How to change the color of leather or vinyl, even dark to light, with leather paint?

Leather paints are the best approach for changing the color of leather or vinyl, because they will completely cover the original color and can even be used to lighten. With leather dyes, the original color will influence the final result, and they cannot be used to lighten. Dyes may still sunfade or backstain clothing and require an additional sealer. Dyes only work on leather and not on vinyl. Balms are pigmented creams and cannot be used to change color.

Using a paint / coating to change color may require periodic touch-up and result in more maintenance than simply matching and restoring the original color. Absorbent aniline or semi-aniline leather will wear better than non-absorbent leather and vinyl that repel water.

This video shows how to change color of an absorbent semi-aniline leather chaise using Rub ‘n Restore® leather paint:

  • 0:14 – Cleaning and prep
  • 0:36 – The Tape Test
  • 1:10 – Priming
  • 1:45 – Mixing a glaze
  • 3:02 – Testing color adhesion
  • 4:30 – 1st coat glaze
  • 5:59 – Discussion of quantity
  • 7:00 – 2nd coat color
  • 7:28 – Burnishing with a different color
  • 8:36 – Buffing or sealing
  • 9:53 – Before and after

This old video shows how to change a non-absorbent vinyl loveseat from dark green to a lighter tan with five coats of Rub ‘n Restore®:

  • 0:00 – Intro
  • 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

For the best results:

The following are not good candidates for a color change due to the potential maintenance:

  • changing from red / dark to white / pale;
  • worn, cracking, scaly or thinning leather;
  • furniture with lots of wrinkles, folds, deep creases (and therefore stress);
  • pieces that are heavily used or harshly cleaned (kids, dogs, chemicals);
  • car or boat upholstery (for these we suggest a heavier urethane coating);
  • bonded, faux or polyurethane (PU) ‘leather’ which repel all finishes (including their own).

Why is changing to white or off-white discouraged?

White (titanium) is a heavy mineral pigment. It doesn’t cover as well as medium tones like Clay, Taupe or Stone. This means you may use 2-3 times the normal quantity. The result will be a thicker, heavier and less flexible finish that may wear more easily and require more touch-up.

If you’re hell-bent on it, do a mix of equal parts Clay, special order Satin Sealer, and the desired color as a primer coat. The Clay will help cover, and the Satin Sealer will improve durability. Then work with a 2:1 up to 4:1 ratio of desired color and Satin Sealer for subsequent coats until coverage is achieved. Less is always more.

Here’s what wear and discoloration look like:

Touch-up is easy and mitigated by:

  • choosing a color that is analogous to the original color (i.e. nearby on the color wheel);
  • choosing a color with a similar value (light, medium or 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 may be less durable than urethanes, but they also don’t feel plasticky, 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

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    • 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.

    • 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.

  1. 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!

    • 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

    • 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.

  5. 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.


  6. 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?

    • 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.

        • 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.

  7. 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?

  8. 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

    • 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.

  9. 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?

  10. 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


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