Can I change the color of leather or vinyl? Can I change from dark to light?

Dyes cannot be used to change leather or vinyl to a lighter color. For this you need a finish (paint).

Changing the color of leather or vinyl can be more maintenance than restoring to original. Absorbent full-grain aniline or semi-aniline leather will get the best long-term wear. Non-absorbent leather and vinyl may require touch-up.

The following are not great candidates due to the potential maintenance:

  • worn, scaly or thinning leather;
  • loosely upholstered furniture with lots of wrinkles, folds, or deep creases (and therefore stress);
  • pieces that receive a lot of contact with chemicals / liquids or rough kids and critters (particularly dog claws);
  • seats in cars or boats (for these we suggest finding a heavier urethane coating);
  • bonded, faux or polyurethane (PU) ‘leather’ which resist all coatings (including their own);
  • or changing from dark or bright colors to pale or white shades.

In the latter case, consider Ash or Stone grey as a primer. White is the heaviest pigment and has the poorest coverage. This means you may use 2-3 times the normal quantity and will have a thicker, heavier and less flexible finish that may wear more easily and require more touch-up.

Thorough cleaning and prep are critical to get the best result!

Here’s what wear and discoloration look like:

Touch-up is easy and mitigated by:

  • choosing a color that complements the original;
  • choosing a color with a similar value (light vs. dark);
  • dabbing or stippling the color to create a marbled or distressed appearance so future wear will look natural and intended. 

Our products are water-based acrylic finishes (paints). Acrylics can be less durable than urethanes and require touch-up. However, acrylics don’t feel plasticky like urethanes. Acrylics also don’t crack or flake, so stripping and sanding are not needed prior to touching up. Still, if you’re wanting to change the color of a boat or auto interior, you might consider a heavier urethane or aerosol.

Click here for more information about the different types of materials and the differences between dyes and finishes.

Change Color Match Color
More product neededLess product needed
More labor requiredLess labor involved
Touch-up likely and variesLittle to no touch-up
Available nowWait until sample received; our turnover is swift
May be as expensive as matching, depending on scope of projectMatching fee; 8 oz. order minimum for Advanced Custom Color
Discouraged for auto, RV, boat interiorsRecommended for auto, RV, boat upholstery, primary or secondary colors

The video below demonstrates a change from a dark green to a solid, lighter tan color in five coats using Rub ‘n Restore®.

Video contents:

  • 0:08 – Cleaning and prep
  • 0:48 – First coat of color
  • 1:36 – Second coat
  • 2:10 – Third coat
  • 2:36 – Fourth coat
  • 2:54 – Fifth coat
  • 3:12 – Final result

Reader Interactions


  1. Wayne pennell says

    I have a light tan replacement trunk cover on my 2002 Mercedes Sport Wagon. It needs to be light grey. Could this work with your product

    • lesandre says

      We’ve never changed the color of one of these. It’s worth a try, but the most durable, simplest solution would be to get one in the correct color. The grey will require a Custom Color, which entails sending a sample and paying an additional $90 fee. I’d recommend using a plastic primer on any plastic components. Have the cover completely extended and use a sponge to apply a thin base coat of color, and then use a spray or detail gun for subsequent coats to ensure a uniform appearance and avoid pooling of color in the recesses of the vinyl. You want the thinnest possible finish due to the movement and retraction that it will experience. Even then, you may have to periodically touch-up. I’d also give it plenty of cure time in a warm, sunny place, since the vinyl, when retracted will be coiled on top of itself.

  2. Martin Reeves says

    Hi, I have an old 1950s car and the seats are in a terrible condition with rips and holes in them.
    I have seen for sale a set of seats that fit my car, but they are red and ideally I would like to dye them cream, like the original seats in my car.
    The leather on the red seats is old but still in fairly good condition.
    Would it be possible to change them from red to cream using your products?

    • lesandre says

      Red is one of the hardest colors to cover, so you’d need light grey as a primer. As the article mentions, white is the heaviest pigment and has the poorest coverage. This means you may use 2-3 times the normal quantity and will have a thicker, heavier and less flexible finish that may wear more easily and require more touch-up. A heavier urethane or aerosol will be more durable than our acrylic initially, though they also eventually develop hairline cracks, peel or flake. If this vehicle is seldom driven, either an acrylic or urethane would work. If more durability is needed, you’re better off finding the correct color or reupholstering.

      • martin says

        Many thanks for you reply Lesandre, much appreciated. I guess I will have to look into the options you point out, but really good to know what they are:-)

  3. Michelle says

    I have an old leather sofa and loveseat one great shape handed down to me that is very, very red. I’m not looking to make the color lighter or darker in any meaningful way, just less red. Looking at the colors available, the closest to what I want is honey. I know with other mediums, red will often show through, so I’m wondering if I’ll need lots of coats to keep the red from coming through? Thanks!

