How to Dye Leather

Four Methods:Using Commercially Bought Leather DyeUsing Vinegar and Rusty NailsUsing Mink OilUsing Tea Bags

Whether you are creating a new leather item or restoring an old one, leather dying instructions can quickly take you to your finished product. Knowing how to dye leather will allow you to easily change the color of a leather item. Keep in mind that every piece of leather is different and may accept the color a little differently.

Method 1
Using Commercially Bought Leather Dye

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    Try commercially prepared leather dye for ease of use and if you want any special colors. Commercially prepared dyes come in a wide range of colors and are usually not very expensive. They are easy to use come with instructions for use.
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    Obtain your leather dye. Most commercially prepared leather dyes come with leather preparer, the dye and leather sheen or other finisher. Make sure to read the instructions on the particular brand of dye you choose. You can choose between alcohol-based and water-based dyes.
    • Alcohol-based dyes produce a stiffer leather product while water-based dyes leave the leather soft and supple. An alcohol-based dye will also rub off leather that has a finish onto clothing or whatever rubs against it while a water-based dye will not add as strong a color.
    • Keep in mind that the color on the bottle is not representative of how the color will look once dried on the leather. Check to see if there are samples of dyed leather using the dye you are considering to see its true finished color. Alternatively, test a small swatch of the leather first.
    • Dyes can be spray-on, paint-on or sponge-on. Choose the type that works best for you in terms of ease of use.
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    Tape off any area that you do not want dyed. Cover any buckles or metal pieces that you do not want dyed. Try the tape on an unseen area to make sure it does not remove the finish on the area. A good tape to try is masking tape, also called sticky tape or painter’s tape.
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    Wear gloves. To keep your hands clean and free from dye wear gloves while applying the dye. Latex gloves will work well to protect your hands and they will not interfere with the work.
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    Move to a well-ventilated area. Most leather preparers and leather dyes release fumes that are unhealthy to breathe. Make sure you are in a place with good ventilation. It might be a good idea to move outside for the dyeing process.
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    Use a cloth to apply the leather preparer. The leather preparer or de-glazer removes the finish on the leather to allow the dye to penetrate into the material. Cleaning your leather first with leather preparer will also ensure an even covering of the dye.
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    Wet the leather. Use a spray bottle filled with water to dampen the surface of the leather. Do not over-saturate the leather but make sure you have an even covering. This helps the leather absorb the dye evenly, resulting in a smooth finish.
    • Some leather dyes will not require this step but rather have you dye the leather immediately after applying the leather preparer or deglazer.
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    Apply your first coat. Start by painting the edges with a paintbrush to ensure the edges are finished. Then use a sponge to apply dye over the rest of the leather making sure the coat is even. Do not apply too much at once; it is better to do thin coats to ensure evenness.
    • Read the instructions to ensure you use the correct materials to apply the dye. Some dyes will use a paintbrush, some will use a wool dauber, others will recommend a sponge and some will use a spray bottle.
    • Sponges change the look and appearance of the leather by allowing you to apply a special affect or texture to the leather. Apply in a circular motion to ensure evenness of the dye.
    • Paintbrushes are usually used for small areas but it is hard to hide the brush strokes if applying to large areas. Apply the first layer left to right, the second perpendicular up and down and the next layer in circular motions to ensure even coating.
    • Sprayers are one of the best methods for applying dye because you can easily blend the color. If you are using spray-on leather dye then apply the coat by spraying the dye over the surface.[1]
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    Apply additional coats of leather dye. After allowing the first coat to dry a little, apply the second coat. Repeat with additional coats of leather dye until it reaches the desired color.
    • You may require between 3-6 coats of leather dye. [2]
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    Allow the leather to dry completely, manipulating periodically to maintain suppleness. Allow the leather to dry for at least 24 hours before continuing. The leather may feel sticky at first but do not worry; after drying and buffing or applying leather sheen the leather will feel like normal again.
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    Buff the leather with a clean cloth or apply leather sheen. Buffing with a cloth removes any dye residue and polishes the surface of the leather. If you choose to use leather sheen it will leave a shiny finish on the leather.

Method 2
Using Vinegar and Rusty Nails

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    Use vinegar and rusty nails when you want to dye leather black. This method is cheap and easy for dyeing leather black and the dye can be kept for long periods of time. It is also natural, dark black and will not rub off onto fingers or clothes.
    • In the old-times in the U.S. this method was called vinegarroon.
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    Rub a black tea sachet over the surface of the leather. Wet the tea and then rub it over the surface of the leather. This step is optional but adds tannins to the leather to help it darken with the vinegar solution later.
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    Buy a half gallon (2L of vinegar). Vinegar is quite cheap and it should be easy to find in your local grocery store or supermarket. You can then also use the container to make your dye in.
    • Vinegar is a mild acid called acetic acid.
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    Put a bag of rusty nails in the vinegar. Any old nails or rusty metal will work for this step. Use about 30-50 nails at least. You can also use steel wool and just put as many steel wool balls in the vinegar bottle as you can.[3]
    • If using steel wool then you should soak the steel wool in acetone first to degrease and then let dry before putting in the vinegar.
    • You can use non-rusty nails if you need. However, using rusty metal speeds the process up.
    • Mixing the vinegar (acetic acid) with the metal produces ferric acetate.
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    Leave the metal in the vinegar for at least one week. The metal will need to soak in the vinegar for at least one week to allow it to achieve the necessary strength for dyeing. You can leave the metal in the vinegar indefinitely but keep in mind that the metal will continue disintegrating.
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    Run the leather through the liquid between two to three times. You can dunk the leather directly in the vinegar solution two to three times to dye the leather.
    • Ferric acetate reacts with the tannins in the leather and turns the leather black.
    • At this point the color will be an ugly dark greyish brownish but do not worry; once the leather is oiled the leather will turn black.
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    Neutralize the vinegar solution using a baking soda solution. Mix 3 tbs. baking soda in one quart (1L) of water. Saturate the leather with the solution and then rinse with clean water. This neutralizes the acid in the vinegar solution to keep your leather from disintegrating later on.
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    Condition the leather using oil. While the leather is still damp rub your favorite oil over the surface of the leather. You may need two coats of the oil to fully condition the leather. Choose the oil that works best for your leather product by testing on a small portion of the leather.

