Wood furniture made up of natural materials like wicker, rattan, cane, and willow is classic. At least for me, it’s an exemplary piece of art for my garden.
And to maintain their antique, rustic look it’s good to get them refinished once in a year or two.
Fortunately, there are several ways you can do that, that includes painting, staining, and dyeing.
While oil-based wood stains are more popular than paints, using a fabric dye is a stunning way that can help recolor your old furniture in a much-customized way.
Also, there are specific wood dyes (also called wood tint) that are easily available on the market that can be used.
These are basically the mixture of colorant and a solvent (like alcohol or water) that can work in transforming this archetypal lifestyle furniture.
Why Use Dye for Coloring Wood Furniture?
With such a wide variety of paints and stains available, you might be thinking – why choose dyes!
While both wood stains and wood dyes work very well to add fresh color to your old chairs, there are differences between them.
Unlike wood stains (that sit on the wood surface), dyes are made from much smaller molecules which makes them more penetrating.
This simply means that dyes will penetrate deep into the wood to add color from within.
Since the color, you get with a dye is more translucent, it’s more useful when you need the wood grain to show off.
A few other advantages, you get with wood dye include:
- Comes with better permeability
- Easy to clean up and no harmful odors
- Translucent and comes in a wide range of colors
- Penetrates and get absorbed deeper into the wood
- Can add deep, vibrant colors without obscuring the grain
The only drawback of using dyes for wood furniture is it’s more prone to fading in sunlight than pigmented stains.
Unlike, stains that can add protection to the surface, dyes are only meant to add color without a protective layer.
So, if you are planning to dye your outdoor wicker, rattan, or cane furniture pieces, consider protecting them with a layer of shellac, lacquer, or polyurethane.
How to Dye Rattan and Wicker Wood Furniture?
Before you start dyeing your rattan/wicker furniture, it’s good to move the piece outdoors in a shaded or covered area.
Make sure you do not allow direct sunlight on the furniture as it can damage it.
Turn over the furniture piece and place it on a tarp cloth.
Cover the nearby things that you don’t want to spray with plastic or masking paper.
Now, follow these steps…
Step 1 – Clean
Vacuum the furniture to remove the dust.
In a large bucket, prepare the solution with warm water and mild soap.
Then wet a piece of rag and wipe down the furniture thoroughly to remove any dirt and grime.
If there are any molds on the furniture, add half a cup of bleach to the solution.
And then using a toothbrush scrub and clean the furniture including all the crevices between the weaves.
After getting the furniture cleaned, allow it to dry for some time.
Step 2 – Sand
Gently sand the piece of wicker with 80-grit sandpaper.
If there is any thin paint layer, varnish finish, or lacquer scuff lightly to remove them.
Alternatively, you can use liquid sandpaper which is easy to soften varnish or lacquer.
After you have sanded the surface, wipe it clean with a damp rag to remove the sanded dust.
Remember if your furniture has a heavy layer of paint, varnish, or stain, you won’t be able to dye it well. In that case, it’s better to repaint or over it.
Step 3 – Prepare the dye
Now it’s time to prepare your dye solution for spraying.
There are dyes that are water-based (soluble in water) and solvent-based (soluble in alcohol).
You can pick the one you like based on the color tone you desire to have – solvent-based wood dyes have more varieties available.
Mix the dye by following the specific instructions provided on the product label.
Then strain the mixture with a nylon filter or a strainer to filter out any undissolved solid particles.
Transfer the prepared dye solution to a spray bottle and test the nozzle by spraying on a piece of cardboard – for better finishing and results you will need to get a fine mist.
Step 4 – Spray the dye solution
Start by spraying the underside of your furniture evenly.
The dye will get soaked up quickly and you rarely need to wipe over the excess of it.
After the dye seems to be dried, turn over the piece and spray the top nicely.
If you desire, apply the second coat after allowing the first coat to dry completely.
Step 5 – Finish your project
After the coats of dye are completely dry, it’s good to spray the piece with a coat of two of polyurethane finish or clear lacquer.
This will add a good glossy finish and an enhanced protection layer.
Tips and warnings:
Always wear gloves for protection when refinishing the furniture piece using chemical-based dyes, paints, stains, and varnishes.
After you are done with your project, do not sit on the wicker chair (or use your rattan furniture) for 4-5 days.
This will give enough time to get the dye and finishes cured.
Also, keep in mind that dyes will work well on a piece of unfinished wood or if it’s old stained wicker furniture.
If you are trying to dye already painted or varnished furniture, you will need to strip the furniture hard which may sometimes require professional help.
What Kind of Dyes Works Best on Rattan and Wicker?
Various different types of dyes are today available on the market that can help you color and customize the wood, the way you want.
Some of the best options include:
1- Rit dye
Rit is a brand of dye that makes it super easy to add color to your wood pieces including rattan, wicker, cane, and other furniture items.
It’s available in more than 1000 shades that can help add texture, depth, and beauty to your old chair frame, stools, baskets, toys, and much more.
Just like staining, the wood dyeing process is pretty simple.
- Mix the powdered form of the dye with hot water
- With a piece of rag, bristle brush or foam brush apply the color to the wood surface
- After the surface is dry, add a layer of varnish or clear sealer like polyurethane for protection
Tie-dye is another excellent option that can help recolor and refinish your piece of unfinished wood furniture very fast.
For using this on wood, all you need is a one-step spray tie-dye to spray your furniture piece.
- Randomly spray the one-step tie-dye on wood
- After 1-2 minutes drag the tip of the Dye-Na-Flow color bottle to add swirl patterns and designs
- After getting your desired look, allow it to dry completely for 4-5 hours
3- Food coloring
Dyeing wood with food coloring can also add bright vibrant colors to your furniture piece, provided you do it right.
The good thing is you can even use it for coloring the toys, children’s table-and-chair sets, stools, or other wooden baby items as the food coloring is nontoxic and completely baby-safe.
To dye the wood with food coloring follow these steps:
- In a plastic cup mix some food coloring and white vinegar
- With a paintbrush apply this dye to your wooden pieces
- Allow 24 hours to dry the surface completely and then use spray sealant to seal
Besides the above options, you can also make a DIY homemade dye for refinishing your old wood furniture.
Few water-soluble products you can use for creating your own natural wood dye include cinnamon tea, coffee, tobacco, walnut husks, apple vinegar, and certain herbs.
You can use one or a mix of more than one material to make a cheap beautiful color for dyeing your project.
The Bottom Line
Dyeing natural wood materials like rattan, wicker, and cane is easy and fun – provided you choose the right products and follow the guidelines.
Based on your preference, you can choose between water-based, solvent-based, natural food coloring, or homemade dyes.
Based on the type of dye you choose, the dyeing procedure may differ slightly.
Regardless of what product you choose, make sure you finish your project with a clear sealant that will keep your furniture piece in a tip-top shape for long without any fading.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.