Using A Natural Stain For Wood Floors

Not every home improvement project turns out like you had envisioned it. While trying to achieve weathered grey flooring, we desperately wanted to avoid oil based wood stain. Not only is it super toxic, but neither of us can handle the odor which takes weeks to dissipate. After loads of research and hands-on experimenting with scrap floor planks, we decided to use a natural stain for our wood floors. The white vinegar with steel wool and black tea method (black tea goes on separately). Having tried this on our shop products with much success, why not floors? Yes it works. Yes it turns wood a weathered grey.  But instead of grey, we got orangey red:

DIY Floor Stain

That white swipe mark in the above photo is where we missed a spot with the stain. As you can see, it really does a good job of staining. However, you only get grey when you use a clean glass jar with absolutely NO rust sediment in it. So what was our mistake? We had allowed our first batch of stain to sit too long in the jar, and it became super concentrated. This will turn wood a reddish brown and leave rust deposits in the jar. The stains are impossible to get out, I know because I tried, even scrubbing with fresh steel wool! While we did make a new fresh batch of stain, we stupidly used the same jar with the rust stains, thinking it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Well it did.


This stain is a chemical reaction, between the stain ingredients and the tannin in the wood. So you don’t instantly see the floor change color as you apply it. It takes a bit of time. When I saw the red instead of grey, my heart sank. On top of which, and what people on the internet do NOT tell you, is that you WILL see brush marks, which are those darker sloppy lines in the photos. They look like something spilled on the floor. Ugh.

So NOT what we wanted. There are only a couple of things we could do to fix it. We could rent a floor sander and sand the wood down and start over. We could get a really dark oil based stain to cover up the natural stain. Or we could paint it. Sanding and starting over wasn’t a guarantee that it would fix it, and going over it with an oil based stain was out of the question. I mean, if we could afford to move out for two weeks so as not to breathe in the toxic fumes, okay. But we’re not wealthy. This only left painting. So back to internet to look up painting techniques and products. I decided to go with Ace Royal Porch & Floor Paint:

We had the paint department at our local home improvement center tint the base a dark charcoal grey shade. Once we got it home, I got a clean plastic bucket and made a mix of watered-down paint. To paint the floors, I used both the solid paint and the watered-down version. I didn’t want the boards to be all grey or to cover over the grain. So all boards got a light wash of grey (watered-down paint), while some got a more thicker, darker brushing (solid paint). Immediately after applying, I took a shop towel and buffed the paint, so that the grain would show. I did each and every board one at a time, to make sure there were no lines and so that each board would be unique:

It’s been difficult to get good photos of the floor as the weather has been very dark and stormy lately, so please forgive the shadows and poor photo quality. The grey wash toned down the red, turning most boards into a brownish grey, and the boards with thicker paint came out with a nice subtle charcoal color.

One nice thing about the grey wash and buffing method, it seemed to highlight the hand distressing in the planks, making them appear older. The red stain just made them look more red.

I love the floor so much now. The photos don’t really show the details or the color well, but trust me, they look dark, grey, weathered and old. A lot of extra hard work, but it was worth it. It was a flooring lesson learned, and unfortunately one we will have to repeat: in order for the floor to match up in the rest of the house, we’ll have to first stain it the wrong way yet again, then go over it with the paint lol!