Home » Here’s How I Dyed My Faded Leather Steering Wheel For Just $20

Here’s How I Dyed My Faded Leather Steering Wheel For Just $20

Steering Wheel Dye Topshot
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After 17 years of life, my BMW 325i had a bit of a steering wheel problem. I’m not sure if any of the previous owners wore rings or what, but even in the dim lighting of my garage, it’s not hard to see how destroyed my steering wheel was. That’s not a reflection on the left side of the wheel, it’s a spot where the grained leather had worn smooth through its factory dye. For most of my ownership period, there was also severe wear on the top of the wheel, and what areas hadn’t been obliterated over 176,000 miles of hard use were all shiny and gross. Clearly, it was time to do something.

Steering Wheel Dye Before

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

For some people, buying a new or well-kept used steering wheel is a great option. Unfortunately, my car has a fairly rare sport steering wheel without thumb bolsters that was only used prior to September of 2005, so finding another correct one would’ve been like searching for hen’s teeth [Editor’s Note: Does it matter if your car has a steering wheel with thumb bolsters? Probably not, but Thomas, like many of us, is obsessed with keeping certain things as they were from the factory. -DT]. Getting your wheel re-upholstered is also an option, albeit an expensive one that may put your vehicle out of commission for a while if you don’t have a spare wheel. Thankfully, there’s a third option that gets a bit of a bad rap for often being a cheap used car dealer reconditioning tactic – using dye to refinish the leather.

While cheap dyes can transfer onto your hands or wear off when cleaning the steering wheel, it’s worth understanding that leather doesn’t typically come off the cow in the color of your steering wheel. Most steering wheels are some sort of pigmented dyed leather, whether grained, smooth, or perforated, so a pigmented dye usually sits atop the material to give it a certain color, anyway. I say usually because a handful of cars may use semi-aniline leather on their steering wheels which is dyed using a soluble dye, but most of these are new enough that steering wheel wear isn’t a huge issue yet. Anyway, when a steering wheel starts to lose its consistent coloring, that’s usually the result of the factory dye and top-coating wearing off, so you should be able to just apply more dye to fix the issue, right?

colourlock steering wheel dye

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The dye I selected is marketed under the Colourlock family, which are all products of Lederzentrum GmbH. German dye for a German car, how fitting. More specifically, this is Colourlock’s standard black Leather Fresh dye kit. I’d heard good things about this brand and figured that at $20 for a 150ml dye kit on Amazon, it was worth spending my own money on. While the brand offers a whole line of preparation products, I decided to skip all the fancy stuff to see what’s possible using the bare minimum.

To start, I cleaned the surface of my steering wheel with isopropyl alcohol and a microfiber towel before roughing up the leather a touch with a melamine sponge. So long as you don’t apply a ton of pressure, these sponges are very forgiving and should scuff the surface enough to give the dye something to bite into. One more quick round with fast-flashing isopropyl alcohol, and it was time for masking. I taped off the column stalks and plastic steering wheel trim bezel and put a microfiber towel on the seat just in case. Next, it was time to break out the dye.

steering wheel dye

Opening up the Colourlock box revealed a minimalistic yet thoughtful set of products. In addition to the obligatory dye, there’s an applicator sponge and a Big Friendly Giant-sized glove to keep your hands skin-colored. Colourlock recommends applying the dye to the sponge and then dabbing the sponge on the leather for evenness, which is exactly the route I took. While getting the dye on the sponge went smoothly, dabbing produced more bubbles than a ‘90s rave. Hang on, did I mess up?

As it turns out, I didn’t. At least not irreparably so. With a bit more dabbing, the bubbles disappeared. It turns out that this dye is really easy to work with. After uniformly coating the wheel, the dye was ready for baking. Do I have a heat gun that could dry the dye? Absolutely. Does everyone have a heat gun? No. Cheap and terrible hair dryer it is, and my god, it worked almost immediately. This stuff flashes off very quickly, so you’ll be ready for a second coat in no time. After the first coat, my steering wheel definitely looked better, but coverage definitely wasn’t even. Notice how splotchy the left side of the steering wheel is in the picture below, indicating that at least one more coat was necessary.

