HOW TO TIE DYE at home: the complete guide

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Tie dye is a fun and easy way to add some color and excitement to your wardrobe. This tutorial will show you how to tie dye at home, using some simple supplies and techniques. With a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to create beautiful designs that are perfect for any occasion.

How to tie dye

Tie dyed women's dress - How to DIY tie dye at home

Tie dying is a centuries-old technique that is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. It’s a great way to add some color and personality to your wardrobe. All you need is a white t-shirt, some fabric dye, and a little bit of time. Follow these simple steps and you’ll learn how to tie dye like a pro in no time!

Tie-Dyed garments are so cute and colorful, it’s no wonder so many people love them. Dyeing is super-easy and can be a fun project to make with kids (under supervision, of course). They will create the most amazing, unique, and personalized pieces of clothing they’ll be proud to wear.

Read on to see all the essential instructions and tips for making lots of fun tie-dye designs at home, including the famous rainbow spiral. This dyeing style emerged in the 60s and 70s and remains popular until today.

When it comes to how to DIY tie dye, the basic principle is in its own name: simply fold or crumple a piece of fabric, tie it, and apply the dye either directly on the fabric, or by dipping it in a dye vat. Ties create white patterns, as they don’t allow the dye to penetrate the fabric evenly.

Types of Tie Dye

Traditional Tie Dye

The post popular type of tie-dye is liquid dye in bright colors. It is usually kept and applied on the tied garment from squeeze bottles for easier handling.

Ice Dye

Ice dyeing is somewhat similar to traditional tie-dyeing. It also starts from a white or very light-colored garment folded and tied or secured with rubber bands. Unlike traditional tie-dyeing, dye is not simply applied to the T-shirt. It is first covered in ice cubes and sprinkled with colored powdered dye. The melting ice dissolved the powders and stain the fabric.


Bleach is also called reverse tie-dye and has gained great popularity during the last couple of years. This technique uses a dark-colored garment which is tied just like white ones, and them bleach is applied to create beautiful designs on the exposed fabric.

What is the easiest tie-dye technique?

If you’re looking for an easy and fun way to tie dye, the rainbow spiral technique is probably the easiest and most versatile. This design involves folding a t-shirt into a narrow strip, rolling it up into a cone shape, then using rubber bands to secure it in place. You can create all kinds of beautiful designs by adding different colors and layers of dye, or by folding the tie-dyed garment into different shapes.

What is needed for tie dye?

The first things you need to tie-dye are, of course, the garment to dye and the dye itself. Choose your favorite colors and then, the following tools and safety gear:

  • Squeeze bottles to apply the dye;
  • Soda ash, depending on the type of dye you are using;
  • Laundry detergent, for example Synthrapol;
  • Strong string or rubber bands;
  • Buckets or deep pots to tip your fabrics in dye;
  • Protectors for your work surface, like large trash bags or plastic tablecloths;
  • Wire rack to keep the fabric off the work surface;
  • Dust mask and rubber gloves;
  • Plastic wrap or ziplock bags.

Best dye for Tie Dyeing

You want bright, long-lasting colors that won’t fade after a few washes, so the best you can use is fiber reactive dye. This dye will hold well on cotton fabrics and are super easy to use compared to other types.

These dyes react with textiles in cold water and build a permanent bond, so that you will be able to wash your tie-dyed clothes many times without worrying about colors leaking or fading.

Although all-purpose dyes like Dylon or Rit will stick to the fabric, they are a lot paler and wash out under hot water, so you might want to avoid these.

A powder kit might be the easiest way to tie-dye at home. These kits usually come with powdered dye, bottles for easy handling, rubber bands and a color chart. The fabric is folded or tied according to the chosen design and the powder is sprinkled on it.

Best garments to Tie Dye

All textile items made of natural fibers take well tie-dyeing. You can dye lots of clothes and items, like cotton sweatshirts, shirts, socks, and even shoes. Check the label for any of these fabrics: cotton, hemp, rayon, linen, and even natural silk.

Avoid synthetic fibers, as they don’t take in fiber reactive dyes very well.

Even if you can’t find 100% natural fiber garments, blends like 80/20 cotton/polyester will do, though the colors won’t be as bright as in 100% natural textiles. Don’t go lower, as 50/50 blends will not react well to the dyes, and the colors will be faded.

A few great items to tie-dye are any kind of T-shirts, hoodies, socks, pajamas, baby onesies, bed sheets or tote bags.

