How To Wash Tie Dye Shirts

Looking for a new way to jazz up your outfits and express yourself through your clothing? Tie-Dye is the way to go!

Popular for generations, this exciting and versatile medium of clothing design is easy to pick up, and even easier to customize!

You can create your unique designs by mixing different colors together in any combination you desire. The possibilities are endless!

Tie-dye shirts are perfect for all ages, from young children to adults.

They come in many styles including polos, button-downs, tank tops, V-necks, sweatshirts, long sleeve t-shirts, hoodies, and more.

How To Wash Tie Dye Shirts

However, it’s important to know how to take care of your tie-dyed items to prevent your freshly colored items from bleeding dye and ruining their unique pattern. 

Read on to learn which supplies you need for tie-dye, how to prepare items for dyeing, which fabrics to dye, choosing dye colors, and how to rinse, wash and care for your new finished tie-dye creations!

If you’re looking for some fun patterns to try out too, read on to the end where I’ve popped a whole host of great patterns to explore along with some inspiring designs to get your creative juices flowing!

What Exactly Is Tie-Dye?

In its simplest terms, it involves ‘tying’ up an item of clothing before ‘dying’ it with colored dyes.

When you unravel your tied up clothing, you reveal the undyed parts of the fabric, thus creating a pattern!

There are so many different color and pattern combinations, making tie-dye a great way of creating unique and personalized clothing and accessories completely specific to you! 

Tie-dye typically involves folding, twisting, pleat­ing, or crumpling cloth or garments, then binding with string or rubber band, followed by the application or applications of dye or dyes (or sometimes paint).

Tie-dye is an art form that dates back centuries. It involves using natural dyes to create patterns or images on cloth.

This process has been used since ancient times as a means of decorating fabric with beautiful colors.

The word “tie” comes from the French word “trier” meaning “to draw out.” In the early 1900s, the term was applied to the practice of drawing patterns onto textiles.

Today, it is still practiced around the world and is enjoyed by people of all ages, genders, cultures, and backgrounds.

What Type Of Dye Should I Use?

There are several types of tie-dye:

• Acidic (or Alkaline) – These dyes use acidic substances such as vinegar or lemon juice to produce their color.

• Basic – These dyes use basic solutions like ammonia or lye to produce their color. Basic dyes tend to be stronger than acidic ones.

• Natural – These dyes are made from plants, minerals, insects, or other living organisms.

Some of these dyes are very expensive and difficult to obtain, though you can make a number of them for very little money yourself (take beetroot dye and avocado dye, for example).

• Artificial/ Chemical Fabric Dye – These dyes are designed specifically for fabric, and they’re usually not safe for food.

This is probably the most common type of dye, you can buy it easily online or in-store, and comes in a whole rainbow assortment of colors!

How you wash your tie-dye garments will definitely depend on the kinds of dyes you use and the fabrics you are choosing to dye!

Which Fabric Types Are Best For Tie-Dye?

While most people enjoy tie-dyeing on cotton, there are some things to consider before deciding what type of fabric to use.

Cotton is a highly absorbent material that will soak up lots of water during the dyeing process.

This makes it a great one to choose if you want to use a few different colors and try out a bunch of different techniques without spending too much money!

If you want to try out some other techniques such as tie-dyeing with sunlight or lemon juice, try using a lighter-weight fabric such as linen or silk.

If you do decide to go with cotton, you might want to look into buying pre-washed cotton shirts, which have already been washed and dried.

They’ll save you time and effort when it comes to washing your clothes!

In addition to being easy to work with, cotton also tends to hold its shape well after washing. This is perfect for those who prefer to not have a few extra wrinkles in their shirt once it’s done.

More porous fabrics may take longer to dry, but they won’t shrink as much either.

So, if you’re planning on doing a lot of tie-dyeing, you could even consider other fabrics such as jersey, corduroy, or fleece, though it may be harder for the patterns to remain precise. 

The longer a material takes to dry, the more chances there are for colors to bleed together.

This can however have a lovely effect, so don’t discount this method completely!

It’s always worth playing around and experimenting with different materials to see what works best for you.

How To Prepare And Wash Your Tie Dye

The number one thing that can prevent bleeding and stop your tie-dye from being ruined the moment it’s washed is a bit of preparation!!!

Before dying any cotton clothes, wash them with a bit of detergent and no fabric softeners or dryer sheets.

It removes any potential residue from your fabric and shrinks it into its original size if it’s new (or at least close).

Don’t worry if you skip this step; your dye will still work perfectly fine, but it may be slightly less vibrant.

IMPORTANT: Follow the preparation instructions on whatever dye you choose to buy.

If you are getting a specific fabric dye or a kit for tie-dying, there will usually be a good amount of instructions that accompany it.

The best way to avoid bleeding later on in the process is to have a look at your individual dye instructions and follow them accordingly!

It’s always fun when you cut the rubber bands off the freshly dyed shirt to see the vibrant colors and starburst patterns spring to life for the first time!

