How to Make Brightly Colored Food-Safe Wood Stain


Certified Food Color Makes Brightly Colored Wood Stain

I’ve been researching lately on ways to make brightly-colored wood stains or dyes that are also food-safe and non-toxic. Colored wood stains like analine dyes provide the bright color I want, but are definitely not food-safe. There are some existing commercially available food-safe dye stains, but I really wanted some crazy bright colors.

There is an easy way to get them, using certified food coloring. I tested a few different kinds, including the liquid and the paste linked above — all worked great.  The process works best on lighter-colored woods like the baltic birch plywood pictured below. This would be a great way to stain wooden utensils, children’s toys, or anything that would come into contact with food or mouths.

To dye the wood, just dissolve a few drops of food color in warm water (I’ve read you can add vinegar to the mix, but have yet to try it). The more color used, the more saturated the stain.  Soak the wood in the dye for a minute or more – more time gives deeper color penetration. I found doing it inside a zip-lock bag minimizes the mess.

After dying, dry the wood thoroughly.  You’ll probably want to lightly sand it, as the water will raise the grain. You can sand heavily for a distressed look. Then finish with mineral oil or another food-safe wood finish. I have yet to see if the color fades over time; my guess is that it might.


Start With a Few Drops of Certified Food Color. The more you use the more saturated the color will be.


Mix with a couple tablespoons of warm water.


Soak the wood for at least a minute; longer if you want deeper color penetration.


These examples used more color for more saturation.


After dying, dry thoroughly then lightly sand.

by 11 years ago


  1. Jessimicahj

    Sorry, I meant to ask if the color faded over time.

  2. Chris Post author

    Hi Jessica, the color seems to stay pretty well, but I’m sure this would depend a lot on how much sun/UV light the wood is exposed to. Finishing with something UC-protective might also help.

  3. Isobel

    I have dyed wooden blocks with food colouring and they look great BUT if a small child chews them the colour leaks. Blue mouth is not good. How can I seal them please?

  4. Chris Post author

    Start by using a minimal amount of dye. The wood will only absorb so much, leaving the rest sitting on the surface. Then try this food-safe wood sealer

  5. Jae

    Hi Chris! How essential is the seal? We are using your method for dyeing for compostable flatware for a wedding. If a seal is necessary, would something like Howard’s Cutting Board Oil be suitable or should we opt for the mineral oil + beeswax combo? Thanks in advance, you rock!

  6. Chris Post author

    cool idea! if they’re single-use you could probably forgo the seal, though the color does tend to rub off more easily without it. the mineral oil would work just fine too, I assume you’re doing these ahead of time so they could dry out a bit before serving. good luck!

  7. Chris Post author

    I can’t see any reason why it couldn’t be brushed on just like any other water-based stain.


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