  4. Kerri says

    I have a leather couch and love seat that is very comfortable and in good shape; however, over the years, sunlight has turned parts of its beautiful tan colour green. We also have a brown leather lazy boy chair, so we are thinking of dying the couch and love seat some sort of brown to match the chair. Or, do you see a way that we could restore the ugly green parts back to the original tan colour?

    Also, we are in Canada. There are next to no options here at all so I’m glad I found your website.

    • lesandre says

      Thanks for the good word! It’s always less maintenance to restore the original color rather than change the color. The only caveat is matching the original tan. Will our Camel, Honey, Cognac or Rust match? Maybe, maybe not. You can order swatches of these colors. A more direct solution is to mail us a swatch of the leather. We’ll let you know how our colors compare, and we can match your tan, if necessary, for an additional fee. More about these color matching services is here. Sorry that we don’t have a distributor in Canada yet. See here about shipping; there’s also a coupon code to discount the freight on larger bottles of color.

  5. Tara says

    I have a 3 piece bright daffodil/sunshine yellow leather sofa set which is in perfect condition but doesn’t match my decor. Is it realistic to change this to a tan brown colour?

    • lesandre says

      Absolutely, but heed the suggestions in this article. Absorbent leather will require less maintenance than non-absorbent leather. Style of upholstery, type of use are all factors. A mottling technique to let some of the original yellow influence in a few spots will mitigate touch-up.

  6. Aston Reeves says

    I was wanting to change a set of red theater seats to the storm blue color. Is this something that sounds feasible and if so, would the 16oz bottle be enough to do this change on 3 seats?

      • Carey Paterson says

        Are Ekones or Stressless recliners a good canditate ? I have one over 20 years and have fixed the holes in the arms with your filler. It is their standard Beige color and I would like something similer in clor, maybe ivory.
        It doesnt have to match.
        How much and what to buy ? Is there a sealer or final coat after the color that needs to be applied ?
        Also it has been a couple ofmonthe since I repaired the arms is the filler stillgood ? Looks fine

        • lesandre says

          Ekornes are fine quality chairs, though most I’ve seen are a finished, non-absorbent leather. Being 20 years old, I imagine the substrate foam may be a bit tired. Perhaps you are able to unzip the cushions and add more to plump up the leather? Even so, I would work with a similar color (our Beige or Ivory) to minimize maintenance. The filler is still good and can be refinished at any time.

  7. Eva says

    Hi I have a 3 piece set. It’s an ivory color, like it’s a yellowy ivory, it seems like they are getting more Yellow and not matching my decor. Can I change it to a off white and how many coats etc. Thank you.

    • lesandre says

      Pale finished leathers do tend to get dingy or even oxidize over time or in the presence of certain chemicals, lotions, etc. It’ll be less labor, maintenance, and comparable or less expense to match the original color or areas that don’t appear as yellow. See here about color matching services. Original finish, quality, condition, and absorbency will all affect longevity and durability of a color change and how many coats will be needed.

  8. Richard says

    Hi There-I have an odd sized 2 person hot tub. The cover is a faded and slightly crackled light blue. There are no breaks in it however. I’d like to paint it terracotta or dark brown to match the stone on my patio or the dark brown on the outside of the hot tub. Is this possible? Thanks-Richard

  9. Dan Nguyen says

    I have 2 couch i want to change color of…seems like genuine leather just not sure (fro previous house owners)
    One is black and the other on is a redish brown…i would like to change both to a slate gray color, maybe the brown one to a dark gray/black

    Would this work? Which should i get for supplies?

  10. Anna says

    i have maroon leather couches and i want to make them the marine white. is this doable if I have enough coats. Should I prime first? The couches are in good condition ( no peeling or cracks)

  11. Kathleen Karppinen says

    I have a leather vinyl match set. Would I be successful changing the color from beige to Marine White? That color of yours really appeals to me! Thanks Lesandre!

    • lesandre says

      That is not too dramatic of a change and should be fine, so long as the substrate and upholstery are in good condition.

  12. Rob says


    I have a camera bag with bright yellow vinyl panels on it (yuck!!). Can I dye them to a darker “earthy” tone? Will the colour withstand rubbing and sweating on the panels in contact with my back or will it transfer to my clothing over time?

    • lesandre says

      An earth tone with lots of mineral pigment should get good coverage, age well, and not transfer, but you will likely have to touch-up at some point. Impossible to say how often. The Satin Sealer as a topcoat may help improve durability. Be sure you’re applying it to real vinyl and not polyurethane.

  13. Randy Rash says

    I have a dark marron boat vinyl that I want to change to bright red. Can this be done and will it hold up with it always getting wet.

  14. Eileen Wiggins says

    I have a “saddle” color leather oversized chair that has a large worn splash of lighter color on the arm. How can I restore to saddle color?

