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DIY: Stain Wood With Fabric Dye

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Pam writes about DIY projects—everything from home decorating to recycling/upcycling and more!

Color-Dyed Wood Table

Color-Dyed Wood Table

How to Dye Wood

The first time I used liquid color dye as a wood finish, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I had a piece of unfinished furniture and no extra cash to purchase any wood stain. As it happened, using the color dye to stain wood turned out to be a great choice. I was looking for a more natural way to finish wood and this method of dyeing wood was definitely more natural.

The second time I wanted to dye wood I didn't even have to think about it. I chose to color dye. Since then I've discovered several other methods to stain wood with dyes, and this article covers some of these ways.

Color Dyeing Wood

Color Dyeing Wood

Stain Wood With Color Dyes

The color dye I use to dye wood is most commonly used to dye fabric. It comes in a variety of shades and can quickly transform unfinished furniture or bare wood.

The results are similar to wood stain minus the annoying smell. You'll also find color dye is easier to clean up. Another benefit is the affordability of color dye versus wood stain.

Staining Wood with Color Dye

Staining Wood with Color Dye

Finishing Wood With Color Dye

The method is easy!

  1. Prepare bare wood to accept color dye by wiping any loose dust or dirt from the wood surface. Use painters cloth or a drop cloth to protect the work area from any spillage.
  2. Put on rubber gloves. Pour a small amount of the color dye chosen for the unfinished furniture piece into an empty margarine tub or tupperware container. Be careful not to fill the tub all the way—it's easier to manage when there is only a small amount of liquid.
  3. Dip the paintbrush into the liquid color dye. Gently squeeze out excess dye by pressing the top of the foam brush against the inside of the margarine tub.
  4. Paint bare wood furniture by applying the dye with a foam paintbrush. Follow the wood grain during this process. Divide the furniture piece into sections (top, legs, shelves, etc.) and color dye one section at a time.
  5. When each section is complete, wipe gently with a clean soft rag to remove any remaining standing liquid. Continue until the entire piece is color dyed.
  6. Let the surface of the furniture piece dry well overnight.
  7. Pour water-based polycrylic into an empty margarine tub or tupperware. Then apply two to three coats of water-based polycrylic (either satin or semi-gloss) to protect the exterior.
Polycrylic to Finish Dyed Wood

Polycrylic to Finish Dyed Wood

What to Use When Setting the Wood Dye

As shown in the picture above, this is the product I always use to finish and protect my wood-dyed projects. I highly recommend the semi-gloss or satin finish in this water-based product.

Other Methods to Dye Wood

Regular food dyes, unsweetened Kool-Aid and jello can be used to dye wood.

Note: The Rit website has helpful tips on how to dye wood and wicker. I use similar methods but they do suggest heating the dye first, though I've not found this necessary when I dye wood.

Color-Dyed Wood Frame

Color-Dyed Wood Frame

I used navy blue fabric color dye to tint the handmade wood frame shown.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

What do you think about using color dyes on wood?

Jason from Indianapolis, IN. USA on August 28, 2019:

This is fantastic! I read about this on the RIT website. When preparing the wood for staining, I sand the surface with 100 to 200 grit sandpaper. This opens the pores and removed some of the natural wood resins that may cause uneven blotchy stains. Also, use water to raise the grain prior to sanding when using water based dyes.

Tim Wurst on October 06, 2018:

I saw an article in a wood working magazine using Rit Dyes on a turned bowl, using multiple colors, and it hilighted the grain and it was fabulous!

Can’t find the book but anxious to experiment & try.

Barbara Tremblay Cipak from Toronto, Canada on November 07, 2013:

I've painted wood, but haven't tried this - very interesting and lovely method for sure :)

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on November 07, 2013:

I have never used a dye on wood. Usually I go with the natural wood color and just shellac.

Angela F from Seattle, WA on August 23, 2013:

Never tried it but sounds like a great idea!

bossypants on April 20, 2012:

Genius idea! I would never have thought of this!

JanieceTobey on April 20, 2012:

High Five! Thanks for sharing your tips with us about alternative ways to dye wood! I loved your photos showing projects you've done!

MaggiePowell on April 19, 2012:

Great Idea!! Looks like a fun way to get the job done

anonymous on April 19, 2012:

What a great idea! My husband was talking about this last night. He's a beginning woodworker. I'll have to tell him about it!

Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on March 07, 2012:

I'd never heard of this but it makes sense that it color dye for fabric would also work on wood. You're so smart, Pam!

flycatcherrr on January 29, 2012:

I never would have thought of dye, but it looks great!

SPhilbrick on January 19, 2012:

I love the look of dyed wood with the grain coming through. Good ideas to dye it right!

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on January 12, 2012:

I'm all for finding new, less expensive or less messy methods. You're a brave person.

I got paint for my guest bath and am afraid to put it on.

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