How to Change the Color on Rush Seat Chairs

Many rush seats on dining room chairs look orange or brown. If you want to lighten the color you can do so with wood stain. I did this to a set of 6 rush seat ladder back chairs over 7 years ago and they still look great.

In this post you will learn the staining process I used.

Dining Room Chairs from HomeGoods

I love these dining table chairs that I saw when I was out and about, but I have no need for them as I have a perfectly nice set of dining room chairs that were handed down to me from my mom and dad.


I like the styling of my chairs, but not the orange-toned wood.  I made slipcovers for them when I first got them. You can find that post, here: How to Make Simple Slipcovers For Dining Room Chairs

I have updated the table that goes with my chairs with white chalk paint and a driftwood finish top, but was struggling to figure out how to makeover the chairs especially to change the color of the rush seats so they coordinate with the table. After some searching…

…I found a way.  I couldn’t use the same product I used on the table since that only penetrates bare wood.

This post is step one in the makeover of my dining room chairs.

How To Stain the Rush Seat on Dining Room Style Chairs


supplies needed:

  • Rustoleum Driftwood Stain – One 8 oz. can was more than enough for 6 chairs
  • Stiff stencil brush
  • Paper towel or rag
  • Painter’s Tape
  • Minwax Polycrylic water-based sealer

Here is a chair before…It has nice lines…classic, but the orange tone just doesn’t excite me.

How to stain rush seat chairs with driftwood stain

1. Clean off seat with a damp cloth, let dry and then mask off any areas you don’t want to get stain on. Since I am going to be painting the wood on the chairs, I didn’t take the time to do this.

2. Shake the can well before opening and then stir it once every few minutes as you work.

3. Dip stencil brush into stain and start applying the stain to the seat with even strokes. I did one section of the seat at a time. Make sure you get everything covered well.

The stiffness of the stencil brush allows you to move the rush cords apart to make sure you get the stain in all the nooks and crannies.


4. As soon as you finish applying the stain to one section, use a paper towel or clean rag to wipe away the excess stain.

5. You need to wipe the stain away to create transparent color. If you look closely you can still see the brown color, it is now just muted and the overall color is a soft grey.


6. Repeat steps 2 -4 for each section of the chair seat. Let dry.

Minwax water based sealer

7. Seal with a water-based sealer. 1 – 2 light coats. Let the first one dry before applying the second.


Before and After



Go to the link to see the second part of the Dining Room Chair Makeover

My dining room chairs have had lots of personalities over the years.  You can see all the transformations here:

Chair makeover starting with changing the color of the rush seats to look more like a driftwood color. Once it is dry and sealed, I will paint the wood part of the chairs. | In My Own Style

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  1. Susan Coles says:

    I want to change the color of my rush seats from the usual orangey/gold color to a dark brown. I have some oil based gel stain that I used on my table top. Would I be able to use it? I tried a tiny spot on the underside of one of my seats and it does look browner but still transparent. Can you do more than one coat? What do you use to seal any stain on these seats that one might use? Thanks so much.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Susan – Yes you can use the gel stain. To get even or total coverage you will need a few coats. Using a rag, rub the stain in as evenly on the seats as possible, then use a clean rag to wipe up any excess. Let this coat settle in for a few hours and then repeat the process until you get the coverage you want.

      Once the last coat’s excess stain is wiped up with a clean rag, let the seat dry for 24 hours, then spray with a clear water-based sealer like Minwax Polycrylic. When sealing, spray one light coat on, wait a few minutes then apply another light coat to seal the stain. Let the seats dry before using.

      Note – wiping any excess stain off the seats will help you get even coverage. Minwax Spray Polycrylic comes in a few different sheens. If you can’t find the spray, you can use the brush on Polycrylic, but make sure to apply it evenly and not too thick.

  2. DIY UBER MOM LISE says:

    THANKS ! THAT LOOKS TERRIFIC! I did not want to use Shellac or Linseed Oil. I am using the Miniwax Premium Oil stain for my GIANT oversize outdoor walker which has had a DRY, hard life under the porch in the Arid Forested areas of New Mexico, The Western Slope in Colorado & Prescott, AZ but now is back in a humid environment in Kerrville, Texas where I bought it for my tall family with a wooden stool for the under 6 foot crowd comfortably rock. I DELICATELY cleaned any dirt or grime off with some denatured alcohol & allowed to dry. I did not need to mask off since we are re-staining the entire super wide & super tall rocker we sit in with the Natural Shade.

  3. I have a rush seat for my outdoor rocker. I’m painting the wood and would like to try your method for the seat. What would I use to protect the seat from the elements after using the stain and sealer?
    Thank you

  4. Geri Kesney says:

    How to darken rush chairs. What to use?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Geri – To darken your rush chairs, I would use the same brand/type of stain I used, but in the color you like. It is called Rustoleum Ultimate Wood Stain. It comes in many colors. Check them out here:

  5. Donna Marie says:

    That really helps with the chair change!!!

