Car DIY: How to Dye Your Faded Auto Carpet
Is the carpet in your car faded or stained? Does it now clash with your new seats or repainted exterior? You can re-dye the carpet to its original color, spray on a different color, or install new carpet. It mostly depends on how much time, money, and effort you want to put into the project.
Clean it Thoroughly
Unless you already know you’re going to replace the carpet, the first step is to clean it thoroughly. I just used a vacuum on the 1981 Toyota Celica in the photos here. However, that’s not good enough because everything else depends on how clean you get the carpet fibers. If you own or want to rent a really good wet shop vac, you could do this step yourself, but it might be wisest to have the local carwash shampoo the carpet for you. The video below demonstrates this part well.
Watch a Pro Clean and Dye Auto Carpet
Dyes are not designed to change the color, or not by much. They can restore and darken (but never lighten) the color that was there. They soak into the individual carpet fibers. It is important to brush the carpet every which way in order to work the dye down to the “roots and scalp.” The video starts to demonstrate dyeing a dying carpet at about 4:40.
The before and after photos of black carpet in this article show some difference but not as much as there should be. I didn’t follow these instructions because I hadn’t written them yet. I made the mistake of using the wrong kind of coating simply because it was what I had on hand. I also did the brushing wrong. No need to elaborate.
Coatings can make a somewhat greater color change than dyes can, but they have their limitations. And if you’re changing the color by that much, you need to be sure to go all the way to every edge and surface. This means removing the seats, at the very least, and maybe the whole carpet as well.
SEM and other companies make spray coatings specially designed for carpets. This is not any ordinary rattle-can paint! And it's not the kind that's "for vinyl and fabrics"—it's for vinyl, fabrics, and carpets. There is small print on the back of the SEM can of instructions that aren’t exactly intuitive, so read the fine print. After a two-inch column of how to use it on vinyl and flexible plastics, it gives separate directions specifically for carpet.
I won’t go through all of it here, but here’s my paraphrase of the part after the cleaning and preparation:
- Spray a light coat. Immediately brush in all directions.
- Wait for 3–5 minutes. Repeat step 1.
- Wait for 5–10 minutes. Brush again in all directions to ensure no fibers are stuck together.
Alternative Option: New Kits or Cut-Your-Own
If you’ve decided to be thorough and remove the carpet, then new carpeting is often more cost-effective than dyeing or coating it. Laying new carpet, however, has its own challenge: fitting the carpet. During re-installation, the carpet will tend to pull or wrinkle if you stretch it too much or too little when bolting something back down. This is true whether you are re-installing the original carpet or replacing with new carpeting. It helps a lot, though, if the new carpet is molded in the shape of the floor-pan.
Buying a kit that is pre-cut to fit your car's make, model, and year should come close to fitting, but there are still some nuances—holes that need to be cut or lined-up, etc. Some kits are easier to work with than others, so it is wise to check the online DIY forums for your make, model and year to find other people's recommendations. Try searching for something like, "DIY forum Camry."
Once you’re in a forum that looks promising, you can specify the year, seat configuration, and anything else that might pertain. Prices are about $145-$200 for the passenger compartment and even less for some two-seaters.
It is cheaper to go down to the local upholstery shop (or an online store) and buy carpet by the yard, starting at about $35. Auto carpet differs from household carpet, so be sure to ask for the right kind. This will be cheaper than the kit, but you have to use the old carpet as a template for cutting. The decisive factor may be how many edges need to be finish-stitched, which is more likely in the trunk than on the floorboards. If all edges get tucked under door sills and trim panels, it’s a lot easier—you don’t have to cut as accurately or stitch it. But watch out for compound curves that aren't as easy with flat carpeting as with molded carpeting.