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How important is to prewash your fabric?

Very important. Pre-washing it removes any oils or dirt, which may prevent the dyes from penetrating the fabric and affect the final result.

Should shirt be wet or dry to tie dye?

It really depends on what is your desired result and it’s also great to experiment with this. Usually, it is best to use slightly damp fabric, but not dripping wet. Water helps dyes absorb better into the fibers, ensuring better coverage. Applying dyes to dry fabric may lead to less uniform coverage and more white spots.

Can you set it in the microwave?

Yes, you can try speeding up the process a bit if you are more impatient. Heating the garments quickens the dye reaction, so they may be ready in a few minutes rather than one day. Only use small time increments and constantly check your garment.

How long should you wait to rinse tie-dye?

Don’t rinse it immediately after applying the dye. This allows the dye to set completely and develop its full color potential. For the best colors, the dye should be left to react for at least 6-8 hours. This helps it soak into the textile. It is best to leave it even longer, ideally up to 24 hours if you have the time.

Rinsing your fabric too soon may lead to faded colors that won’t be very bright or intense. To get the best results, rinse the fabric in cool water and then let it air dry. If you want to speed things up a bit, you can also use a hair dryer on a low heat setting.

What happens if you let tie-dye sit too long?

If you let the dye sit on the fabric for too long, it may actually start to bleed and run. So if you want intense and well-defined colors, don’t leave the dye on for more than 24 hours.

Is tie-dye supposed to dry before rinsing?

Technically, no. The dye should be rinsed out of the fabric as soon as it is set, so that it does not bleed or run. However, waiting for the garment to dry can help you avoid dripping dye all over your bathroom sink and floor. So if you have time to wait, feel free to let your tie-dye dry before rinsing it out.

How do you keep tie dye colors vibrant?

  • Use the best quality dyes and 100% cotton. The dyes will react best and be more vibrant on cotton than any synthetic fabrics.
  • Pre-wash it and soak it in a soda ash solution if the dye instructions require it.
  • Allow plenty of times to soak and react, the longer the better. Always ensure that the garment is fully submerged in dye and let it soak for at least 6-8 hours.
  • You should also rinse your tie-dyed items as soon as the dye has set to avoid any color bleed.
  • Finally, store your items in a cool, dark place to prevent fading.

How to get the dye off your hands?

If you forgot to use gloves to keep the dye away from your skin, wash your hands with soap and warm water. It will eventually fade in about a day with several washes.

Can tie dye come out of clothes?

Splashed garments can often be salvaged by laundering immediately in the hottest water recommended on the care label with a color-safe bleach. If the dye has set, you can try to remove it with a commercial dye remover or dye stripper, following the package directions.

You might also try one of these home remedies:

  1. Soak in vinegar: Soak the item in a mixture of vinegar and water for several hours to help remove any excess dye.
  2. Dissolve salt in water: Add some salt to a bowl of water and soak the item in this solution. The salt will help draw out remaining dye, leaving your garment looking brighter and cleaner.
  3. Scrub with bar soap: To remove tough dye stains, try scrubbing the affected area with a bar of soap. This can help break up the dye and lift it away from your clothing.

Whatever method you use, be sure to rinse the item thoroughly after removing the dye.

How do you wash a tie dye shirt after dying it?

To wash a tie dye shirt after dying it, you should first rinse the fabric in cool water to remove any excess dye. Then, launder the item as usual, using gentle detergents and warm or cold water. Avoid exposing your tie-dyed clothing to direct sunlight or high heat, as this can cause fading or other damage.

Can tie dye shirts go in the dryer?

Yes, you can put your tie dye shirts in the dryer. However, it is best to air dry them if possible to prevent fading or other damage. If you must use a dryer, set it to a low heat setting and remove the clothing as soon as it is dry.

Ready to learn how to tie dye?  Let’s get started!

Tie dyeing technique on a t-shirt

How to do tie dye step by step

As I said earlier, this is a super fun and easy project that kids will surely enjoy. They love playing around with color and expressing their personalities, so tie-dyed garments will keep them entertained and proud of their work.

First and most important, though, keep in mind a fee safety measures:

  • Wear old clothes or an apron to avoid staining your everyday clothes;
  • Wear gloves to avoid staining your hands. Dyes will eventually come off, but it’s a real pain trying to clean them;
  • Protect your work surface or work outside where you won’t stain anything in your home;
  • Use a dust mask when mixing dye powders or using soda ash.

