How to Naturally Dye Sneakers, According to Nike Footwear Designers
Colourfully transform your kicks with all-natural ingredients using these simple tips.
- 1 pair of plain white sneakers made from natural materials, like cotton
- 2 to 3 tablespoons of alum (this is a dye fixative that can be found in the spice aisle of many supermarkets)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons of iron mordant (this is a colour enricher that can be found online)
- 2 tablespoons of marigold powder (you can find this online or make it yourself with dried marigold flowers)
- 2 tablespoons walnut powder (either made from ground shells or bought online)
- 1 large boiling pan (large enough to submerge two sneakers)
- 1 pair of large tongs
- 1 pair of latex gloves
- 1 pair of safety goggles
If you're looking to give new life to a pair of sneakers in your wardrobe and you're up for a do-it-yourself creative project, this Nike how-to guide for dyeing sneakers is for you.
Whether you want to freshen up an old pair of kicks or give a vintage look to a new pair of crisp, white sneakers, this guide provides step-by-step instructions for how to dye sneakers using all-natural ingredients.
Below, Aja Zarrehparvar, a footwear design specialist at Nike, and Indah Nur, a material designer for Nike kids' footwear, walk through the steps and share their tips for dyeing a pair of white Nike sneakers with homemade, natural dye.
(Related: How to Clean Air Force 1s)
How to Naturally Dye Nike Sneakers: Soft Marigold Brown
As Zarrehparvar and Nur noted, it's important to choose a pair of sneakers made from natural fibres, particularly on the upper, as natural dye won't adhere to synthetic materials. Natural fibres include materials like suede, leather and cotton.
While you can use all kinds of natural ingredients—from flowers to food to compost—one of their favourite methods for dyeing shoes uses marigold powder and walnut hull or shell powder. According to the designers, this method of dyeing shoes leaves a light, soft brown colour on white sneakers for a naturally worn-in look.
Important: These instructions involve boiling water, so use caution. It's best for kids to have adult supervision if they want to dye their shoes using this method. (Note: Iron mordant is poisonous if consumed. Do not ingest the homemade dye.)
Step-by-Step Instructions to Dye Shoes
- Remove the laces. Set them aside.
- Put on safety goggles and gloves.
- Bring the pan of water to a boil (roughly 100 degrees Celsius).
- Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer (roughly 82 degrees Celsius). Wait until the pot is at a simmer before proceeding to Step 5.
- Add the alum to the pot. Stir for roughly 20 to 30 seconds.
- Add in the iron mordant. Stir again for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Add in the marigold powder and walnut powder. Continue to stir until the alum, iron mordant, marigold powder and walnut powder have dissolved. The water should be a yellowish-brown colour.
- Using the tongs, carefully place the shoes in the pot of simmering water, one at a time, until both are submerged.
- Allow the shoes to sit in the simmering water for roughly 30 minutes, periodically checking their colour by spraying 2 to 3 tablespoons of cold water on a single section. (The hot water will often make the sneakers appear darker.)
- Let the sneakers air-dry. The drying time required will depend on the sneaker. However, expect to wait roughly 12 to 24 hours.
- Once the sneakers have fully dried, re-lace them with the shoelaces.
As Zarrehparvar and Nur described, the white laces provide contrast with the newly browned shoes, offering a uniquely new (yet old) look and feel.
"These are all my skater dreams in secondary school coming to life.
I can wear these to work and feel like I'm part of the cool kids".
Aja Zarrehparvar, footwear design specialist, on her naturally dyed sneakers
And while this shoe-dyeing guide uses marigold and walnut powder, the Nike designers noted that you can use coffee for a rich, brown hue; beets for a deep, red colour; or avocado pits for a dusty rose shade.
Words by Julia Sullivan