Tutorial

Tutorial: How to dye leather shoes & handbags

My tutorial on how to dye fabric shoes is one of my most popular posts, and lots of people have used it.  I thought you might also appreciate a tutorial on how to colour leather shoes, because that can also be done.  Technically you aren’t dyeing leather: you are staining it, and this is infinitely more awesome than dyeing, because it means that you can colour almost any colour leather shoe to almost any other colour.  A black shoe can become pale blue, a green shoe can become pink, etc.

You can also use this tutorial to dye leather handbags, and to refresh leather goods that have become a bit worn with time.

What you’ll need: 

  • TRG the One Colour Dye & Preparer
  • Leather (but NOT suede or patent leather), synthetic leather or canvas shoes or handbag.
  • Newspaper to protect your work surface
  • A Green Scrubby or other slightly abrasive cleaning pad
  • Gloves (optional, but a good idea)
    How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

Today, to show you how to do it, I’ll be dyeing/staining a pair of chestnut brown leather shoes red, with black heels.

These are my shoes before dyeing:

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

And after:

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

Since I really like fashion history, I’ve used a pair of late 18th century shoes as inspiration for my colour scheme.  I just love the red bodies with the crisp black heels.

Shoes, ca 1785-95 the Netherlands, Rijksmuseum  Leather with silk ruches

Shoes, ca 1785-95 the Netherlands, Rijksmuseum Leather with silk ruches

You can colour your shoes any shade you want, and use anything you want as inspiration.  TRG Colour Dye comes in a huge range of colours.

To dye your own shoes, have newspaper spread over your work area, and all your items read.

First, open your Colour Dye kit.  There are other brands and other similar products, but this is the one that I’m familiar with, and it seems to be the most widely available leather dye product.  Inside you’ll find a jar of dye, a jar of preparer, a little brush, a little sponge, and a mystifying direction sheet.  Don’t worry about that last bit, that’s what I’m here for!

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

You’ll be starting with your Preparer.  The Preparer cleans your leather, and strips off any coatings which would keep it from absorbing the Colour Dye.  Pour a little Preparer on to a Green Scrubby, and working in circles, clean and scrub the entire surface of your shoe/bag.  You may need to put a little more preparer on to the Scrubby as you go.

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

As you scrub the Preparer into your leather it may change colour slightly as the wet Preparer darkens the shoe.  The back shoe has been scrubbed, the front shoe is still to be done except a small section on the toe which I’ve already started:

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

When you have completely cleaned the shoes, let them dry for at least 15 minutes, so that the Preparer doesn’t prevent the Colour Dye from absorbing into the leather.

Once they have dried, you can start painting them.  First use the brush with just a little bit of paint on it to paint the edges where the shoe meets the sole, and at the top of the foot, and any seams:

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

If your original shoe/leather colour is fairly close to the colour you are painting the shoe/leather item, it won’t show up much at first.

Once you have painted the seams and edges, use the brush to put a little paint on the sponge that came with the dye kit:

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

With long, smooth strokes, use the sponge to smooth a light, thin layer of dye colour over the surface of the entire shoe:

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

It’s a very light, thin layer, so may not show up much.  Once you have both shoes, the first one should be dry enough for you to use the brush to put more paint on your sponge, and you can rub another light layer on.

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

Keep smoothing on thin layers, allowing just a minute or two to dry between.  Once you’ve put three or four layers on you should really see the colour change. At four layers, you can really see the difference between the body of the shoe and my as-yet-undyed heel:

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

Most items will need no more than six layers.  If you aren’t sure if you have done enough, you can always let your item dry completely (for at least 48 hours), and then add more layers if needed.  The colour will deepen and even out slightly as the stain dries.

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

DO NOT attempt to continue decorating or mask off portions of your shoe for further dyeing until they have dried for at least 48 hours.  If you do, this happens:

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

Ooops.

Don’t worry though!  If you accidentally pull off or scuff the finish before it has dried fully, you can always just touch up that area, and your new coat will just blend right in.  Whew!

Since I did a two-colour dye job, I waited for my first colour to dry slightly (just half an hour) before adding the second:

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

I’d left the heels un-painted, but already I’d already Prepared them along with the rest of the shoe, so I could just start painting on black.  Here they are with three layers of black on the heels.  You can see how there is still some streakyness and chestnut brown showing through the black:

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

And here they are completely done:  Lovely smooth glossy red shoes with crisp black heels!