  6. Nan, Odessa, DE says:

    Nice job!
    Tell me about the rug in your dining room. Where can I buy it?
    Share more of your home!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Nan – Thanks – That dining room and rug are in my previous home in PA. When we moved 6 years ago, I didn’t have a place to add the rug so I sold it. It is no longer in stock, but the listing on Overstock is still up. You can see it here:

      It is a natural fiber jute rug. I like natural fiber rugs, but like seagrass better as it does not smell. Jute smells like burlap and the smell never went away. Also jute rugs. With sisal and seagrass – the natural fiber smell does go away.

      The past 6 months I have been traveling to Los Angeles for weeks at a time to care for my granddaughter who has leukemia. My list of home decorating and home improvement projects that I want to do around the house have taken the back burner, hence less posts about decor. I am in the process of updating older posts like the one you commented on with new ideas for each of them and do have a few decor projects for my current house in progress. So stay tuned. :-)

  7. The chairs really look beautiful! I don’t know that I would have thought to paint the rush seats but they sure turned out nice.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Nancy – The wood stain I used did the job well, even after all these years and the use they get – they still look great.

  8. Nice job on the rush stain. I want to do the same. Did you use oil or water based stain? I could not see on pic of can.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Wendy – The stain I used is oil-based. It works great.

  9. Hello! Thanks for all the design inspiration. I love the look of these chairs and am thinking of buying some for my kitchen. How are they, comfort-wise?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Carey – The chairs are very comfortable. They were before getting the seat makeover. Staining the seats didn’t change that. The chairs get used constantly and look as good today as the day I stained them. If you are thinking about doing it to your chairs, it works very well. :-)

  10. I just used an oil based stain to refurbish part of a seagrass bed frame , that I intend to use on the rest of the parts, that had some small areas that were stripped of color. I dont prefer the color I used and want to get it lighter. according to your article you painted lighter stain over darker stain without stripping the darker stain first. you just cleaned and painted? did your pieces have a finish on them? do you have any suggestions of how to lighten the type of stain I just used? your feedback is much appreciated.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi FB –

      To lighten the stain on the seagrass frame,I think you have two options – apply a lighter stain right over the stain you don’t like and rub in it. My chair seats may have had a clear matte finish on them, but nothing I could see though, so I can’t be sure. I just rubbed the lighter stain into the weave and got the color I desired.

      Or you could use a wash of paint may give it a lighter look. Depending on the color, you could water down any color of paint – 75% water to 25% paint, mix it well and brush over and dab and drips. It will create a lighter look and add contrast.

  11. This is fantastic, thank you!

  12. Great job love the color! I ordered some counter stools and liked the rush look but wanted maybe to make them grey or even an ebony stain Because I have a black and white Tile top on the counter! So you find the stain dried good, not tacky ?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Linda – The stain dried perfectly. It has been over 4 years since I added the Driftwood stain to the seats. They get used a lot and look just as good today as they did when I first did them. You would never know they were once orange toned seats. :-)

  13. Maria Starkey says:

    Like me you live dangerously. Staining on just a little piece of cardboard when there is a rug just under it. I’ve found plenty of ‘spatters’ that I never saw when they happened. Now that I have a brand new VERY expensive off-white sectional I put old beach towels across the back of it and cover the rest of the entire room with cardboard. LOL

    Love the chairs!!!!! I think I’ll try it on some I just bought used. ??

    1. Marina Moruzzi says:

      Hi Diane
      What type of material would you suggest for the chair slip covers? I live in France. I have a small budget.
      Many thanks in advance

  14. Hi there , I love the chairs. I have a couple of questions 1) how have your chairs held up ? 2) I have banana leaf chairs (just 2 and they are in my entryway) and the orangie / brown doesn’t really match the rest of the room , do you think this might work on them?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Lynn – The chairs have held up wonderfully well. The color is even and has not worn off at all. I am not sure about it working on banana leaf, but I don’t see why it would not work the same since it is a natural fiber. Can you test it out on the underside or least seen area to see? Try it and have a paper towel ready to wipe the stain away if it gets too dark. You may have to experiment with how much you will need to rub and blend the stain in. I would go for it!

      1. Great idea ! Thanks for the help and I’m relieved to know they held up because I can’t afford to replace my chairs if they turned out crappy ? lol

  15. I love what you did with these chairs and have some that are similar that I would like to do the same to. However, can’t find the Rustoleum Wood Stain, driftwood anywhere. Rustoleum is now changed names and no longer has the color driftwood. They have one called sun bleached and another is weathered gray. I can’t find a color chart to see which one is closest to Driftwood. Do you have any suggestions?

  16. Hi,
    Thanks for all the info! I am wondering if this will cover the areas of some staining on the seats? I have a set that has some stains (darker areas).
    Thanks so much.

  17. Kaye Samra says:

    Can you do this with a dark walnut stain as well?

    1. That is my question … can you stain the seats with a darker stain not painted look?

      1. Diane Henkler says:

        Hi Shirley -You can use any color stain on the seats. I wanted a driftwood grey color. If you are going to stain your chair seats, I would use the same brand of stain I used, just choose the best color for the look you want.

