If you’ve messed with leather dyes for very long, you’ve probably experienced the dye almost magically ending up all over your fingers – while wearing latex gloves and standing in a completely different room. In someone else’s house… it’s that messy! Seriously though, not only is it messy, but it’s very difficult to remove from your skin as well – especially around the finger nails and cracks in your skin. Then there’s the seemingly never ending rub-off that can transfer to clothing if you’re not careful.
The solution? Well, not so much a solution, but a viable option…. Vinegaroon!
Disclaimer: I’m far from an expert when it comes to Vinegaroon. I’m still trying to perfect the process by learning from others and diagnosing my own results. What follows is the result of my research of various message boards and web searches, as well as my own experience. Since most of my products are multi-colored, I rarely have a need for vinegaroon so I don’t go through it very often , but I still like to keep some on hand. I’m creating this page to help others, as well myself so I don’t have to go looking for the information the next time I need it. If you see something incorrect or confusing, please don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll do what I can to revise and/or update the page according.
What is Vinegaroon?
Vinegaroon, A.K.A. Vinegar Black, is a liquid (Ferric Acetate, or Basic Iron Acetate) that results when you mix iron shavings with vinegar and allow it to set for a week or two (or longer). The vinegar dissolves the iron, resulting in a tea-looking liquid that is capable of turning leather black by reacting with the tannins in the leather. The resulting black leather is permanent and will not rub-off or transfer to clothing. Vinegaroon can be stored for a long time. How long? I’m not sure, but I’ve had mine well over a year and it still works fine.
How To Make Vinegaroon
Ingredients & Supplies:
4/0 Steel Wool or Steel Wool Soap Pads (the kind used to clean dishes) or iron shavings from a metal shop, old un-coated nails, etc. – anything that rusts easily
1 jug of Pure White or Cider Vinegar (cheapest you can find is perfectly fine, and most seem to prefer Cider Vinegar)
Acetone (to strip the oil from the steel wool in case it’s pre-oiled)
Large plastic container (I just use the one the vinegar came in, some use large plastic coffee containers)
Large pot to warm the vinegar
Stainless bowl for de-oiling with acetone
Paper Towels or Coffee Filters
De-oil the steel wool by dunking it in a bowl of acetone. Squeeze out the excess and allow to dry completely. Be sure to properly dispose of the acetone!
Tear the steel wool to smaller strips or pieces to increase the surface area and to make sure it will fit through the opening in your storage container.
Warm the vinegar in a large pot to the point of hot tap water. You don’t want it too hot – remember, you’ll be pouring it back in the plastic container.
Pour the warmed vinegar into your chosen storage container, then add the steel wool to the warmed vinegar.
Punch a small hole in the lid of your container, then close the lid and place outside in the sun to help warm the solution daily. Let it set for at least two weeks. Don’t forget this step! The off-gassing will generate pressure inside the container, which could cause the container to explode if it’s not properly vented.
After two+ weeks, look at the solution. If the iron is completely dissolved and there is a strong vinegar smell, you need to add more iron. If there is still iron left and there is still a strong vinegar smell, heat again on the stove. If there is no iron left and there is no vinegar smell, your solution is ready for the next step. Otherwise, re-heat the batch on the stove like before and let set for another two weeks outside in the plastic container.
If the solution no longer smells like vinegar and you still have some iron left in your container (it should just be rusting at this point and turning the liquid a rusty color), remove the lid and let it air out for a few days. This helps to let the acetic acid escape.
Using a funnel and paper towels or coffee filters, pour your vinegaroon back and forth between two plastic containers until your liquid is nicely filtered. Use fresh filters necessary because they will quickly clog up.
How to Use Vinegaroon
To use vinegaroon, simply coat your item with the liquid and watch it turn black almost instantly. Allow the vinegaroon to work on the leather for about 30 minutes. Do not be discouraged if some areas don’t immediately turn black. Give the liquid time to penetrate the leather and work its magic.
Once the leather has blackened, you’ll need to neutralize the vinegaroon by soaking the leather in a mixture of 1/8th cup of baking soda to 1/2 gallon of warm water. Let the leather sit in the solution for a few minutes, then rinse thoroughly under running water. This is an extremely important step, so please don’t forget to neutralize the vinegaroon in your leather!
Before the leather dries, apply a coat or two of oil to the leather to help darken the color even more.
If you are vinegarooning a holster, I suggest you apply the vinegaroon only after you’ve formed it. The resulting leather will be much more water resistant and can be very difficult to form once ‘rooned.
Don’t oil the leather prior to applying the vinegaroon. In my experience, the oil made the leather more resistant to the solution and it didn’t blacken as well. If it’s already been oiled, be sure to allow a couple days for the oil to soak in as much as possible to give the vinegaroon a better chance to work.
If your leather isn’t turning black enough, you can pre-soak your leather in strong black tea or tannic acid (available from brewing supply stores) just prior to applying the vinegaroon. By doing this, you’re increasing the tannins in the leather. It’s the reaction between the tannins and the iron acetate that makes the leather turn black. Thus, more tannins = more black.
If your leather has already been sealed, don’t bother attempting to vinegaroon it. I tried it on a mock-up holster that had been built to completion (dyed, sealed) and the leather only turned black around the stitching where the sealer didn’t completely seal up the stitch holes. The blackening migrated a little into the surrounding leather, but the end product looked a bit like a mangey leopard…