    • lesandre says

      That’s an easy color change, and bed frames are not as high maintenance as couches or chairs. But as always, beware bonded, faux, polyurethane or polyester ‘leather’. They resist all coatings including their own.

  15. Jackie Konrad says

    I would like to paint a black leather couch to off white, taupe or tan, About how much would this project cost?

    • lesandre says

      16 oz ($70) would be plenty to transform and maintain if using tan or taupe. White may take a 16 oz and additional 8 oz ($48). 8 oz Clear ($21) is optional for the former and a good idea on the latter.

  16. Helen Moore says

    I am hoping to restore a natural hide lounge. I have ordered the product. The lounges are very old. Will go directly onto the Hide?
    I am trying to change it to your grey.
    Thank you

  17. Kim says

    I have a red leather ottoman that I want to change to a teal color. Is this feasible? If so can you give me some advice please?

  18. Lisa says

    I have a dark brown leather couch in a beach house. I would love to lighten it and distress it. Do you have a product that would work for this? It looks so out of place being so dark but it is a great quality leather couch in great condition

    • lesandre says

      Consider distressing with Stone, Taupe, or Camel diluted with 1/4 or 1/2 the volume of Clear Prep+Finish. This is called a glaze and makes distressing easier.

  19. DCarly says

    Hi, I have an olive green Italian leather sofa and love seat and brown chair that I want to change to bright white. It’s in good condition, the pillows are attached and it’s very smooth. Can this be done? What products and how much will I have to buy? suggestions?

  20. Caroline Carello says

    I just purchased a new “white” leather couch. The white is definietly not white- has more cream in it. I would like to turn it to bright white. It is a large sectional and will be used daily by 2 kids. Will the white be able to withstand 2 kids and daily use?

    • lesandre says

      Make sure it’s real leather and not polyurethane. If you change to a brighter white, definitely use a mottling technique to create a marbled look to mitigate the need for touch-up.

        • lesandre says

          Some folks say it takes them days to do a color change. Others bang it out in an afternoon. There are a lot of variables at play. The greater question is if your piece is a good candidate (see the points above) and if you’re okay with occasional touch-up, as color changes can be more maintenance than restoring to original.

  21. Mairead Reddin says

    I have a red leather recliner loveseat that is extremely comfortable and I hate to part with it. The problem is that I’m not in love with the RED anymore and would love to change the color. Can you advise as to what colors I could use to kill the red? Any advice and input will be most welcome.


  22. Vicki jones says

    I have a gold (saddle color) sofa. It has been in a room rarely used and always has the seat area covered. Can I change to Stone Gray and start living on this comfortably without loosing gray color?

    • lesandre says

      It’s going to require touch-up eventually. With so many variables, hard to know how long that’ll be. It’s always less maintenance to restore to original or something complementary.

  23. Mary Ann says

    I bought the most amazing beige curved, leather sofa, covered in mostly superficial cat scratches. I spent hours deglazing, then buffing out the cat scratches. I then dyed the sofa with your brilliant white, three coats and finished off with two coats of your clear prep +finish. It is the wow factor in my great room. People think I paid thousands for the couch, little do they know. Now trying to find a leather recliner chair for my husband , that I can refinish, to match the couch. A very happy customer.

  24. Michaela S. says

    I would like to take my leather sectional from red to tan… your “Cognac” seems to be the color I’m looking for. Would you recommend putting Cognac over red?

    • lesandre says

      We generally don’t recommend it. Whites get the poorest coverage (requiring double or triple the coats) and are also the heaviest pigment, which will add more weight to the surface. A good quality leather will take it well but will still require touch-up, and that varies with condition, stressors, etc. Lesser quality materials will be more challenging.

  25. Janet says

    I notice that in your video that you say water or other liquids may activate the dye. Is this case immediately following application, or is this for the life of the furniture? Do I have to worry that every time someone drips water or liquid onto the sofa that the dye is going to come off on them? Thank you!

    • lesandre says

      As per the article, touch-up varies with the quality and condition of the material and the type of use. Some folks go years with only minor touch-up on one cushion. Some notice they have to touch-up within the first month. Best you can do is test the color on a small high-traffic or worn area, let it dry, do a few coats, pinch and twist and stress the area, and see how it performs. Strip it off with alcohol immediately if it doesn’t perform well and return it.

    • lesandre says

      Let me guess, the original paint is peeling, revealing a black plastic beneath? This was a problem in that generation of GM dashes. Firstly, you’ve got to even out any disparity between the peeling coating and the original whether by sanding or stripping with a solvent like paint thinner. This might turn it into a real nightmare. Then I’d use a plastic primer followed by our black finish. It’s going to be much easier if you pull the windshield to color change the dash.

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The Knowledge Hub is a library of articles and videos complied to help our customers complete their DIY leather and vinyl restoration projects.