Can You Dye Leather Shoes? – Tips, Tricks, and Techniques

Ever looked at a pair of leather shoes and thought, “Can I dye leather shoes to match a new outfit?”

Well, wonder no more, because the answer is a resounding YES!

From personal experience, let me tell you, dyeing leather shoes is not just a possibility—it’s a game-changer.

Dyeing leather shoes opens up a whole world of possibilities for customization and self-expression.

In this blog, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about dyeing leather shoes.

We’ll cover the essential steps: preparing the shoes, choosing the right dye, applying it correctly, and ensuring your hard work lasts.

Trust me, it’s easier than you might think, and the results can be spectacular.

Can You Dye Leather Shoes Infographic

Why Dye Leather Shoes?

You can dye leather shoes, and there are plenty of great reasons to do so!

Refresh Old Shoes: Instead of tossing your worn-out leather shoes or relegating them to the back of your closet, you can dye them and make them look brand new. I had this old pair of boots that I couldn’t part with, and after dyeing them a rich, deep brown, they looked like something straight out of a high-end store

Customize Color: Another great reason to dye leather shoes is the ability to customize the color. Maybe you’ve found the perfect pair of shoes, but they’re not in the right color. Dyeing gives you the freedom to match your shoes exactly to your style or a specific outfit.

Sustainable Fashion: Dyeing leather shoes is also a great move for sustainable fashion. Instead of buying new shoes and contributing to consumer waste, renew existing pairs. It’s an eco-friendly option that reduces waste and makes the most of the items you already have.

Fun DIY Project: Lastly, dyeing leather shoes can be a fun and creative DIY project. If you enjoy hands-on activities, this is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Types of Leather Suitable for Dyeing

Alright, let’s talk about the types of leather that are best suited for dyeing. 

Full-Grain Leather: This is the highest quality leather you can get, made from the top layer of the hide. When it comes to dyeing, it’s an excellent choice because it absorbs dye well, resulting in a rich and deep color.

Top Grain Leather: This type of leather also takes dye well, although it might not achieve the same depth of color as full-grain. I dyed a top-grain leather handbag once, it came out with a lovely, smooth finish.

Suede and Nubuck: Suede and nubuck are more delicate types of leather that require special care when dyeing. Both types are highly absorbent, which means they can take dye well, but you need to use products specifically designed for them.

Patent Leather: Patent leather is not suitable for dyeing. Its coating prevents the dye from penetrating the surface, so if you’re looking to change the color of a patent leather item, you might need to consider other methods, like using specialized leather paints.

Faux Leather: Faux leather can sometimes be dyed, but it’s trickier than working with real leather. The dye might not absorb, and the finish can be inconsistent.

Choosing the Right Dye

The right dye can make all the difference between a professional-looking result and a DIY project gone wrong. Let’s break down the types of dyes available and how to choose the perfect color.

1. Types of Dyes

  • Water-Based Dyes: Water-based dyes are a popular choice for several reasons. They’re easy to use, non-toxic, and clean up with just soap and water.
  • Alcohol-Based Dyes: Alcohol-based dyes penetrate deeply into the leather, providing vibrant and long-lasting color. These dyes are excellent for achieving bold, intense hues.
  • Oil-Based Dyes: Oil-based dyes offer a rich, luxurious finish that can be very appealing. However, they can be challenging to apply evenly, as the oil can sometimes cause the dye to spread unevenly.

2. Color Selection

Choosing the right color is just as important as selecting the type of dye. Here are some tips to help you make the best choice:

  • Consider the Base Color: If you aim for a bold color change, starting with a lighter base can help you achieve a more accurate and vibrant final color. Dyeing over a dark base might result in a muted or uneven finish.
  • Test First: Always test the dye on a small, inconspicuous area of the shoe first.
  • Color Layering: For custom shades, you can layer different colors. Start with a base coat of one color and then add another. I once wanted to dye a pair of leather sandals a bright teal. After testing a small section, I realized the color was too intense for my taste. I mixed a bit of white dye into the teal and created the perfect color.

Source: Billie’s Sewing Corner

The Dyeing Process: Transform Your Leather Shoes Step-by-Step

Here’s a comprehensive guide on the dyeing process, including the materials you’ll need and how to prepare your shoes before you start.

