Dye Your Own Pearls

by Jamie Smedley, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®
Dye Your Own Pearls

Learn how to easily dye pearls to match any outfit or occasion--a process which has been a closely guarded trade secret.

Cultured freshwater pearls are created by mollusks which secrete a coating to protect themselves from the tiny particulate embedded into their body. The coating is known as nacre. Nacre is lustrous, fragile and extremely porous and can be easily stained by body oils and perfumes--and fabric dyes. Due to the dyeable nature of nacre and the availability of fabric dye--it's easy to create your own custom colors of pearls. Just like anything you dye, do a test run before you begin dyeing a full batch of pearls.

: : : Materials : : :

  • Cultured freshwater pearls, white
  • Glass pan (not previously used with food)
  • Non-metallic stirring spoon (not previously used with food)
  • Coffee filter
  • Measuring cups
  • Paper towel or a small square of fabric cut to fit the bottom of the pan
  • Rit® dye
  • Surgical gloves to protect your hands from chemicals and staining
  • Mask to keep you from inhaling dye powder as you are mixing it
  • Safety glasses to keep dye powder and splash out of your eyes
  • Apron to protect your clothing from staining with dye
  • Sink with tepid running water to mix dye and rinse pearls
  • Clear countertop surface that can be bleached of dye spills
  • Ivory Soap® flakes for gently washing your pearls prior to dyeing
  • Gloves

  • Optional:

  • Stir sticks, plastic
  • Safety glasses
  • Aprons
Choosing your Dye

Choosing a type of dye is a personal preference. You can buy single-step fabric dyes or you can buy two-step artisan fiber-reactive colors that can be mixed and matched for that perfect subtle shade. Other dye options include natural substances such as botanicals or minerals. Natural dyes will produce an artistic hand-created effect; however, it will be challenging to replicate a color due to the nature of organics.

Preparing the Pearls

Wash the pearls with water and a gentle soap, like Ivory Soap®, to remove any oils from the surface of the pearls, because oil will affect uniform dye saturation. Let the pearls air dry for about two hours after they are cleaned. Do not scrub the pearls, as you could damage the nacre layers.

Choosing your Method

Sprinkling Method

This technique gives a beautiful mottled and eclectic spray of different colors.
After the pearls have been cleaned, soak them in a warm bath of water.
Place a paper towel in the bottom of a glass plate.
Place the pearls onto the paper towel (while still wet).
Sprinkle the dye powder directly onto the pearls. Let the pearls and dye sit for a while, until dye has taken to the extent you desire.

Dye Bath Method

Prepare your purchased dye according to the manufacturer's directions. Never mix outside chemicals to industrial dyes as this might cause a harmful reaction.
Gently pour the dye through a strainer, like a coffee filter, to remove any lumps or undissolved dye powder which, if left, may create specks on your finished pearls.
Place a paper towel in the bottom of the glass pan. The paper towel will lift the pearls off the surface of the glass container so they can receive the dye on all sides.
Place the pearls onto the paper towel. You can choose to keep them on a strand, just be sure to separate the pearls so they can receive the dye all around the perimeter.
Or, you can choose to place the pearls onto the paper towel loose, just be sure to leave space between the pearls.
Pour the dye gently into the pan so it doesn't move the pearls. The dye should saturate the fabric or paper towel and rise above the top of the pearls so that they are completely immersed.

The amount of time you let the pearls sit in the dye depends on the intensity of color desired. The longer the pearls remain in the bath increases the intensity of color they will exhibit. To achieve a lighter shade, check your pearls every minute. If you over color your pearls, use a fabric color remover to remove the dye. Re-dye the pearls until they come out just right. When the pearls have reached the color you desire, rinse them thoroughly with water until the water runs clear. Let the pearls dry for at least one day before handling them.

Have a question regarding this project? Email Customer Service.

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