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You are here: Home > All About Hand Dyeing > FAQ > Miscellaneous > Dyeing furniture

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Can furniture be dyed successfully?

Wooden furniture

Wooden furniture can be dyed quite well with fiber reactive dyes such as Procion MX.

Start with nicely sanded, unfinished furniture; apply the dye directly, dissolved in water or in isopropanol (rubbing alcohol), using a sponge, brush, or rag; then finish with a polyurethane varnish or similar product. Because of the sealant, there is no need to use sodium carbonate or heat to make the dye permanent.

You should test your dye solution on some similar scrap wood, or a part that is not visible when the furniture is in use, to be sure you have the correct shade and strength of dye. PRO Chemical & Dye provides online instructions for dyeing wood, and Dharma Trading Company also provides online instructions. Both are generally reliable sources. ProChem's recipe calls for alcohol, which should raise the grain of the wood less than the water used in the recipe from Dharma Trading.

Upholstered furniture

Upholstered furniture can be dyed if you remove the upholstery from the furniture to do so (and if the upholstery does not shrink when you wash it). When you dye, whether you use high quality fiber reactive dyes such as Procion MX or Cibacron F, or use lower quality all-purpose dyes, excess dye must be removed afterwards by rinsing. It is impossible to rinse fabric while it is on the furniture, complete with underlying padding material. Unrinsed dye is apt to ruin clothing or even carpeting at some later date, whether by rubbing off or when exposed to moisture - a perspiring guest, a drooling baby, or a spilled glass of water.

So what can you do if you have some light colored furniture that needs a new color, if you won't reupholster it?

You can use several quarts of a fabric paint of a sort that does not require heat fixing afterwards, or use heat-set paint and do the heat-setting step afterwards with a fabric steamer or with a heat gun, which is rather like a hand-held hair dryer without the fan. If you have an airbrush, or a friend with an airbrush, you can dilute most fabric paints by up to 50% with water to apply them. (Take the greatest of pains to avoid breathing the droplets from an airbrush!)

You might also consider sponge-painting, rather than air brushing, with the same sort of fabric paint. You must aim for a non-uniform effect, such as clouds of different colors, since you cannot hope for a perfectly even color (which would be boring, anyway). It is probably important to try as hard as possible to avoid soaking the underlying padding.

Keep in mind that most fabric paint is transparent and can only add to the existing color, rather than cover it up; it you want to cover up a darker color, you must look hard to find opaque paint. Study carefully the claims on how much the paint affects the "hand" of the fabric; some change the feel of the fabric only slightly, while others, such as ordinary artists' acrylics, are too harsh to be desirable. For more information on fabric paints, see About Fabric Paints.

For truly professional results, the fabric really ought to be removed from the furniture before applying color to it, but careful use of fabric paint may make it possible to change upholstery in situ.

For Detailed Instructions....

Deb Horowitz has written a detailed page of information on painting upholstered furniture, which she has kindly given permission for me to republish here.

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Page created: April 5, 2003
Last updated: August 6. 2006
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