Summer is starting, and finals week is drawing near, so logically, instead of studying or playing outside, I decided to overhaul my ski boots. It was a long process, as I did all the work in my dorm room with limited tools, but I'm happy with the results.
My search for a boot dyeing guide didn't yield much information, so I googled a lot. It turns out the yo-yo and disc golf communities are very well versed in dying plastic. This guide is a combination of a lot of their techniques, as well as some of the tips I found in this thread: Boot Dye Guy. So anyway, thank you to the internet and I hope you find some of this information useful.
Here is a shot of my boots before I started the process. They were used when I bought them. I'm not sure what year they are, but I'm pretty sure they are Hot Doggers. They look pretty decent, but the previous owner had spray painted them black and they were starting to chip badly.
I took them apart, which is really easy. Make sure that you use a proper sized screwdriver, and try not to strip anything. The previous owner had stripped a few screws, and I didn't have good extracting tools, so I filed one of the stripped screws into a slot and used a flat head screwdriver to get it out. The other stripped screw (on the bottom buckle) had to be drilled out, which you should only do if you have replacement screws. I should really buy a set of extractors...
Anyway, next step was to remove the spray paint. I used a scrubbing pad, and Motsenbockers Lift Off #4. The stuff is great, just spray it on, let it sit for a few minutes, and then go to town with the scrubber. I ended up moving to the kitchen sink so I could scrub and rinse at the same time. If you don't wear gloves (sandwich bags kinda work), the chemicals sting a bit, and you will get pain stains on your hands, but it wasn't that bad.
Afterwards, I used a 320 grit sanding block to smooth out the scuffs in the plastic and to take any resilient paint flecks off. I would recommend a rougher grit, I had to work pretty hard to sand down the chips. In this picture you can see the painted versus stripped back cuff.
Once I removed all the paint, the dye process started. I used RIT boxes, a 5-gallon bucket, and my trusty hot water heater (which also makes me tea). I heated a bunch of water, and filled the bucket until everything was submerged. Then I added in the dye and stirred everything with a large metal screwdriver. I put the buckles on string (dental floss) so I could pull them out and check them more easily. I only used one pack of black dye, and probably 3.5 gallons of water. I would recommend adding more dye, or using a wider bucket so you could put the cuffs on their side and use less water. I left these pieces submerged for about 14 hours. I tossed a cardboard lid over the bucket and went to sleep, then went to class, then dumped everything down the dorm shower drain.
I used one pack of kelly green dye for the white parts. I didn’t bother with the string this time. I submerged these pieces for about 4 hours.
The tongues and cuffs took dye pretty well. The backs turned a really dark purple, almost blue, and the tongues turned a turquoise green.
The buckles hardly dyed at all. So I decided to take another crack at them using alternative methods. I added a full pack of black dye to about one liter of hot water, and then added a good measure of acetone (6 bucks at the hardware store). I didn’t bother with ratios and measuring, it’s not really my style. The approximate ratio was probably 1 part acetone to 4 parts water, which is what the yo-yo sites recommended.
The buckles got a bit darker, but now I’m really confused as to what color they were originally. I thought they were purple, but now they look brown. I got curious, and scraped a bit of the top layer off with a razor blade. It looks like Full Tilt buckles might be painted? Or maybe these were previously dyed? I really have no clue. I gave up on these buckles for the time being.
I turned up the intensity on the green buckles. Instead of just submerging them in hot water, I decided to actively boil them. After a few minutes this didn’t seem to be working super well, so I added in some salt, which is supposed to drive the dye out of the water and into the plastic (osmosis is cool), but this didn’t really seem to do anything either.
As a last ditch effort, I decided to pour a cup of acetone into the pot of water. If anyone has taken general chemistry, they should know that this is a bad idea. For the record I’ve taken general chemistry and organic chemistry, and I’ve worked with acetone a lot, but my impatient mind got the best of me. The boiling point of acetone is about 56°C, and water boils at 100°C, so the acetone instantly evaporated in an explosion of bubbling, spewing green dye all over the white stove and counter top. I quickly transferred the pot to the sink and ran everything under cold water. I wiped up the mess with a bunch of paper towels, and diluted the stains with cold water. This didn’t help much, so the kitchen in my dorm now has green stains on the counter top. I probably shouldn’t be doing projects in the kitchen... The buckles did get noticeably greener though, not really the same shade as the tongues, but way darker.
After all the fun with dyeing, I dried everything off and put my boots back together. I ordered new heel pads and some cuff spoilers from Full Tilt, and I was super impressed to have them delivered in two days (it was 3-7 day shipping). I also picked up some extra screws from the hardware store to replace the ones I stripped (M4-.70 x 10), and put these on with small lock washers. All in all, putting the boots back together was way easier than taking them apart.
I’m pretty happy with the finished product. They don’t look anything like I envisioned they would. I was thinking black cuffs and upper buckles with kelly green tongues and lower buckles, but they way they turned out is still pretty sick. They look way better than they used to. The spray paint might not have looked terrible in a picture, but it was pretty ugly in person. The dye will be much more permanent. I’ve also ordered a pair of booster straps to replace the stock ones, but they haven’t gotten here yet.
If you’ve gotten this far, hopefully you have learned something new, and if you have any questions I’ll do my best to answer them. Also, if anyone else has had more luck with dyeing buckles, let me know what you did please.
A few notes:
-Don’t dick around with acetone, it’s pretty flammable. I could have easily set the dorm kitchen on fire.
-Only pour dye down metal sinks/showers.
-Don’t ever use the pot that you dyed in for cooking. It’s safest to assume that anything cooked in this pot will be very bad for you, especially if you used acetone.
-If you’re doing all this in a dorm, make sure you are allowed to have all the tools and chemicals. I wasn’t worried about getting in trouble, but it would suck to get written up.
And because I know it will get asked... The flex and feel of the boots has not changed, and the acetone hasn't changed the integrity of the buckles. Nothing shrank, expanded, or anything. The water was slightly below boiling for pretty much everything, this shouldn't hurt your boots.