Vinegaroon Black Leather Dye




About: I'm a cosplayer who loves making everything from scratch and learning new crafting skills!

Everybody loves a bit of nice, dramatic black leather, right? Of course they do! Black is cool. Black is sexy. Black goes with everything. In this Instructable, we'll break out some chemistry skills to brew a liquid called "vinegaroon", or "vinegar black", that dyes leather pitch black on contact.

Unlike pigment-based dyes, which have a bad habit of rubbing off and staining everything they touch, vinegaroon changes the color of the leather via chemical reaction. The result is a solid black that can penetrate all the way through the leather and never rubs off. For this reason, it's my go-to choice any time I want black.

Step 1: Materials

Materials for vinegaroon are dirt cheap and easy to find:

For the vinegaroon:

  • White vinegar
  • Steel wool
  • Glass Mason jar

And for the application process, you'll also want a box of every day baking soda.

The steel wool should be as fine as possible. You need plain steel wool - not stainless steel, and not the kind that's coated with cleaning products. Stainless steel won't react with the vinegar properly. Check your hardware store with the other abrasive in the paint department.

Step 2: Mix and Wait

The formula for vinegaroon is imprecise but simple:

  • Pierce a small hole in the lid of the jar. This allows gas to escape safely
  • Fill the jar with steel wool. No need to pack it in tightly, just add enough to fill the jar by about 2/3
  • Pour in vinegar to fill the jar
  • Screw on the lid and set aside for 2-3 days

After a couple of days, the liquid will have turned a murky brown and some (perhaps all, depending on your proportions) of the steel wool will have dissolved into the vinegar.

Step 3: Strain

Strain the resulting mixture into a fresh jar. Your vinegaroon is complete! If there is still steel wool remaining in the first jar, you can top it off again with vinegar for another batch of vinegaroon. Eventually you will find that the steel wool dissolves away completely. Chemistry magic!

Step 4: Dye

To use your vinegaroon, simply apply it to leather using a brush, sponge, or by dipping the leather straight into the mixture. Any leather that comes in contact with the solution will turn grey instantly, deepening into a darker black as the liquid penetrates the leather. You can use it to paint designs onto leather using a fine brush and a careful hand, or let it soak all the way through a piece of leather for a penetrating color.

However, you will probably notice at this point that vinegaroon smells like... well, it smells like exactly what it's made of, vinegar and iron. This smell is not at all pleasant - which brings us to the final step of using vinegaroon.

Step 5: Neutralize

Last of all, we can neutralize the acid in the vinegaroon by busting out our grade school chemistry and dunking the leather in a baking soda solution. Fill up a pot large enough to fully submerge your leather project with water and add a few heaping spoons of baking soda. No doubt there is a chemist out there who can tell you precisely the amount of baking soda necessary to do the job, but precision isn't really necessary: just dump a couple of generous spoonfuls in, mix it up, and move along.

Take your leather treated with vinegaroon and submerge it fully in the baking soda solution for ~5 seconds, then remove, rinse with clean water, and set aside to dry. If you listen closely you can actually hear a fizzing sound coming from the leather as the vinegar and baking soda react. Congratulations, you are officially doing science.

And with that, you've mastered the skill of producing beautiful, pitch-black leather products using household cleaning supplies!



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    7 Discussions


    Question 17 days ago on Step 4

    Hello. Does it have to be white vinegar or will apple cider vinegar work too?


    9 months ago

    does this neutralizing the vinegaroon with soda crystal work aswell??


    Question 1 year ago

    What do I need to do to use this dye on a new dark brown leather jacket I want to turn black?

    brown distressed leather coat.jpg
    1 answer

    Answer 11 months ago

    This type of dye won't work on a jacket like that. Since it's a chemical reaction, not a pigment, it only reacts properly with undyed veg tan leather. I believe most jackets are tanned using a different method, so you won't get the same color-changing reaction.


    1 year ago

    does this affect the texture of the leather?

    1 reply

    Reply 1 year ago

    It seems to have about the same effect as water or dye, which is to say it can make the leather feel stiffer after it's dried. I always condition the piece thoroughly with oil after I complete the dyeing process but before applying the top coat and that restores the leather's original pliability.

    Tsu Dho Nimh

    1 year ago

    Works well as a wood stain, too.

    The vinegar + iron = iron acetate

    Iron acetate + tannins in wood = shades of grey to black