skipped those because I’m not interested in making “fun” colors (not yet anyway). And I skipped the ones that call for Kool-Aid or cake icing as the pigment. All I could see in my head were ants crawling all over the dollhouse. Gross.
Reading over the instructions made making homemade wood dye sound easy. Like, do step one, then step two and then, ta-da! Homemade wood dye! It’s cheap, it’s eco-friendly, and you can make it any time you want — as long as you have some time and the supplies on hand.
Yeah. No. That’s not remotely what happened.
I have to admit, a lot of this was my own fault, so I’m not blaming the “chefs.” And, I learned a lot about why store-bought is sometimes better (and easier) than DIYing things.
There’s a reason why you call a plumber when the upstairs tub overflows, drips into your ceiling, and creates a problem right before Thanksgiving. True story. I don’t want to talk about it.
Homemade Wood Dye Disaster Number One: Steel Wool and Vinegar
Recipe number one seemed easy enough. Take one steel wool pad (which I thought I had) and stick it in a glass jar (which I do have). Cover with enough white vinegar (which I also have) to totally cover the steel wood pad. Put the lid on the jar slightly askew, so air can get in and out, let the concoction sit for 24 hours, and voila! Homemade wood dye.
Before I jump into this, I apologize that some of these pictures are super-blurry. Apparently, I did not clean off my camera lens (also a newbie mistake).
I grabbed a steel wool pad.
and decided I didn’t want to sacrifice the whole thing to this experiment. Instead, I got scissors and cut it apart.
Fun fact: those scissors went right through that steel wool pad. No joke! And, bonus, supposedly cutting steel wool helps sharpen the blades.
Then, I followed the rest of the instructions. I popped the steel wool in the jar, covered it with white vinegar, partly covered the jar and let it sit.
Because I didn’t want this brew to stink up the house, I put it in the garage overnight.
The next day
Here’s what my concoction looked like the next day:
Yeah. No change. I thought that maybe the cold temperature in the garage slowed the reaction down. So, I brought the jar in the house and let it sit in the warm air for another 12 hours. Here’s how that turned out: pic
I let it sit for another 12 hours, maybe more and, well, no change. No picture to show but, here, I’ll just recycle the first one because I swear it’s the same.
I had no idea what was wrong.
There’s more than one steel wool
It was killing me trying to figure out what was going on. Steel wool plus liquid should equal rust (or homemade wood dye). But, nothing, zero, zip, zilch. What did I do wrong?
Let’s see if you can figure it out. Here’s the kind of steel wool pad I was using:
Yeah. Took me a minute, too.
That’s a stainless steel wool pad. And stainless steel is known for its anti-rusting properties.
Ah. OK then.
This also explains why the recipe variation of steel wool plus balsamic vinegar didn’t work either. Just for the laughs, here’s what that looks like.
I’m classifying this as a newbie mistake, even though it’s so much more than that. I just don’t know what to call it.
Homemade wood dye using vinegar and real steel wool (kind of)
So, once I recognized my mistake, I realized the only way to make this work was to pick up some real steel wool.
If you’ve been out shopping lately, you know that the pickings are kind of slim. And the same is true if you’re having groceries delivered. You take what they’ve got!
I’m fine with that. No sense in being picky right now.
That’s how I ended up with this:
First problem: they are filled with soap. Second problem: they have anti-rust protection.
Well, I’ve got time on my hands these days, so let’s give it a whirl.
Here’s the steel wool pad:
I decided not to cut it. I figure I might as well sacrifice the whole thing.
Here it is in the jar
It’s hard to tell, but that pad fills up the whole jar. That’s fine, but I was a little concerned that there wouldn’t be enough extra room for the air to get in and out of the jar to create the rust.
I poured in the vinegar, and this is what happened:
Bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble, no doubt!
Here’s what it looked like when the bubbling stopped:
I think that blue stuff is the soap. I have no idea at this point. Also, the whole thing didn’t smell very lemony, but that’s probably due to the vinegar.
This time, I started with the jar in the house. And, 12 hours later, I was rewarded with this:
24 hours later, I had this:
It’s not a very deep color, but, as I’ve learned, looks can be deceiving.
I let it sit for another 12 hours just to see what would happen, but there was really no change to the color.
Testing the steel wool and vinegar wood dye
Once I was satisfied I wasn’t getting anything else out of the steel wool, I took it out of the jar and tossed the pad in the trash.
I feel compelled to mention that until the garbage went out a few days later, every time someone lifted the lid to throw something out, there was the distinct odor of rusted metal coming from the garbage can. Maybe the reaction was still happening or something. I don’t know, but I figured I should warn you.
Here’s what I was left with:
It kind of looks like soapy water.
But, I didn’t have much of a choice and, hey, you never know! The dye in the bottle (or jar) isn’t always the same as the final product.
I grabbed an old sock, dipped it in the homemade wood dye, and wiped it on the test scrap wood.
Here’s out that looked right out of the gate:
I guess you’d call that “clear.”
Figuring I’d end up saying, “Well, that’s another fail!” I did some other things while I let that test patch dry.
I honestly don’t know how long I was gone, but, when I came back, much to my shock, I found this:
It worked! It’s totally not the color I was going, for, but who cares? It worked!
For the record, the stain on the wood smells like neither vinegar nor lemon (not to mention soap). It just smells like wood.
But making homemade wood dye out of steel wool and vinegar does work!
(don’t forget to check out page 2 for more!)