How do I dye fabric shoes?

Updated April 17, 2017

You can customise fabric shoes using dyes. If your shoes are a light colour and do not have any water-repelling treatment applied, you can overdye them by soaking them in a dye bath. This works for all kinds of natural fibres. You can use it to colour dyeable satin dance shoes and bridesmaids' shoes as well as casual canvas shoes. One benefit of dyeing your own shoes is that several pairs can be dyed from the same batch, making for a more uniform shade.

Hot dye bath

Clean the shoes you want to dye and keep them free from any coating or debris.

Change into some old clothes, including old shoes. Dye splashes everywhere; assume that any clothing you are wearing will get stained, including underclothes.Put on rubber gloves.

Cover the floor and nearby surfaces with plastic sheeting and place newspaper on top.

Mix the dye bath in the metal pot or bucket according to the manufacturer's instructions. Different brands and types of dye within the same brand need mixing in different ways so you must read the instructions carefully before beginning.

Place the pot containing the dye bath on the stove and bring to the boil. When the dye boils, turn it down to a simmer.

Apply a little of the dye to a test area of your shoes with the sponge. If it looks too light, add some more dye to the pot. If it seems too dark, add a little more water. Test again. When the mix looks right, remove the pot from the heat.

Apply the dye to your clean shoes using the sponge. Ensure that the dye is even and there are no bare spots. Allow the fabric to soak up the dye and apply another coat. Do this until you have applied three or four coats of dye. If you want a mottled or swirling rather than solid colour, apply the dye using squirt bottles.

Discard the excess dye bath unless you are using it immediately for another project.

Rinse away any excess dye from canvas shoes with running water. Clean the equipment and work area straight away. Mop up any splashes very carefully.

Set the shoes aside to dry for 24 hours.

Cold dye bath

Clean your shoes and ensure they are ready to dye. Put on old clothes and protect your workspace.

Weigh out the table salt needed for the fixative, following the manufacturer's directions. Measure the water required and dissolve in the water. Dissolve the dye fix as well, if you are using it. Make sure that everything is completely dissolved. Add the cold water dye to the bath and mix carefully.

Apply the cold water dye to your shoes using a sponge or squirt bottle. In the case of canvas shoes, you can get away with immersing them but do not soak them for too long as the dye and the salt can corrode metal parts such as eyelets.

Rinse away excess dye out of canvas shoes with running water. Allow all shoes to dry overnight.


For darker coloured shoes, you can use opaque fabric paints or acrylic paints in place of dye.

If the dye you're using calls for soda ash (sodium carbonate, washing soda), pre-soak canvas shoes in a solution of soda ash before dyeing them.


Dyes are irritant chemical substances that can cause harm if you come into prolonged contact with them. If dye gets on your skin it should be washed away with plenty of water. If dyes get into your eyes, flush them out with copious running water and seek medical attention.

Dyes really do stain everything they touch. Don't allow anything to come into contact with dye if stains will ruin it.

Don't dip shoes into a hot dye bath. The heat can melt the glue holdng the shoes together.

Things You'll Need

  • Dyeable shoes
  • Old clothes and shoes
  • Rubber gloves
  • Plastic sheeting and old newspapers
  • All-purpose dye
  • Metal pot or small bucket
  • Wooden stirrer or spoon
  • Stove top or hotplate
  • Sponge
  • Squirt-bottles (optional)
  • Cold water dye such as Dylon Cold (optional)
  • Dye fix (optional)
  • Plastic bowl or bucket (optional)
  • Salt (optional)
  • Weighing scales (optional)
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About the Author

Clare Edwards has been providing Internet content since 1998. She has written and translated for a variety of markets: everything from technical articles to short fiction and essays on alternative spirituality. She holds a certificate of higher education in electronics and audio arts from Middlesex University.