How to Dye Wood With Food Color

Light-colored woods are best for dyeing.
Light-colored woods are best for dyeing. (Image: Emevil/iStock/Getty Images)

Dyeing is a creative way to use leftover pieces of wood to make toys such as colored stacking blocks for a child, picture frames or even wooden beads for jewelry-making. You can use wood dye, which is manufactured in many different colors, but food color is both bright and non-toxic, making it perfect for objects that are going to be in contact with food or children. Using food color may not create as long-term a finish as a chemical colorant, but it's safer.

Things You'll Need

  • Food coloring
  • Light-colored pieces of wood, such as pine or oak
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Water
  • White vinegar
  • Plastic zip bags, 1 gallon
  • Food-safe wood finish

Prepare Your Wood

Sand your pieces carefully to ensure the edges are entirely smooth. Rinse off the dust and let your pieces dry thoroughly before proceeding.

Stir a few drops of food color into 1/4 cup of warm water. Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar and mix. Adjust the amount of food color until the water is the desired shade; more food color will make a darker stain.

Place the wood-and-dye solution into a 1-gallon zippered bag; let it soak for at least a minute and longer if you want a darker stain.

Remove the wood pieces from the dye and allow them to dry completely. Paint the finished pieces with a food-safe wood finish to protect the dye.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can also use coffee and dark fruit juices such as grape juice or beet juice to dye wood. Fabric dyes also will dye wood.
  • The dye will fade over time, so you may want to stain the wood a darker color in the beginning.


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