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Img 0413

After two coats, I pulled off the masking and marveled at the difference. My steering wheel definitely isn’t perfect, but it looks and feels so much better than it used to. Before I go sing the praises of decent dye, I want to explain the limitations. If the texture on your steering wheel is uneven, that can show through in the final result. Dye also won’t fill heavy cracks, more coats almost always produce a better result, and the finish probably would’ve been better using Colourlock’s dedicated prep products. In addition, once the dye cures, you must apply a protective product to a steering wheel like a good leather conditioner. Not only will this keep things supple and sealed, good conditioning products provide a degree of UV protection. If you don’t apply a sealer of some sort, long-term Amazon reviews suggest that some wear returns after a few months of use, and that the alcohol in hand sanitizer can affect the finish.

Steering Wheel Dye Finished

Limitations aside, the results I got are absolutely worth it, especially considering how little money, time, and effort I spent on this project. Seriously, I reckon it was easier than cleaning glass. While it’s possible that I’ll have to re-dye again at some point in the future, I have plenty of dye leftover to take care of that. As it stands, my steering wheel is a uniform color and has just the right leathery sheen, and that’s good enough for me. Perhaps that will be good enough for you too.

(This post contains a few Amazon affiliate partner links. If you buy something by clicking on a link The Autopian may make a commission)

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(Photo credits: Thomas Hundal)

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Ron888
Ron888
1 year ago

My God Thomas ,what is on your floor?! A child’s illustration of magic mushrooms?

And -perhaps more surprising- how do you keep such a color clean?

marcellaterrones1642404
marcellaterrones1642404
1 year ago

I’m making over $13k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

That is what I do… https://iplis.ru/2ovyx2

The Dude
The Dude
1 year ago

Suggestion for a future article would be touching up leather car seats.

I did this myself with factory color matched dye for a small repair on my 17 year old car, and I got carried away and applied to both front seats and even found matching dye to bring back some color to my dashboard too. Made a world of difference and was surprisingly easy.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
1 year ago

What I want to know is if there’s any way to re-texture the fake leather finish on a molded “soft touch” plastic steering wheel rim once that wears down smooth and shiny.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
1 year ago
Reply to  Nlpnt

I believe there are repair specialists who can re-texture just about anything. Luxury car dealers always know the best. It then just becomes a question of cost.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 year ago

I’m going to have to spend some time looking into Colourlock to see if they have residential solutions. I have a really good quality sofa I like that needs a touch up. Everything I have looked at seems sketchy.

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
1 year ago

Colourlock’s products basically work on any leather whatsoever, as long as it’s real leather. (Either full grain or top grain.) It just may not precisely match your color. If you have any collagen exposed from cracks/cuts/etc. those need to be filled and scuffed first. Otherwise the dye will get into the collagen layer and completely throw off the color.

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago

“Does everyone have a heat gun? No.”

But everyone should IMO. 🙂

There are a lot of serviceable examples for around $20, e.g. at Harbor Freight and on Amazon. In addition to helping with paint-related tasks, they are really helpful for doing a nice job with shrink tubing and for thawing pipes in places where that’s an issue. Basically if it keeps people from using open flames unnecessarily, I think it’s a good idea.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 year ago
Reply to  A. Barth

And if you have neither a heat gun nor a hair dryer, do you have an old-school hot air popcorn popper? That will also work as a heat source. I used mine on a vinyl bumper sticker pre-sale and it worked great. I even have a vague memory of using it for shrink wrap tubing as well.

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

I have not tried that but it sounds like a good idea, especially for the shrink tubing. I believe Alton Brown recommends using a hot-air popcorn popper (HAPP) to toast spices.

