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Car DIY: How to Dye Your Faded Auto Carpet

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Howard has been an online writer for several years. His articles often focus on the care and restoration of older cars.

What to Do With 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.

After 30 years of exposure to sunlight, carpets can become faded and need to be rejuvenated.

After 30 years of exposure to sunlight, carpets can become faded and need to be rejuvenated.

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

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.

Before shot. The front seats have been removed. Seat belt tongues were masked to keep them shiny.

Before shot. The front seats have been removed. Seat belt tongues were masked to keep them shiny.

After shot. The color in the foot-wells now matches the color under the seats. The camera flash makes this look less black than it really is.

After shot. The color in the foot-wells now matches the color under the seats. The camera flash makes this look less black than it really is.

Coatings

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:

  1. Spray a light coat. Immediately brush in all directions.
  2. Wait for 3–5 minutes. Repeat step 1.
  3. Wait for 5–10 minutes. Brush again in all directions to ensure no fibers are stuck together.
  4. Vacuum.
SEM and other companies make spray coating specially designed for carpets. This is not any ordinary rattle-can paint!

SEM and other companies make spray coating specially designed for carpets. This is not any ordinary rattle-can paint!

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.

Before shot showing the right rear foot-well and the rather bald carpet on the drive-shaft hump. By the way, this would have been a prime candidate for total carpet replacement.

Before shot showing the right rear foot-well and the rather bald carpet on the drive-shaft hump. By the way, this would have been a prime candidate for total carpet replacement.

After shot of the right rear foot-well and part of the hump; greatly improved, even though the hump is still quite bald.

After shot of the right rear foot-well and part of the hump; greatly improved, even though the hump is still quite bald.

After shot of the drive-shaft hump, the worst part of this carpet.

After shot of the drive-shaft hump, the worst part of this carpet.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2011 Howard S.

Comments

Oliver Miah on April 24, 2019:

nice topic

Rismayanti from Tropical Island on September 15, 2011:

exellence useful hub.. thanks

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 04, 2011:

Whoah, I didn't even know that dying an auto carpet was an option! Great guide!

Howard S. (author) from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on April 03, 2011:

Well, hello again in a whole 'nother context! (hehehe)

It sounds like dye is definitely the option of choice. First be sure you get all the chlorine out. Otherwise it's going to keep working against you every time you dampen it. Then make sure you have a dye that is a perfect match so you won't have to blend out from the spot. Then just keep treating that spot until you're satisfied it's as good as it's gonna get! Let me know how it goes!

Lily Rose from A Coast on April 03, 2011:

You couldn't have had more perfect timing! I was just complaining yesterday about the lovely bleached spot on the carpet in the back of my car from my husband taking my car to get more chlorine for the pool. I bet if he had used his car he would have been much more careful - but that's a whole other topic. Someone else told me to dye it and I had not even thought about that. Thanks for these great tips!

Howard S. (author) from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on April 03, 2011:

Thanks, Rudra. I forgot, but had intended to say that removing the seats is the hardest part--or rather re-installing them. And these were small ones that I could carry (awkwardly) by myself. Imagine one of those newer ones where everything's electric, etc. Some even have a side air bag inside the seat back. All this complicates it. In those cases, it's probably best to use the dye method, shoving the seat all the way forward and then all the way back.

Rudra on April 03, 2011:

One of those very hard things to do.

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