Make: Projects – Permanently stain PVC pipe any color you want

Science Technology
Make: Projects – Permanently stain PVC pipe any color you want


I love PVC pipe: It’s weatherproof, cheap, commonly available, easy to work, and easy to join temporarily or permanently. Apart from a slightly icky environmental footprint, the only serious drawback of PVC pipe for non-plumbing projects is that it’s ugly, owing largely to the fact that it’s usually available only in white, off-white, gray, or (sometimes) black. PVC can be painted, sure, but getting a good finish requires careful surface preparation, and even then the paint tends to flake or wear off with time, weather, and/or handling.

But, as you’ll know if you’ve ever tried to remove a purple primer stain, it is possible to indelibly colorize PVC pipe. I got curious about what was in purple primer, and a bit of digging revealed that it’s just clear primer plus purple dye. I reasoned, then, that I ought to be able to make my own “purple primer” in whatever color I wanted by adding solvent dye to clear primer. Long story short: It works, and it works great. Details are here.


7 thoughts on “Make: Projects – Permanently stain PVC pipe any color you want

  1. killbox says:

    This same effect can be done with Vinyl Die, Draw back is it comes in fairly limited colors, browns reds and blues. It can be found at most auto parts stores or online, it is a solvent and a dye all in a nice easy to use spray paint can.

  2. netmaster says:

    I didn’t see anywhere to post comments on the Make Project page, so I’ll drop it here. According to Oatey (, cleaner and primer are not the same From the FAQ
    “1. What is the difference between pipe cleaner, primer / cleaner and primer?
    All pipe surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned with pipe cleaner. The cleaner is formulated to remove surface dirt and any oil or grease that exists on the pipe from the manufacturing process. Primer/cleaner and primer contain more aggressive solvents and will soften the pipe surface to allow the solvent cement to penetrate more effectively. Primer is often required by plumbing code and sometimes a purple colored primer (purple primer) is needed.”

    I bought some of the clear cleaner to use on my pneumatic cannon, and I could tell it wasn’t nearly as aggressive as the primer. Additionally (what sealed it for me) Oatey sells a clear primer Unfortunately, the big box stores don’t seem to carry it because it isn’t code legal in most places.

    This doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a great idea. I would just be hesitant to recommend cleaner as a substitute for primer, especially in a pressure applications.

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      Oatey actually makes or used to make a product called “Clear Cleaner” that, per its MSDS, only contains MEK and acetone:

      But this is NOT the “Clear Cleaner” I used in this project, which is clearly labeled on the can as containing MEK, acetone, cyclohexanone, and tetrahydrofuran (THF), solvents which correspond to Oatey’s MSDS for “Clear Primer – NSF Listed”:

      So I dunno exactly what’s going on. The magic ingredient seems to be THF–if you try to stain PVC with a solvent that does not contain it, the stain will adhere very little or not at all. So just check the label if there’s any doubt.

      And yes, as you say, if you’re actually doing pressure applications do not take any short cuts. Do not, as you say, attempt to use “clear cleaner” as a substitute for primer whether it has THF in it or not.

  3. jr says:

    I use fingernail polish remover, it works good with no mess, I added 6 drops of stain die to 4 0z of fingernail polish remover to get my color… I just dip the pvc fitting into the mix for 2-5 minutes, then remove and then let dry… The longer the pvc part is in the mix, the darker the color will be.. to get a darker color, add more die to same mix… fingernail polish remover is not so dangerous nor messy to work with…. Afterall, women apply the polish remover to their fingernails … The die does not soak into the pvc very much but its only the surface I want to color … I use the mild remover mix not the 100% acetone mix…I buy it at family dollar…visit my site to see the parts I die, …..

  4. Connie Jones Orman says:

    Details are NOT found HERE… Link please?

    1. AnswersOnTheT says:

      It’s in the Link:
      ” Details are here.”

  5. cleoshep says:

    You can also buy furniture grade pvc fittings and pipe for projects. Much more costly but far far more attractive than anything you can do at home. Even if you’re a chemist.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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