How Urine Color Works (and How to Change It)

Why Is Pee Colored
Pee is colored yellow from urobilin, which comes from the breakdown of red blood cells. Other pee colors come from foods, drugs, or diseases.
Tired of the normal yellow urine color? There are safe ways to change it. (Knowtex)
Tired of the normal yellow urine color? There are safe ways to change it. (Knowtex)

Have you ever wanted to color your urine or wondered how urine color works? Here’s a little applied color chemistry for your entertainment and experimentation pleasure:

The Rainbow of Urine Colors

Violet – Violet or purple urine is not a natural color. You can temporarily tint urine this color if you ingest foods that produce red urine and those that turn it blue. For example, combining beets with methylene blue turns your pee purple.

Blue – Methylene blue is a dye that turns urine blue or greenish-blue. It can also color the whites of your eyes blue. The coloration of both urine and eyes is reversible. At one time, methylene blue was considered to be an effective malaria treatment. Methylene blue is reasonably safe to eat, although some people are allergic to it. Blue food coloring can turn your urine blue. A rare, inherited disease known as porphyria is another cause of blue urine. King George III’s blue urine may have been attributable to porphyria.

Green Urine from Propofol
Green Urine from Propofol

Green – Asparagus turns urine green and also gives it a very strong odor (although not everyone can smell it. Food coloring can turn your urine green, as can certain medications. For example, the sedative propofol can produce a green tint. The allergy and asthma drug promethazine also produces blue or green urine.

Yellow – Yellow is the normal urine color. The color comes from urobilin, which is a yellow pigment resulting from the breakdown of the heme from old red blood cells. You can get bright yellow to orange urine from excessive intake of certain B vitamins. Vitamin B2 is the usual culprit. Bright yellow pee is common after drinking one too many energy drinks (which are often vitamin-fortified).

Amber – Dark golden urine results from dehydration (not drinking enough water). A very dark color might indicate the presence of bile in urine, which is symptomatic of a medical condition. If you really want to obtain this color on purpose, B vitamins are your best bet.

Orange – Eating rhubarb or senna can turn your urine orange. Senna is a dangerous herb to mess with. Stick with rhubarb. Cook the rhubarb first, since the raw plant is toxic. The drugs rifampin and phenazopyridine also color urine orange.

Red – Eating beets or blackberries colors your urine red. Although they are orange, carrots can also turn urine reddish. Discoloration of urine due to beets actually has a name: beeturia. Blood in urine tinges it pink and is called hematuria. Any of a variety of medical conditions can cause it.

Pink Urine Color from Eating Beet Roots (Jmarchn)
Pink Urine Color from Eating Beet Roots (Jmarchn)

Pink – Pink pee can result from a urinary tract infection or from eating small quantities of beets or blackberries.

Brown – Brown urine results from a kidney dysfunction (bad), jaundice (bad), rhabdomyolysis (which you can get from too much exercise), Gilbert’s syndrome, or from an overdose of the herb Goldenseal (also not good). You should probably avoid coloring your urine brown on purpose.

Black – Black is not a desirable color for urine. I’m unaware of any chemical you can take to safely get this color. It can result from Blackwater Fever, which is associated with malaria. The disease turns urine black because it kills so many red blood cells they can’t get filtered out. If blackwater fever has progressed to this stage, it’s usually fatal. Melanoma may produce black urine (clinically called melanuria). A condition called non-melanin acute intermittent porphyria can also produce black urine.

Milky or Cloudy – If urine is cloudy, it’s due to the presence of blood, protein, mucous, pus, or calcium phosphate crystallization. This often indicates an infection or disease. It’s not an effect you can get safely, as far as I know.

Clear – Clear urine is a sign of overhydration. All it takes to achieve clear urine is to drink plenty of water. Don’t go overboard, since even too much water can be bad for you.

If you decide to color your urine, be sure to use common sense. Urine color changes from foods are fairly safe, but be careful not to over-do dyes or hydration/dehydration. If you have colored urine, please don’t attempt to self-diagnose a medical condition. See a professional if you’re concerned.