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


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


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.


    • mademarioncraft.co.nzmademarioncraft.co.nzIf you are in New Zealand you can buy leather dye from Made on Marion. If you are outside of NZ you will have to google and call craft places to find a stockist of leather dyes in your area.

  1. Victoria DuPree says

    Help! I bought a $100 vintage John Romain handbag for $3 at an Estate Sale, because it had a large ink stain on the back side. Other than a little wear and tear, the bag is in excellent condition considering it’s age. But I need to get rid of the ink stain. I have tried all sorts of cleaners and nothing will get it all out, so I’m thinking of dyeing it. It’s an oxblood red, which I’m guessing is a common color. Oh, and it’s all leather.

    So do you think re-dyeing it the same color will cover the ink stain?

    Please help, I really like this bag and would love to be able to use it.

    • Unfortunately because I can’t see items, I can’t really give advice for specific situations. You just have to try the techniques and see how they work. I’d recommend ink staining another cheap purse, and seeing if dyeing over that solves the issue.

      • sophie Lemesurier says

        Are there any professionals that dye leather?
        You do not mention the cost of these dyes and where to buy them?
        Thanks for the advice anyway.

        • I don’t mention professionals, cost, or location, because that’s going to vary hugely from country to country. However, now that you have the name and information you should be just fine to google that information for yourself 🙂

  2. Varsha says

    Hi ,

    I like your product after given you a new look.

    I have one confusion I have leather jacket of sheep , I want to give a two tone effect , and I have no idea to how to do.
    I need two toning effect of brown color which is darker from seems and lighter shades from center , some antique look like , is it possible to give that effect from TRG Colour Dye .
    Please suggest me a best idea , how can i proceed my jacket with antique brownish look .

    Thanks !!


    • I have never tried to achieve that effect, and really can’t make any recommendations on how to do it. I don’t think TRG would be suitable. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.

  3. Christine says

    I have a pair of boots with white stitching. I would like to dye the leather but not the stitching- is there any way to possibly do this?

  4. Kori says

    Thankyou for this! I was wondering if it is possible to dye bright red patent leather shoes to black?

  5. Thanks for this tutorial. I’ve a pair of shoes languishing unworn in the back of the wardrobe simply because the colour isn’t right. On a whim last night I Googled “dying leather shoes” and up popped this tute! I’m delighted and have ordered the dye today. Very much looking forward to having a “new” pair of shoes. 😀

  6. Diana valle says

    I want to change color of my shoes like I used to years ago. I like true red, medium blue, Brown, orange,dark yellow. Do you have dye for these colors.please advise. I am disabled and don’t know any stores where I can buy shoe dye to have different color shoes like I used to when I was young. I am 64 years old and don’t dress like a 64year old. I want shoes to match my outfits such as a blue print skirt with blue shoes. Can u help? Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Diana,

      I can’t help you. This is a tutorial – I don’t sell dye. You’ll have to find an online supplier who ships to your area on your own. I’ve deleted the phone #s you left, as it’s not safe for your phone # to be on the internet.

    • Longful Stitcher says

      Hi Diana, bringing out the colors in your wardrobe can be so rewarding and fun. And I’m seeing a lot of colorful shoes on the market today, so your venture should be worth the effort. I haven’t tried this tutorial yet, but am excited to. I think if you keep asking good questions, doing good research online, and are willing to experiment, you’ll end up with some great color matches. Good luck. 🙂

  7. Justin says

    good tutorial..
    Have a Q. I need to dye my leather car seat to black and want my sititch(white) stay in white.
    Would u advise?

  8. Alessandra says

    Hello and thank you for this very helpful tutorial!
    Can you please help me with my problem: I have bought a pair of cream/white leather shoes but some brown colour from the inside of the shoe has stained some parts of the outside leather when the shoes accidentally got wet. I have tried unsuccessfully to remove the stain, so I thought that dyeing the shoes will solve the problem and possibly make them even better! 🙂
    So my question is: if I apply 2-3 layers will the colour for dyeing the leather make the stain disappear no matter what colour I choose? Or I need to use a colour which is darker then the stain?
    Many thanks for your help!

  9. Greta says

    I want to dye a leather backpack. Does this dye rub off on anything after it has cured for the full 48 hours?

    • That may depend on whether your backpack was previously treated with something. I find that at least 80% of the time there is no rubbing or dye transfer after 48 hours, but every once in a while I dye something where the leather must have had a finish that keeps the dye from adhering completely.

  10. Jill says

    Hi, I have brown leather shoes and want to dye them turquoise. Do you think this is possible? It’s for my wedding and I have 1 week!!

    • This method should successfully dye brown leather shoes turquoise, as long as you are happy with something in the turquoise range, rather than an exact, exact shade.

  11. Dragon says

    Hi – this is fab and helpful. Will it also work on snake leather? Thx

    • I’ve never tried it on snake leather, so can’t really say. If you do try it please come back and tell us how it went!

  12. Stephen Thanabalan says

    This whole post and series is so helpful! Thank you Miss Seamstress!

  13. Do you have advice for dyeing sandals? I have leather wedge sandals and want to dye the straps but not footbeds. I was thinking I’d put a lot of rags inside the straps and cover the footbed. Do you have a better idea? I really appreciate your tutorial. I feel I can do this!
    Thanks so much.

  14. Hi,
    Is it possible to dye silver Dr Martens boots, black at all?.

  15. I want to try this on a Leather Coach Tote. Going from green to dark brown. My question concerns the inside of the bag. You can easily see inside the wide mouthed bag, which is also currently green. I tried standard RIT dye on the inside and it did not take. Should I use the leather dye on the inside as I would on the outside? Should I dye the inside first? Not sure if the dye will penetrate to either side.


    • They dye will definitely not penetrate both sides. I can’t really advise on dyeing the inside, but this method only works on leather, so if the bag is lined in another fabric, this method isn’t suitable.

  16. Trudy Dudley says

    I am thinking of buying a pair of Frye boots….I’ve been waiting to buy this style for a real, long time….but although I can live with the color, (grey), I’m not in love with the color. I was wondering if I can stain the leather to a much deeper whiskey, brown color.? Please let me know soon as to what you suggest. I would love to order soon before my size runs out. Thanks a bunch!

    • It should work, but you should trial the colour on a similar piece of leather, to make sure you get the shade right and don’t ruin your boots.

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