1. Materials You’ll Need

Before you begin, gather all the necessary materials to ensure a smooth and efficient dyeing process:

  • Leather dye
  • Leather cleaner or saddle soap
  • Leather preparer or deglazer
  • Painter’s tape
  • Soft cloths or rags
  • Sponge or dye brush
  • Gloves
  • Newspaper or drop cloth (to protect your workspace)
  • Leather conditioner
  • Leather sealer

2. Stripping Old Dye

It is important to strip away the old dye when working with leather that has been dyed previously. This is done to prevent any interference from the old color on the new one.
  • Clean your shoes thoroughly with a leather cleaner or saddle soap to remove surface dirt and oils.
  • Put on your gloves to protect your skin from the chemicals. Soak a clean cloth with a leather preparer or deglazer and gently rub it over the entire surface of the shoes.
  • Allow the shoes to dry completely after applying the deglazer. This usually takes about 30 minutes. 
  • Once dry, check the leather for any leftover residue. If the shoes still feel greasy or look uneven, repeat the deglazing process.

3. The Dyeing Process

Here’s a table that outlines the dyeing process for leather shoes:

Step Description
1. Clean the Shoes Give your shoes a gentle wipe-down with a damp cloth to remove dirt and dust. I use a toothbrush for cleaning tricky areas like stitching and seams
2. Remove the Finish Use a leather preparer or deglazer to remove any existing finish on the leather.
3. Tape Off Non-Leather Areas Use painter’s tape to cover areas you don’t want to dye, such as the soles or hardware.
4. Test the Dye Test the dye on a small, hidden area to be sure that you love the color and it adheres well.
5. Apply the Dye Apply the dye in thin, even layers, allowing each layer to dry completely before adding the next.
6. Buff and Condition Once the dye is set, buff the shoes with a soft cloth to remove any excess dye. Then, apply a conditioner to keep the leather soft and supple.
7. Drying Let the shoes dry naturally in a well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight and heat sources.
8. Apply a Sealant Don’t skip the sealer to maintain the color and protect your work.
9. Maintenance Regularly clean and condition your dyed shoes to keep them looking their best.

5 Common Mistakes to Avoid 

Here are some things to watch out for:

1. Using the Wrong Dye

Using a dye not specifically formulated for leather can lead to a color that fades quickly or doesn’t adhere well.

I once grabbed a random dye without checking if it was suitable for leather. Guess what? The color faded within weeks.

2. Forgetting to Test

Always test the dye on a small area of the shoe to ensure you’re happy with the color and application method.

Testing the dye on a small spot saved me from disaster once.

I thought I had the perfect shade of blue, but it turned out way too dark for my liking. Testing first saved me from ruining the whole pair!

3. Rushing the Drying Process

Allow each coat of dye to dry completely before applying the next one to avoid smudging and uneven color.

4. Skipping Sealing

Sealing the dye with a leather sealer is crucial to protect the color and finish from fading or rubbing off.

5. Forgetting to Protect Non-Dyed Areas

Use painter’s tape or barrier cream to protect areas you don’t want to dye, like the soles or hardware.

One time, I forgot to tape off the soles of my shoes. You can imagine the mess—I had dye all over the bottoms.

Essential Tips for Preserving Dyed Leather Shoes

Once you’ve beautifully dyed your leather shoes, you’ll want them to look vibrant and fabulous for as long as possible. Here’s how to protect your newly dyed kicks:

  • After dye, apply a leather sealer to protect the color and finish. This creates a barrier that helps prevent fading and color transfer.
  • Keep your leather shoes moisturized and supple by applying a leather conditioner every few months. 
  • Prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause the dye to fade over time. Store your dyed shoes away from direct sunlight.
  • Avoid wearing your dyed shoes in rainy or wet conditions, and if they do get wet, let them air dry naturally away from direct heat sources.
  • Over time, the dye on your shoes may start to fade or wear away, especially in high-traffic areas. Keep your shoes looking fresh by touching up the dye with a matching color.

Source: Shoe Doctor Shoe Care


Dyeing leather shoes is a fantastic way to breathe new life into old favorites or customize a brand-new pair to perfectly suit your style.

With the right materials, techniques, and a dash of creativity, you can transform ordinary shoes into unique works of wearable art.

To ensure your vibrant colors stay fresh and fabulous, it’s essential to protect your dyed leather shoes with proper care and maintenance.

So go ahead, express your inner artist, and give your shoes a colorful makeover.

Happy dyeing!

Resources Consulted

James Chiles

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