How to dye leather shoes thedreamstress.com

You can also use the Colour Dye to refresh worn out leather goods.  I have a vintage red leather bag that I love, but that had gotten extremely shabby, with cracked leather:

How to dye worn out leather thedreamstress.com

How to dye worn out leather thedreamstress.com

Ick.

To restore the bag, first I treated it with the Preparer, just as I did with the shoes.

Then I painted the worst areas of damage, the seams and the details with the brush.

Then I used the sponge to smooth on three coats of Colour Dye.  It didn’t need nearly as many coats of dye as the shoes, because the bag was already red.

And here is the refreshes and restored bag:

How to dye worn out leather thedreamstress.com

How to dye worn out leather thedreamstress.com

So much better!  

Here are the bag and shoe together, so you can compare the colour:

How to dye worn out leather thedreamstress.com

The shoes are just a tiny bit darker, more oxblood than cherry, because the dye went over the darker chestnut colour, rather than red, but the difference is pretty subtle.

After dyeing my shoes and the medium sized handbag, I still have more than half a bottle of shoe dye, so every kit will do at least 3 pairs of shoes: very economical indeed!

And there you go!  Easy, peasy and fun!  Now you can refresh all your shoes, and have them in the perfect colour, no matter what shade they were sold in.

110 Comments

  1. I’ve been curious about dying leather goods for a while now, thank you for this post!
    I’m curious about the longevity of the dye. Does it penetrate and dye like other textiles do or is it more of a paint or coating? Will it wear off?
    I have a great leather bag that I love, but the color is just not right, I’d love to change it up a bit so I’m definitely going to look into this TRG stuff!

    • It’s been a few months, and so far the shoes and bag have held up very well, with no more scuffing than you’d expect from any other coloured leather goods. It doesn’t penetrate as far as a dye, but it’s more than just a coating.

  2. Hi Leimomi, where are TRG Dyes available in Wellington? I’ve had great success with Warpoo Shoe Dyes bought from Dixon Street Shoe Repairs – how do you find TRG compares to Warpoo?

    • I got the TRG Dye from Made on Marion. I haven’t trialled the Warpoo Shoe Dyes, but will give them a go and compare the end result and wearability.

  3. I love this post. Thank you for sharing…The shoes and purse look fabulous. I have a lot of purses in my costume stock that could use this type of treatment to freshen them up…

  4. Lynne says

    There used to be really good dyes for suede, too. Black suede shoes start looking greyish after a while, and the dye used to bring them back to perfect. I admit it has been a long time since I used it!

    • I think there still are suede dyes, but they can’t really change the colour of the suede like the dye can, just refresh it. I’ll have to look in to that…

  5. Mel the Redcap says

    That’s a lovely detailed tutorial, thank you! 🙂

  6. This is so handy! I have a vintage white leather purse that I love, but the straps and edges are really starting to get worn and are detracting from its clean chic look. Do you think it’s possible to use the preparer and do the staining just in select areas? I’d feel a little nervous about going over the whole thing if it’s not really needed.

    • Thanks Carolyn! Even with white, I don’t think dyeing just small areas would be advisable: the chances of it being a different shade and looking silly are just too high. You might try a coloured leather polish, and if that doesn’t work, dye a small area, and if it is obvious, then dye the whole thing.

  7. Allison says

    Do you know if this will work on patent leather and still retain that shine? I have some beige shoes that I want to make burgundy for a costume.

    • Good question! I haven’t tried patent leather, but I really doubt it. I suspect that the patenting process would actually keep the stain from absorbing in to the leather, so it wouldn’t even colour the leather a nice matte shade, much less a patent. I’ll try to find some cheap patent leather to try it on.

  8. Lovely tutorial!
    I have a pair of my grandfather’s old shoes that almost fit me. I like them a lot but they are worn and cracked in the same way as your hand bag. I must obtain some of this stain and touch them up.

    It’s also great to know that colour isn’t a limitation when purchasing leather shoes!

    • Thanks! Old cracked leather will never be as nice as new leather, even with a good touch up, but it does help. You’ll also want to get some leather conditioner to help make them look nice.

  9. Neelam Patel says

    Will the dye ever rub off on anything? What if it gets wet? Rained on?

  10. Hi,
    I am going to dye my ivory handbag. Will the color rub off on your clothes? Thanks.

    • The handbags and shoes I have dyed have not rubbed up on my clothes – even red shoulder straps on a white top, or bright shoes on white socks, but I can’t promise that it wont, depending on what your bag was treated with previously.

      • Great. I cannot wait to start my project. I will just repair the ivory color on my handbag for now. If it works well, I will dye it to other color in the future.