Method 3
Using Mink Oil

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    Use mink oil when you only want to darken the leather. Mink oil is a natural substance that lubricates and soaks into leather to condition it. Mink oil also has waterproofing abilities and protects from salt, mildew, mold and other elements.
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    Clean the leather. Before dying, ensure the leather is free of dust, dirt, or other extraneous material. Use a brush or lightly damp cloth to remove any dirt or dust from the surface.
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    Place leather in the sun. Gently warm up your leather in the sun. Heating the leather helps the mink oil "pull" the dye into the leather, making it permanent and indelible.
    • You should never place your leather in the oven to warm it; it is very easy to ruin the leather.
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    Warm up mink oil. Place the bottle of mink oil into a container filled with hot water to gently heat up the oil. This will ensure an even coating of mink oil on your leather by helping to pull the oil into the leather.[4]
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    Apply mink oil. Use clean, smooth strokes from a oil-soaked cloth to spread the mink oil across the length of the leather. Give the leather an even coating to ensure an even finish. You may need to make multiple applications to get to the desired darkness.
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    Let dry for 1/2 to 1 hour. Occasionally move the leather back and forth so that the leather does not stiffen. This also helps to work the oil into the leather.
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    Buff or polish the leather with a cloth or shoe polish brush. For a pleasing, shiny finish give your cooled leather a buffing with a clean brush or cloth. Buff the leather by rubbing the cloth in circles.
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    Handle your finished leather cautiously. Be careful when handling or wearing the leather after finishing the process, as it's possible for fresh oil to rub off onto clothes, skin, or anything else it comes into contact with in the first few weeks after dying.
    • You may want to keep your dyed leather in a safe place in your closet until the dye fully sets to prevent accidental stains.
    • If you are unhappy with the shade of your finished leather, repeat this entire process as needed for deeper color saturation.

Method 4
Using Tea Bags

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    Use tea bags when you want a natural substance and only a very light stain. Tea bags (or coffee grounds) are a natural way to dye leather by adding tannins. However, because they are not very strong they will only provide a light dye to the leather.
    • Fruit juices such as blackberry and raspberry can also be used to color the leather with this method.
    • Commercial dyes are concentrated and provide much deeper colors than tea bags can.
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    Choose your tea or coffee. Obtain around 30 tea bags for use as your dye. Black tea would typically be used for this dye although you could experiment with rooibos tea or other teas for different shades.
    • Black tea and coffee would darken the leather while rooibos should darken the leather with a red/orange tinge.
    • Different teas of the same type will produce different shades so it is important to experiment before applying completely.
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    Boil the tea in a gallon (about 4L) of water for about 2 hours. Boil about 30 bags of tea or 1 cup of coffee grounds in a gallon (4L) of water for about two hours.[5]
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    Soak the leather in the water for about a day and a half. This will only work if you want to completely dye your object. Keep in mind that this will also dye fabric or canvas if that is attached to the leather.
    • For pieces that cannot be soaked rather try getting a tea bag wet and then rubbing over the surface of the leather to darken. Spread the coloring evenly over the surface and repeat as many times as you need to get your desired color.
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    Allow the leather to dry completely. Let the leather dry completely for at least 24-48 hours. Check the color at this point but keep in mind that tea bags will act only as light dyes and will only produce light colors.
    • Putting the leather in the sun will also darken the leather considerably so if you haven’t achieved your desired darkness then you can try this method.
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    Condition the leather using an oil of your choice. Condition the oil to maintain suppleness. The type of oil used will affect the color of the leather. Oils such as extra virgin olive do not darken the leather much while mink oil or neatsfoot oil will make the leather much darker.
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    Finish using a buffer cloth. Use a clean cloth to buff the leather to obtain the desired shine and finish. Rub the cloth is circles across the surface of the leather.


  • If you need to condition your leather then you should do this after dyeing the leather or else the dye will not show an even finish.


  • Always test your dye method on a small, unseen portion of the leather to avoid ruining the leather.

Things You'll Need

  • leather dye kit, vinegar and rusty metal, mink oil or tea bags (depending on method)
  • 2 clean cloths
  • sponge or wool dauber
  • spray bottle

Article Info

Categories: Crafts