How to use box dye to colour your hair at home like a pro

Clara V.
Clara V.Published on 17 Aug 2021

With more and more hair salons closing as we’re told to stay home, there are plenty of people Googling how to keep their mane looking great until their regular cut and colour appointments are back on the table.

If you’ve received a text from your hair stylist cancelling your next appointment, don’t worry. You may be stuck inside, but with the right knowledge, you can take the task of hair colouring into your own hands.

Luckily for budding home colourists, DIY dyes and hair care products have come a long way. Now you can get high-quality box dyes and products to do everything from retouch your roots to give you highlights.

Whether your go-to salon has closed, you’re spending more time at home, or you’re just trying to skip the indulgent salon trip and save a bit of money, here’s a quick guide to maintaining your colour at home.

A woman dyeing her hair at home.

Should I colour my hair at home?

While we wouldn’t go as far as to recommend dyeing your hair bright blue or undergoing a dramatic makeover without professional help, there are tips you can follow that can help increase the chances of success when it comes to dyeing your hair at home.

After all, hair grows back, and if you’re spending most of your time at home these days, now is probably the best time to experiment and see if you’ve got what it takes to be your own hairdresser. If you have someone at home to help you reach difficult areas like the back of your head - even better.

Which hair dye is best for me?

Choosing a hair dye can be daunting, but the main thing you should look out for is colour and permanency. You should also read the ingredients list to see whether there are any obvious allergens for you.

You can read our Hair Dyes Buying Guide to learn more about what to look for in hair dyes here.


The most obvious step is to choose between all the hair dye colours on offer. If you’re trying to match the colour you have, then hold up a section of your hair against different box dyes to find the closest match.

Natural tones like blonde and brown hair colours are the easiest to find - you’ll find plenty of L’Oreal, Garnier, and Clairol hair dyes to suit you. These popular hair dye brands also have some fun colours on hand, but you may have to do a bit more digging if you want to take the plunge and go a fun shade like purple or green.

If you’ve got your usual hair stylist on speed dial, you can try asking them what products they recommend - they might have some advice about which box dye is closest to what they use on you at the salon.

Brooke used Garnier Olia in Shade 6.66 to get burgundy locks at home.

Colour permanency

You can choose between semi-permanent or permanent hair colours. As a general rule of thumb, go for a colour a bit darker than what you want for permanent dyes. If you’re getting a semi-permanent dye, go for a slightly lighter colour than you’re trying to achieve.

Keep in mind that more bright colours, such as the blue and pink hair dyes you’d find from Brite and Schwarzkopf, will probably lose their vibrancy even if they’re marked as permanent.

Brite's Semi Permanent Pastel Purple hair dye.

Make sure you stock up

If you’re going to dye every strand of hair, get 2 boxes of colour to prevent you from running out of product halfway through the job.

If you have short or fine hair, buying a few boxes will still give you peace of mind, and you can always save boxes you don't use for next time.

How do I dye my own hair?

Once you’ve picked out your hair colour product (or products), you can get started!

1. Do a patch test

Hair dyes - even natural ones - are packed with different ingredients, and there’s no way of knowing how you’ll react to these. If you’re new to a certain product, you should do a patch test to see if it will irritate your skin. If you have sensitive skin, this step is particularly important.

To do a patch test, apply a small amount of the dye behind your ear or on your inner elbow and leave it for 15 minutes. If you don’t develop a reaction, you can go ahead and use the dye. If your skin does react in any way (such as redness, irritation, and swelling), then you should try a different formula.

2. Do a strand test

A strand test will let you see whether the dye you’ve chosen will give you the colour you want before you apply it to your whole head.

To do a strand test, pick out a few hair strands from your head (don’t choose any from the top layer) and apply the dye and leave it in for as long as the manufacturer recommends. Rinse the dye out, dry or wait for your hair to dry, and see whether or not you’ve achieved your desired colour.

3. Prep your hair

First things first, brush your hair so that sectioning your locks and applying the dye is as easy to do as possible. Having smooth, tangle-free hair will also help your strands evenly pick up the pigment in the dye.

After brushing, section your hair as a stylist would do in a salon - we are trying to emulate the pros after all. Part your hair in the middle with a comb or the tip of your tint brush from your hairline down to your neck, creating two main sections.

Then use your comb to create a horizontal part from the top of your ear to your middle part, and clip back each of these sections. Repeat this on the other half of your head. Now that your hair is divided into 4 sections, you’re good to go!

Believe it or not, having dirty hair or hair that hasn’t been washed recently is best to dye. This is because the hair’s natural oils will help protect your strands from damage.

4. Prep the colour

Follow the instructions on the packaging for preparing your hair dye to the T - this usually means mixing the colour and developer together. If you’re applying bleach, this generally means mixing one part bleach to 2 parts of peroxide.

Make sure that you wear the gloves that come with your dye. If you didn’t receive any, use clean rubber household gloves to avoid getting dye on your skin.

5. Apply the colour

Again, follow the manufacturer instructions when applying the colour to your hair. You should be applying colour on dry hair, as damp or wet hair is less likely to take up the dye.

When dyeing your whole head, it’s generally recommended to start dyeing at the roots and then work your way down the hair strand, combing the colour through to the ends.

One handy tip is to position a mirror behind you as well as in front of you if you can, so that you can see what you’re doing in trickier, less visible areas.

6. Rinse out the colour

When you’ve left in the colour for the appropriate amount of time, rinse it out with water. You don’t need to shampoo after dyeing your hair, but you should give it a wash after bleaching it.

Wear easy to remove clothing, like a robe or button-down shirt (or even your birthday suit) so that you don’t have to lift your top over your head when it’s time for a rinse.

7. Have reasonable expectations

If you’ve done your strand test, then hopefully your hair has turned out the way you wanted it to. However, as with any home job, don’t expect your $15 box dye to work miracles and give you salon-worthy results.

More tips for DIY dyeing

  • Opt for a shampoo and conditioner that are designed for colour-treated hair to help your shade last as long as possible.
  • If you’re looking to apply highlights or lowlights, use a clean toothbrush to apply the dye - this helps make for locks that look effortlessly sunkissed.
  • Use soap and water or olive oil to wipe away hair dye that you’ve accidentally gotten on your skin.
  • Swipe Vaseline or any colourless lip balm or moisturiser along your hairline, so that stray dye doesn’t stick to your face.
  • Wear a shower cap while the dye settles in to prevent it from dripping. Then you can freely make dinner or watch an episode of your favourite show without worrying about making a mess.