  18. Great instruction. My question is about the underside of the seats. Did you stain each one also.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Sandy – I did not stain the underside of the seats since you never see that area. If you want to stain the underside, I would do it the same way you do the top side of the seats.

  19. Hi Diane- would this work on painted wicker. Mine is painted white, would LOVE the driftwood look instead. Getting ready to refinish my desk the look of your table. Love the look, love your blog!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Susie – The stain will adhere and dry over the paint so it is do-able. I am not sure if the color will look the same. It probably will, but I have never actually seen it over white. Try experimenting on the underside of the wicker first to see if you like the color once the stain is applied. Since the stain is transparent, the white wicker will be the base color and may make the stain look different…or it could make it look terrific. Worth trying with a small can of the stain.

    2. Did this work over your white wicker? I have a chest of drawers I’d like to do.

      1. Diane Henkler says:

        Hi Susan – I think it would work, but since the white wicker is opaque, the look I achieved over the rushing may look a little bit different. If you want to test a small inconspicuous area out, I would sand, then dab on some of the stain to see how it looks on white. It may look amazing!

  20. Hi Diane, I am very excited about this project. I have rattan sofa furniture that I want to change the color. I am following you, and buying the paint today, I was wondering if u finished with the project. What sealer if u used any was good? My rattan is darker than yours, mixed beige/browns. Also, did u paint the wood part of the chairs? what color goes with your finish? I thank u and appreciate your answers. I don’t want to rush u. I know it takes time to take pictures, write, an answer would be fine. Thanks. A friend of yours, Kim, recommended your site. I was asking her if her paint would work on my furniture, and she was kind enough to guide me to you. I have been researching for such a long time. Thank u.

  21. Diane, I hope you don’t mind I shared your Rush Seat Stain tutorial on Facebook. I love your site, and you are a ‘GREAT’ teacher of design. Michele

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Michele – I don’t mind at all. Thank you for sharing. It is the best thing you can do for a blogger – share their content :-)

  22. Carol Griffin says:

    Diane, I have been seriously considering painting my bedroom furniture and have not done so yet because I was not sure what I wanted to do. I love this driftwood stain and wondering if it would penetrate furniture that has a finish on it or do I need to lightly sand the furniture first.

  23. Sheryll & Critters. says:

    Oh I know I will love the finish. I can tell already. I don’t care for the orange wood look either. I have the natural oak baseboards and faux wood paneling in my living room and really am sick of it. Although my boyfriend says it is real wood (lol),

    Got go run and go vote now.

  24. Loretta Shuck says:

    Did you really do that stain job in your family room? Wish I was that neat!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Loretta – Yes I did :-) I pushed everything aside and brought in one of the bog boxes I save to use as drop cloths. They are the best drop cloths ever. I watched TV as I stained.

  25. The chairs look wonderful with the white seat.

    I’m wondering if that white stain could be used to get a limed effect on wood. I’m also wondering if Rit dye could be used to color rush seats. That could give a lot of color choices.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Rebecca – Depending on how the seats are sealed or not would determine if they would take the liming wax and or dye. If the seats are sealed the dye might not soak into the fibers evenly. If they are not sealed, I think it would soak in nicely and give you whatever color you desired. Maybe test on the underside of the seat (may not be sealed like the top though) or in the least conspicuous spot.

      1. Did your rush have any shellac or other finish on them? I have rush seats with worn shellac. Thinking I may need to shellac first to get an even finish. Any ideas?

        1. Diane Henkler says:

          Hi Jo – Yes my chair seats had a worn shellac finish. I just applied the stain right over it. Since driftwood is an aged finish, you may not want it to be perfectly even. A slight transparent look is what you want to achieve.

  26. I love this! I have not seen this product. I’m going to HD heaven this afternoon and get a can! Can’t wait for the second half of the change!

  27. Christina says:

    Diane, the seats look fabulous!! Were life like a VHS tape or DVD, I’d fast forward to see the next post. :))) BEAUTIFUL job with great step by step! LOVE the driftwood stain… oh my stars!!! (going to Home Depot today! lol)

    1. Christina says:

      Okay, stupid question: You used the DIY driftwood/aged-wood product with the table but not on the rush seats… is the stain more reliable on an un-stripped surface? Just wondering, thanks!!!

      1. Diane Henkler says:

        Not a stupid question at all Christina. The Driftwood finish on my table can only be applied to bare wood. The rush seating has a coating or sealer on it and the DIY Driftwood finish does not penetrate that since it is water-based. The Rustoleum Driftwood Stain is oil-based so it penetrates.

        1. Christina says:

          Thank you Diane, I thought it was such but it’s good to hear I was on the right path.

  28. Did you or are you planning to put any sort of sealer on the rush to keep the stain from rubbing off?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Nancy – Yes I will add a matte sealer over the seats in a few days. It is very humid and damp right now and I want the stain to be fully dry first. I will show that in my next post about them. Probably next week.