How To Use Fabric Dye To Restore Washed-Out Exterior Plastic Trim On Your Automobile

24 May 2016
 Categories: , Articles


Plastic door handles and other exterior trim pieces on vehicles tend to fade over time as they are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Instead of being a dark, rich black color as when new, vehicle trim ultimately becomes a washed-out gray. There are commercial products available for use to darken faded plastic, but they can be pricey and some have mixed results. However, the good news is that you can restore the attractive black finish at home using inexpensive products and only a few minutes of your time. Below is how you can dye vehicle trim pieces and get a good-as-new look:

Tools and materials needed

  • Blue or green painters masking tape
  • Clean shop towel or cotton tee shirt
  • Newspaper
  • 91 percent rubbing alcohol
  • Heat gun or hair dryer
  • Black fabric dye in powder form
  • UV protectant designed for automotive use
  • Cooking pan
  • Stovetop
  • Water
  • Wooden spoon or other stirring utensil
  • Rubber gloves

Step-by-step procedure

1. Thoroughly clean the plastic trim to be restored - It is important to remove grease, oil or any other substance that might affect the adherence of the dye to the plastic trim. That is why you need to clean the plastic using rubbing alcohol. To clean the trim, dampen a shop towel or other cotton scrap with 91 percent rubbing alcohol and wipe the trim in a circular direction. If the alcohol evaporates too quickly, re-dampen the cloth and clean the trim again.

2. Shield the surrounding area - The dye used in restoring the black trim is subject to staining your vehicle's paint or other parts, and you will need to protect these nearby areas. To do so, apply several strips of blue or green painters tape to the paint immediately surrounding the trim component. Next, tape a piece of newspaper beneath the trim to capture runs or drips.

3. Mix the black dye - The black powdered dye used for this restoration project can be purchased at most grocery stores and general merchandisers. To make the dye, begin by measuring half the water as directed by the manufacturer, pour it into a large saucepan and bring it to boil. Once the water is boiling, add the full packet of powdered dye into the water and begin to stir well to dissolve all the dye. Reduce the heat to zero and allow the dye and water mix to sit for a few minutes.

4. Dye the plastic trim - The trim will respond to the dye best if it is heated and able to absorb the dye more fully. Begin by holding a heat gun or hair dryer approximately 8 to 10 inches from the plastic and begin to heat the trim. Keep the directed heat focused on the plastic trim, but be sure to stop heating if the trim shows signs of warping or the surrounding paint begins to bubble.

After heating the plastic trim, put on a pair of disposable rubber gloves to protect your hands from being stained. Next, apply a thin coat of black dye onto the trim using a clean cloth or rag. Be sure to keep layers thin, as this will prevent dripping and messes. Once you have reached a point where the dye is uniformly black across the trim pieces you are restoring, stop applying the dye and allow it to dry completely.

5. Protect the plastic trim - Once the plastic trim is dyed and the surface has dried, you will need to add a protectant to the exterior of the trim. This will add a lustrous shine to the finish and also prevent UV rays from quickly destroying the finish.

To apply, squirt a small amount of protectant onto another clean rag. Next, wipe the exterior of the trim well with the rag, and use a circular "buffing" motion to help polish and dry the protectant as you work. If any protectant residue accidentally covers a keyhole or other access point, then you can use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to loosen it.

If you feel you cannot do this yourself, consider working with an auto body repair shop in your area that has expertise on restoring exterior plastic.