Tips for Using Aniline Dye on a Hardwood Floor

Dying hardwood floors is pretty difficult. Dye dries quickly, so there’s a lot of room for mistakes, especially the appearance of frustrating lap lines or stop marks in your final product. Using aniline dye in particular is an especially difficult process.

But there are some situations where you just can’t avoid it, and you’re forced to dye to a hardwood floor.

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For example:

• Your client wants to achieve a certain look in their floors that you just can’t get with traditional stain, like turning it jet-black.

• You have to stain a species of wood that’s difficult to work with using traditional staining methods (like maple, cherry, or hickory.)

• Your client wants to keep the grain quality of their newly installed flooring, but they want its color scheme to match the floors in the rest of the house.

If you have to use aniline dye on an upcoming job but you don’t have much experience with it, we have some information for you. Keep these tips in mind as you work on dying a floor, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a beautiful end product.

Dyes vs. Floor Stain

Unlike with floor stain, you can make dye appear darker by going over it multiple times. As the dye gets darker, your lap lines and heavy spots become less noticeable. You can even saturate the floor with dye to the point that it turns jet black.

Aniline dye penetrates all parts of the wood equally, which helps minimize any color variation in the hard and soft grain of the plank or strip floor boards. This sets it apart from floor stain, which doesn’t subdue color variation and can sometimes leave floors with a “blotchy” appearance.

Also, dye is transparent so it showcases the grain pattern of the wood more than pigmented stain does.

Despite the differences between the two, it’s usually in your best interest to use dye and stain together. You have to apply stain on top of a dye to lock in the color. Dye isn’t colorfast, meaning that it fades when exposed to UV light. So applying stain on top of the dye will help preserve the color of the dye for a longer period of time.

Before you begin

When you’re first purchasing aniline dye, you’ll find that there are different varieties. Dye is water-soluble, alcohol-soluble, or oil-soluble, and it comes in powdered and liquid forms.

We recommend that you use water-soluble aniline dye rather than an alcohol-soluble variety. Alcohol-soluble dye dries very quickly, making it much more difficult to work with than a water-soluble product.

Either powdered or liquid dye will work. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and to be precise when mixing your dye.

If you’re using powder, weigh the dye with a scale (don’t rely on measurements like teaspoons or tablespoons) and mix it with the appropriate amount of water. When using liquid dye, add it to the appropriate amount of water using an eyedropper so you can count the drops. The manufacturer’s instructions will specify the ideal dye to water ratio.

Before you apply the dye to your client’s floor, test out your mixture on a wood sample of the same species sanded down to the same grit. If you’re going to stain the floor as well, apply the stain to your sample so you get an accurate picture of the final product.

Applying aniline dye to a hardwood floor

When you start working on your client’s floors, make sure that you use the exact same proportions of water and dye as you did on your sample. If you added 35 drops to a gallon of water to make your sample dye, make sure your working dye also contains 35 drops to the gallon. Otherwise, you might end up with a floor that looks completely different than you and your client expected it to, which is not a good situation.

Application tips

Because of its quick drying time and its propensity to show lap lines, dye is pretty unforgiving to work with. Your technique has to be spot-on in order to give the finished product as smooth an appearance as possible. Here are some tips:

• We recommend using a pad applicator on the floor as well as the edges of the floor. Working with the pad applicator to cut each pass on the board edge and applying with the grain the length of the room will help minimize the appearance of lap lines.

• Use long strokes to apply the dye. This will cut down on lap lines and heavy spots.

• Cutting your pad applicator down to the same width as two or three boards will make your lap lines less noticeable. Matching up your applicator’s edge with the board edges as you apply the dye will also subdue any lap lines.

• Your applicator should be saturated with dye, but make sure that it’s not dripping wet.

• The more you go over the dye, the darker it will get. Try your best to spread the dye evenly to avoid creating heavy spots on the floor. If you do create a heavy spot, act quickly to pull the dye out and spread it evenly across the boards.

Check out our selection of hardwood floor dyes. For any questions about applying aniline dye or other dyes to a hardwood floor, call us at (610) 940-5757 or email

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