On his tour a few years ago he told the story of how he made a HAPP Voltron out of a bunch of individual poppers when he was a kid. It was pretty amusing. 🙂

AlfaWhiz
AlfaWhiz
1 year ago

I’ve used the same exact product on mine, and can fully confirm. Use some of their care products afterwards to seal it off and you’re all set. Feels like OEM quality. Can also recommend their cleaning products.

3WiperB
3WiperB
1 year ago

Looks good and I didn’t know this was an option. I sewed a “Wheelskin” leather kit onto my plastic Saturn Astra wheel at one point and was pretty happy with the results, but it really took a toll on my hands to sew that on there and pull the stitching tight. Eventually, a few years later, I was able to pick up an OEM leather-wrapped wheel in good condition for cheap and just swapped it.

Old Busted Hotness
Old Busted Hotness
1 year ago
Reply to  3WiperB

Fun Fact: Leather gets nice and stretchy if you soak it in hot water. Makes drawing the stitches tight a whole lot easier, and the leather shrinks back as the water evaporates.

JDE
JDE
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing, I was considering a Sew on type cover wrap to retain the controls but deal with wear on the quarter million Mile Silverado. that would be 60 bucks and a lot of my patience gone I imagine. This looks faster, cheaper and arguably better.

Data
Data
1 year ago

Everyone’s looking at the steering wheel and the pizza mats, but there is an f’ing Totoro in the center console!

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 year ago

There are also leather paints that come in any color you want. They’re acrylic based, so you don’t need to worry about fumes. I haven’t tried it on steering wheels, but they’ve been shockingly resilient on bicycle saddles.

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
1 year ago

“If the texture on your steering wheel is uneven, that can show through in the final result. Dye also won’t fill heavy cracks, more coats almost always produce a better result, and the finish probably would’ve been better using Colourlock’s dedicated prep products.”

Beat me to calling this out. Dye doesn’t fix cracked and worn through leather. Steering wheels are usually high durability top grain leather (even though full grain would be better. It’s a cost vs. lifespan issue; obviously quality top grain lasts well past warranty period.)
Once you have corium (aka split) showing, dye will not help. Whether it’s a wheel or a seat.

I’ll also second the recommendation for Colourlock. Really good stuff.

AlfaWhiz
AlfaWhiz
1 year ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

In that case gentle sanding with a fine-grain sanding block will do the trick. Just don’t overdo it.

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
1 year ago
Reply to  AlfaWhiz

No. No it will not. That is not even remotely how leather works. If I catch you trying to fix my leather with 2000 grit, not only will I slap it out of your hands, I will bill you to replace every inch of it.

All that snake oil does is plug up the split with dust and brush the collagen bundles over so that lazy people can claim it’s grain. It is not grain, it is not a fix, and it does nothing more than make it worse.
https://leatherhidestore.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/FullGrain_Diagram-1024×800.jpg

AlfaWhiz
AlfaWhiz
1 year ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

Then wat are all the leather sanding pads for? I’m not saying it applies to every single case, but when you’re looking to renovate a rough patch, you may want to gently treat it with a sanding pad. Go look it up on their website, they suggest this as part of the prep work before applying some of their products. Anyways, I’m not a leather renovstion expert, just saying what worked for me.

Richard O
Richard O
1 year ago

I’ll have to give this a try on my E36. The wheel is quite faded, but the leather itself is still in decent shape. Thanks for the tip!

Data
Data
1 year ago

Are your floor mats pepperoni pizza slices?

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
1 year ago
Reply to  Data

Magic Mushrooms?

Richard O
Richard O
1 year ago
Reply to  Data

It looks like they have legs. Maybe Adventure Time pizza people?

Data
Data
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard O

I decided it was melty, dripping cheese which is the best kind of cheese.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 year ago
Reply to  Thomas Hundal

Years ago my friend got his classic Mercedes serviced at a specialty shop. The paper mechanic mats had preprinted oil stains and footprints on them and a message that said “we really did work on your car”.

He sold the car but I saw that mat pinned to his garage wall!

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