  11. Hi-
    I was just wondering where I could purchase the above dye. Would you be so kind as to let me know where I could purchase some!
    Thank you!

  12. Katina says

    This is such a great detailed blog. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience. Gives me confidence to dye my large mustard handbag but I will probably need two jars of the product.

  13. I just found your article, and I have to tell you I find it very helpful, as I recently purchased (secondhand) a leather Coach purse that has an ink stain. Since it’s a beige purse, and the stain is black, I wanted to dye the bag black (to match the stain). I feel much more confident about trying this now that I have seen your post, thank you!

  14. Hi..
    Can you please suggest me how can I colour my Puma running shoes. I have white shoes with orange stripes. I want to color gray in place of white.

    Thanks!

  15. Do you think this would work on raw leather? I have a deer hide that I want to use for knee-high moccasins and was curious as to whether or not I could dye that leather? Thanks for this fun and informative tutorial!

  16. Thank you for your detailed tutorial. I have a yellow coach bag that has gone moldy. I tried cleaning it but the stains still show. If I colour it with the leather dye, will it cover up the stains? Do you think that would help? I could use a darker colour if that works better.
    Thanks.

  17. Vicki A says

    I have a salmon colored leather purse and was wondering if I could change it to a sky blue color, or do I have to go darker than what it currently is? Thanks so much!

  18. Amiee says

    Brilliant! I’m planning to dye my black quilted bag following your instruction. Can I ask, will the color come off and transfer to our clothes in the future (in the case of handbags) ? Thank you very much !

  19. Patti says

    I have a pair of comfortable dance flats that are black patent and white regular leather. It seems challenging to mask off the black to paint the white black, but I’d prefer an all black pair of shoes for what I’m doing now–the black & white look is for jitterbug swing, not west coast. What do you think? Too hard to do for a beginner? Or just plain too hard to do?

  20. Patti says

    Also, I had a shoe repair place dye a pair of loafers and the dye came through onto my feet or socks. And suggestions for that?

  21. Ana says

    Can a black purse be partially dyed brown to look like a distressed brown and black purse? I don’t want to dye it to a solid color. Can it be dyed by partially rubbing the color in?

  22. kelly says

    Hi,

    I’m so confused…
    I bought the shoe CREAM (just wanting to fill in badly worn spots and revive the color after a BAD shoemaker “botch” of a cleaning — and the purse is Aubergine!)

    The color came & it is perfect. However, when I tried it on the bottom it totally “Cracked” the surface of the leather! Really odd. Am totally frightened to use it on the whole purse.

    What did I do wrong?
    Any ideas?

    Thanks so very much, Kelly

  23. SarahB says

    Thank you! I just found this by accident and will by copying you closely. Can’t wait for my “new” pair of boots, thank you also to other commentator who said I could buy it on Amazon, will do so.

  24. Joy says

    Thank you so much for sharing. I just came across your blog for the first time and your tutorial was very well-illustrated and explained. I have easily over 20 items (bags, shoes, jackets) that need serious touch up or that I just want to change up in terms of color. I’m going to look for a nontoxic dye and also something to shine the metal hardware (metal bands or heels on some shoes or zipper, grommets, etc. on bags). If you’ve had any success here it would good to know. Thanks again!

  25. This makes my entire life so much easier thank you! You wouldn’t think it’d be so impossible to find red boots!

  26. airene says

    Hello, can i die a leather lining in a cloth material purse? Is it not going to transfer to the cloth part of the bag? Thanks.

    • I’ve never tried to do that, so can’t really advise on it. It will probably depend on how thin your leather is, and how careful you are about applying thin layers.

  27. Evelyn says

    Hi, I was wondering if this process helps to cover up minor pen marks, and worn areas?? I have a bag I found and has a few marks. thank you

    • This will help to cover up marks, but very dark marks and really worn areas may show through slightly.

  28. teacherperson23 says

    Thank you very much! I am going to go off and dye my white purse a bright blue now. I am excited!

  29. Susan says

    Hi, I have an orange Cole Haan wallet that I bought last year, and want to change the color to a carmel brown to match a Coach white and carmel brown purse, not too much of a stretch from the original color. Do you think a brown polish would do the trick to subtly change the color. Thanks!

  30. mary says

    hi! thanks so much for this! I am trying to change a color of leather shoes from green to teal and wonder if this is the best way or if you have tried using shoe cream (tarrago colors) instead of dye? thanks soooo much this is incredibly helpful!

