How To Color Your Hair At Home And Not Screw It Up

My hair has been almost every color you can think of. I’m a natural blonde who hasn’t seen that color in years. It’s been hot pink, black, blue, near-platinum, and is currently Vampire Red. I love changing my hair and do so constantly, and over the years have become a self-proclaimed pro at it. Note: I’m not actually a pro. I’m just cocky. There are plenty of professionals answering questions around the internet. This is just my personal, non-professional method.


Getting your hair colored professionally is pricey stuff, and sitting in a chair for hours on end just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But with patience, a steady hand, and sobriety (yes, really), you can do it at home and not totally screw it up.

A few things you should know before attempting to change your hair:

  • It’s generally not a good idea to go more than two levels darker or lighter than your natural shade. As a natural blonde, I’ve clearly broken that rule with my current dark locks. Go slow. If you’re going darker, go one level at a time. If you’re going lighter, please do not even try to go more than two levels. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  • Blonde dye is not bleach. I mean it. If you have dark hair and want to go past two shades lighter, you’re going to need to lift the color by way of bleach. Bleach isn’t that scary, and not using it can result in unfortunate results. Believe me, I’ve been there. Splotchy and brassy isn’t a good look for anyone.
  • Boxed dye isn’t the devil. I use it sometimes. I recommend using a tinting brush instead of the squeeze bottle, though.

Alright, ready?

By the time you’re ready to get down to it, here’s what you should have:

  • Color and developer* OR a box dye set. Check Sally’s for separate colors and developers or any drugstore for box sets.
  • Gloves
  • Plastic bowl
  • Tinting brush
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Hair clips
  • Clothes & towel you don’t mind getting stained
  • Moisturizing conditioner

*10 volume developer is generally good. If you’re going lighter, you may want 30. If you’re totally lost, this website gives a good explanation of what the different volumes do. Alternatively, you can just go for box dye.

When it comes to colors, brand matters. I love L’Oreal Excellence colors and box dyes, but hate anything by Clairol. I usually use Ion.

Rub the petroleum jelly around your hairline, on your ears, on the back of your neck, and maybe even on your back if you have long hair. It makes it easier to wipe off stray dye. Make sure there is nothing in your work area that you don’t want ruined. You’ll probably get a few drops on the floor or walls.

Following the directions provided to you, mix the color and developer in the plastic bowl. The box sets have these pre-measured, but for separates, you’ll need to pay attention. You want equal parts color and developer. After you do it enough times, you’ll be able to eyeball it. Use the tinting brush to mix thoroughly.

Part your hair into 6 sections, as pictured. Clip each section in place.

Take a deep breath. You’re going to start applying the mixture to your head.

Going section-by-section, apply the dye to your roots first. After you finish the roots in a particular section, clip it back up. Once you’ve finished them all, start applying the dye to the rest of your hair. Again, go section-by-section and clip them back up as you finish each section.**

Total developing time is usually 35-45 minutes. Note that it takes some time to apply the dye. Typically, letting it develop an additional 30 minutes after application is fine.

Now, we rinse. Using lukewarm water, rinse your hair until the water runs clear. Do not shampoo your hair. Use a moisturizing conditioner and you’re done. Use an old towel to dry/wrap your hair, in case there’s any dye you didn’t rinse out. Dry it, style it, and you’re good to go!

**Going section-by-section systematically makes it easier to get even application, especially on the back of your head. Clipping back up keeps your hair off your neck/shoulders while processing. Also, you do want to start with the roots and then move down. The farther down your hair you go, the more damaged it is, whether it’s by coloring, heat, or sunlight. This makes it more porous and absorbs dye quicker, so to keep it even, start with the least porous hair and then move to the porous parts.

Help! I messed it up!

Even if you follow these directions to a T, mistakes can happen. Maybe it didn’t come out quite like the swatch, or it’s really uneven. You have a few options.

If it’s uneven, you can try to even it out by spot-applying and letting it develop for 5 minutes. I don’t recommend this. I’d much rather have you use a color remover and try again. Please note that color removers leave your hair very porous so you’re going to need to use a protein filler before you color your hair again.

If you’re really distressed and don’t trust yourself to do this, go see a professional stylist. It’s expensive, but so is correcting and coloring your hair by yourself over and over again.

If the color didn’t come out like you expected it to, try living with it for a day or two. Chances are it still looks good and you may come to love it. If you’re still not down with it, try any of the above options. Ion says their color remover should be used within 2 days of the coloring, but I’ve used it 9 months after dying and it worked perfectly.


Stylists everywhere are probably pulling their own hair out of their heads in anger right now, but when you’re broke, salons just might not be an option. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look good, though! If you trust yourself to do your hair at home — and I think you should! — and you can save a few bucks doing it, well, why not?

Do you have any additional at-home coloring tips? Let us know in the comments!


One thought on “How To Color Your Hair At Home And Not Screw It Up

  1. Pingback: The Dreaded Box Dye |

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