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How to Dye Leather

How to Dye Leather

Sounds like a task for leather artisans? However, you can do it too. It is not as hard as you think. Indeed, dyeing leather is an easy task. With the right tools and the right guide, you will be dyeing leather in no time. Whether you are planning to dye an old leather bag or working on an unfinished leather yourself. Furthermore, dyeing leather is a matter of preference. Therefore, trial and error is a big part of the process. You have to be patient and test for the best color will suit your taste.

P.S. you cannot dye black leather but you can dye other leather colors into black.

Black-dyed leather bag
The Endre Weekender

What Will You Need?

Before we talk about how to dye leather we must get everything we need ready first. First and foremost, you will need space. Space that is enough for you to place the leather in a clean and cool area. Next, is the things that you will need. You might need gloves and an apron to protect yourself and your clothes from stains and unwanted spills. Likewise, you might want to cover or line your workspace to protect it from stains and spills. It will get messy every time you try to dye leather. Especially for those who are dyeing their leather for the first time.

Ventilating a room, although is not a must, is necessary. Fumes from the oil dye are harmful if you are exposed to it for a long time without ventilation. Cracking open a window and turning on a fan will do the trick. Make sure to get proper ventilation before you dye any leather. Not only will it keep you safe but cool when you work as well.

After you get your working area ready and covered you will need the following things to dye your leather.

Full-grain leather bag
The Dagny Weekender

Step 1: Preparing to Dye Leather


The first step in dyeing any vegetable-tanned leather is to properly clean it. To properly clean leather for dyeing, you will need to wipe off any lingering dust and grime on the leather. Wipe it off gently with a dry smooth cloth.

Next is to get rid of any body oil that you may have left when you were using the leather item. You may either wipe it off with a soft clean cloth. Some use a deglazer to thoroughly and completely remove any oil that may have been left off on the first wipe.

Cleaning is an important step in preparing to dye the leather. This is because any dust, grime, or oil will affect the coverage of the dye. At the same time, the dye will have a hard time penetrating the leather. It may leave off an uneven dye to the leather. What is worst is that it may not hold on to the leather if there is any lingering dust, grime, or body oil left in the fabric.

Rehydrate Your Leather

The last step in preparing your leather for dyeing is to rehydrate it. Using the oil of your choice apply small dabs to the leather. Spread the oil evenly and thoroughly by gently wiping it with a smooth clean cloth. Although this step is not necessary, it is recommended by other sources. The reason is that hydrating the leather will make it receive the dye better. Likewise, it is important to remember not to use any leather conditioners before dyeing. This is because the conditioner will be preventing the dye from penetrating the leather.

Step 2: Cut Your Leather Dye

To “cut” dye means to dilute the dye. This step is important in achieving the color you desire for your leather. Applying dye in its full and concentrated strength will result in a bolder color. Likewise, for a more muted or antique finish, you may want to dilute your dye and apply it on thinner multiple layers.

Leather Dye And Its Different Bases

Leather dye has many bases. The most common leather dye bases are alcohol, water, or oil. If you want to dilute your dye you may want to know what its base is. This is important because you can only add the base of the dye to dilute it.

Alcohol-based Dye

This type of dye penetrates the leather deeply. It has a vibrant color however it takes the moisture out of the leather leaving it dry. Using a leather conditioner may be necessary after dyeing the leather.

Water-based Dye

This type of dye does not penetrate well. Furthermore, it does not leave a vibrant color. However, it is less toxic than other types of dye.

Oil-based Dye

The oil-based dye is somewhat similar to the alcohol-based one. It does not however leave the leather dry. Less moisture is drawn out from the leather since it is oil-based.

Step 3: Apply The Leather Dye

Use soft cotton rags to apply the dye on the flat surfaces. Likewise, use the q-tips to apply the dye on hard to reach places such as the corners and edges. Apply the dye as many times as need until you reach your desired saturation. Always let the dye dry before applying another layer. Never continue working while the dry is still wet as it may leave serious smudging. Upon reaching the desired color leave the leather to dry then proceed to the final step.

dyeing a leather bag
Use Q-tips on hard to reach areas and edges

Step 4: Conditioning The Leather

Congratulations! You have just dyed leather. After exposing the leather with dye, it may dehydrate in the process as moisture is drawn out by the dye. It is important therefore to restore that lost moisture as soon as possible. Worry not, the solution is simple. The final step is to condition the leather. This will rehydrate and strengthen the leather fibers. Helping to ensure that it will last for a longer time. Leave the leather to dry overnight after conditioning it.

After conditioning the leather, some apply a leather finisher or a sealing. Aside from the conditioner, this will help protect and maintain the leather for a longer time. Although this is not necessary it is equally important as conditioning.

Handmade Leather Bags

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