  31. Marg says

    Hi, great tutorial! Nice and clear to follow.
    Would you think that the dye would be as effective on an uneven surface? I have a pair of woven leather shoes and I would like to change their colour!

    • Glad you found it helpful! Unfortunately I think it would be very tricky to apply the dye evenly to a woven surface. You would probably have remnants of the original colour in the hard to reach places.

  32. pete gianetti says

    Hi,

    After dyed, can you polish them?

    Thanks

  33. How do I dye a two-tone pair of dressy heels with intricate detail so that I don’t get any of the one color onto the other? And thank you for the wonderful detailed tutorial!

  34. I loved this tutorial. It gave me confidence to buy the leather shoe dye. Following your clear instructions, I coloured my cream shoes to grey and they are perfect. I am now hooked and plan to dye shoes for a upcoming wedding. Thank you.

  35. Pauline k says

    I have read your instructions. Can you advise me. I have just purchased a new pair of leather shoes one has. A lighter colour due to being on display would it be best to just dye the lighter one to try and match in. Or both ? The original colour is navy. Many thanks

  36. Apurva Modi says

    Lovely post. It is made very clear with pre and post snaps of the leather product, identifying the importance of right application of leather dyes. Tutorial is excellent that gives perfect idea on how to dye the fabric shoes. Steps shown here are so clear, helping to understand this extensive chemical changes quite easily.

    Expecting much more transparent info like this.

    Enjoy your beautifully stained leather products!

  37. greg says

    hello, i tried to dye some blue dress shoes. i prepared them by cleaning them, and once i put the blue dye on it turned a copper color. is ice why and what to do?

    • Unfortunately I can’t help you – I’ve never experienced such a thing with colouring shoes with this method. The only thing I can think is that you didn’t let the cleaner dry, or that somehow there was a chemical in the original dye that reacted with the new stain.

  38. Cynthia says

    Thanks so much for the great instructions. Your site gave me the courage and help to dye three wallet/accessories purple. They are looking great and I cannot wait to have everything for my purse matching! You made it easy.

  39. Jillian says

    Hi,
    I was wondering if this process would take a pair of shoes from black to brown (a dark espresso color is good, not tan)? What do you think? Thanks!

  40. Christie says

    Will the colour come off when it is wet? Or if I have hand lotion, will the color come off?

    • Technically you aren’t dyeing leather: you are staining it, and this means that you can colour almost any colour leather shoe to almost any other colour. A black shoe can become pale blue, a green shoe can become pink, etc. Darker coloured original leathers may mean that your final result is slightly darker.

  41. Hi just seen this article and I’m looking to dye a few pairs of shoes and boots.
    I’m in the UK so does anywhere here sell the above named brand? Many thanks

    • The brand is out of Spain, so I’m sure there are stockists in the UK. Try googling and calling craft and shoe repair stores in your area.

  42. thanks so much for posting all the details! Fabulous and takes the fear right out

  43. What about suede? I took boots to a cobbler to change color and they botched them. Any thoughts as to how to dye over or fix? I so sad….. 🙁
    It is in between suede and leather. Not a sof t suede like jackets, but not a smooth leather. Like a distressed leather with a nap.

  44. joanne says

    I just followed your instructions. But the shoe keeps transferring new dye color onto my pants … even after a month of drying. (They are boots actually). I dyed them from brown to black. What did I do wrong? How can I stop it from transferring/smearing?

    • Gosh, I’ve never encountered this problem before – and I’ve seen this done hundreds of times. The only thing I can think of is that your boots have been treated with some finish or surface (like patent leather) that keeps them from absorbing the stain. Unfortunately I don’t have any suggestions of how to fix the stain at this point.

  45. maude clay says

    I have a pair of light greyish-slightly light green Martin Margiela (yes they are pricey!)boots that I want to dye black. They are great, but I just never wear them in this lighter grey color. I always wear black boots!! Can I use the Fiebing’s deglazer and then their black leather dye? I also have a Tarrago Preparer, but not the black dye to go with that one. Is the deglazer the same thing as Preparer? Also is there some sort of sealing top coat that you put on after the shoes are dyed and completely dry? I don’t want a shiny finish, just wondered if they needed to be sealed and if so what is the product name. I usually polish my boots with Meltonian Shoe Cream and a soft cloth. Thanks for your help.

    • I haven’t worked with all those products, so really can’t give advice on whether they would work or not. You might try experimenting with them on an inexpensive pair of leather shoes, to see how they work together.

  46. maude clay says

    Thanks. At this juncture, I think I will leave it to the experts and send to Leather Spa in NYC

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