Now, let’s get to the actual dyeing:

1. Prepare your fabrics and work surface

First, prewash your fabrics with a laundry detergent to remove any dirt, oils or substance that might react to the dyes and create unwanted pale spots.

Choose an outdoor working area or protect your indoor area with trash bags or plastic tablecloths. Keep some rags or paper towels at hand just in case any spills occur.

2. Mix your dyes

Prepare your dye mixture according to the package instructions. Depending on the dye type, you will just have to add a certain amount of water to the bottle or mix the dye and water in a bucket and stir to dissolve it, then add a soda ash solution. If mixing in a dye bottle, shake well.

If necessary, pre-soak your garment.

3. Create the design by folding and tying your fabric

There are many ways of folding and tying the fabrics for tie-dye, from simple to very complex ones. The easiest way is to scrunch, fold or clamp the garment and secure with bands. You can also stitch a more intricate design with needle and thread.

I’ll describe a few folding techniques below.

4. Apply the dye

There is no standard application method. You can either dip the garment in the dye bucket, or apply the dye directly from a squeeze bottle, with a sponge or with a paintbrush. Use how many colors you like.

5. Let the dyes set

This is the hardest step, as you can only wait and think of your amazing tie-dyed garment. The dye needs time to react to the fabric, though. Keep the fabric warm and damp (the warmer the fabric, the quicker the reaction).

Put your dyed garment in a ziplock bag (or any plastic bag) or wrap it in plastic wrap. Place it in a warm, sunny spot and let it sit for about 6 – 8 hours. You will get the brightest results after 24 hours.

You can also set it in the microwave if you don’t have the time to wait. Place your dyed garment into a heavy-duty, microwave-safe ziplock bag (freezer ones are great for this) and squeeze the air out. Seal it and microwave for 60 – 90 seconds in small increments (10 – 30 seconds). Watch it closely and stop the microwave immediately if the bag inflates with steam.

You want to heat it, but not actually dry any part of it, so the time for each garment type may vary. Let it cool, then follow the next steps to rinse it.

6. Rinse and wash

The wash and rinse step takes time, but is super important to get the cleanest, brightest colors.

First, rinse under cold water with the rubber ties still on. Then, remove the bands as you rinse with lukewarm water. Rinse until the water runs clear. After that, run your dyed fabric through a washing machine cold cycle with detergent.

For the first few times, it’s best to wash them separately, to allow the dyes to set and to wash out any residue. After that, you can safely wash them with your other clothes.

What are the different ways to tie dye?

There are several ways to tie dye. The most common and easy to do is probably the scrunch method, but you can also try out other folding methods like the accordion fold or the spiral shape technique.

Let’s see some fun tie-dye patterns and designs you can use. The general rule is, the tighter you scrunch it, the more white areas will be.

  1. Swirl pattern: Pinch a small area in the middle of your garment and twist clockwise. You should get something like a cinnamon roll. Secure it with a few crisscrossing rubber bands.
  2. Bullseye: pinch a small area in the middle of your fabric. Pull it up to create a thin cone, then wrap rubber bands at relatively equal lengths between them around the cone.
  3. Sunbursts: similar to the bullseye technique, on the flat garment, pinch different small areas and tie with rubber bands, to create several small cones.
  4. Scrunch or Nebula: scrunch the garment in a tight disk and wrap several bands around it.
  5. Stripes: Fold your garment in accordion-style folds and wrap it with rubber bands every 1 to 2 inches.

I do hope this guide helped you gain some insight into the tie-dye technique, as there are soo many great designs and color combinations. I’m anxious to read about your successes and recommendations, so please share your experience in the comments below.

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Photo collage of tie dyed clothing items illustrating various techniques for how to tie dye at home

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Hi, I’m Petro, author and founder of Easy Peasy Creative Ideas. Sewist, crafter, avid DIY-er, foodie, photographer, homemaker and mommy to one. I’m an expert at coming up with quick, clever sewing tips, recycling crafts and simple, easy recipes! You can find my ideas featured in reputable publications such as Country Living, Good House Keeping, Yahoo News, WikiHow, Shutterfly, Parade, Brit & Co and more. Thanks for stopping by and hope you’ll stay for a while, get to know me better and come back another time. Stick around for real fun projects! Read more…

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