But dyeing your T-shirt is simply just the first step if your goal is to maintain the vivid tie-dye look you’ve carefully created.

You’ll need to know how to clean tie-dye shirts if you want them to last longer, keep the color locked in, and prevent them bleeding into one another.

How To Wash Tie Dye Shirts

Washing your tie-dye shirts is pretty straightforward. Just make sure that you remove all the excess dye before putting them through the washer.

How To Wash Tie Dye Shirts

If you plan on keeping your shirts for a long period of time, you should probably hand wash them instead of using the machine.

Machine washing can cause fading over time, especially if you use too many chemicals.

If you’d like to try handwashing, simply put your shirts in a sink full of cold water and add some mild soap.

Swish the shirts around gently and let them soak for about 10 minutes.

Then rinse them thoroughly under running water until the water runs clear. Let them air-dry overnight.

To avoid bleeding when washing tie-dyed shirts, rinse them immediately after the dye soak is done.

You can keep your tie-dye looking good by using a dye setting tool like vinegar, synthrapol (a ph neutral liquid detergent used for pre-washing/post washing garments before dyeing), or heat.

You can clean tie-dye shirts in your machine so long as you wash only with other tie-dyed shirts with similar colors.

Rinsing Out Your Tie Dye Without The Dye Running

Running water carries away any excess dye that doesn’t adhere to the fabric. Rinse your shirt after setting the color.

This clarifies the edge of your design and also helps prevent lots of dye bleeding later.

Wear rubber gloves and an old shirt when doing this. Otherwise, you could end up with stained fingers!

There are several ways to rinse your newly dyed shirt after washing it.

If you dyed a polyester shirt, you should use tongs to hold it under hot running water in your kitchen sink.

Turn the faucet control gradually to cooler water until the fabric feels cool to the touch; then stop.

This rinsing technique allows you to safely handle polyester shirts after using boiling water to fix the dispersed dye.

For a cotton shirt, you can wash it from the start by rinsing it under cold running water. You can do this using a regular kitchen sink or a utility (or laundry) sink.

You may not want to use a tub because the dye might stain the porcelain.

If it’s nice outside and you have a garden hose, you can also wash the shirt by spraying it off on the sidewalk, or your back garden.

It’s a handy trick because it lets you leave all the messy extra dye outside.

This method works best when you have ten or twelve items to wash at once. But do be careful to clean up your mess afterward, or you may have some rather grumbly neighbors with stained shoes!

How To Wash Your Tie Dye For The First Time

Most of the time you’ll find tie-dye kits include water-soluble dyes that will act the best on cotton fabrics.

You can also dye cheaper polyester shirts if you use disperse dyes and boil water to set the color, but you need to be careful not to let the color run.

If you used polyesters, you would need to use different dye-setting processes for them than you would for cotton.

Below I’ve written out the different methods of washing your tie-dye for the first time according to the type of fabric you’re using:

Cotton Tie-Dye T-shirts

Set the newly dyed shirt to rest in its plastic bag and tie it up with rubber bands for at least one night.

During this essential resting step, the not-so-durable water-based dye gets absorbed into the fibers more deeply, helping to stop it from running during your first rinse. 

After that, you’ll need to rinse the shirt out in cold running water. You will see a huge amount of dye washing away with the water, which can be a bit troubling! Don’t worry, though.

This necessary step will prevent dye bleeding all over later on! Just remember how much dye you put on in the first place to put your mind at ease!

For a really good clean, you can also add an acid rinse. You can find more details about this in the laundry and vinegar methods detailed a bit later on in this guide.

Polyester Tie Dye

The primary difference when using polyester fabric is that you will need to disperse dyes or acrylic paints to color this type of fabric.

It won’t hold the water-soluble types of dyes you often find in tie-dye kits, so it’s really important to read the labels of what kind of shirt you are using to avoid all of your hard work going to waste!

Simply follow the same steps as above but with boiling water.

Obviously, we don’t want to stick our hands under boiling water (please, please don’t!!!), so use a pair of silicone tongs to hold your garment, being sure to swill it and press it up against the side of your sink to remove any stuck-on paint or dyes. 

This is especially important if you’ve dyed using acrylic paints, as lumps of it can get stuck on the fabric if you don’t wash it off, staining other items of clothing and your household if you don’t remove them in this first preliminary wash. 

Slowly bring the water temperature down to cold after you are sure there are no lingering lumps of paint, and the dye water is running clear. 

Congratulations! You have completed the first wash of your tie-dye clothing! 

Hanging Out To Dry

Now that you’ve washed your tie-dye t-shirt, you should hang it to dry. 

Hanging Out To Dry

Be sure to wring out as much moisture as possible from your designs and hang in an airy room. 

Be careful of placing in direct sunlight to dry, as depending on the dyes you have used, this may cause fading! 

It can have an awesome pastel-sizing effect on your designs, but be sure that is actually what you want!

When they are fully dry, give them a good iron to further embed your colors and get rid of all of that creasing caused by wringing out your fabric and balling it up for ages. 

Ta-Dah! Your beautiful design will be ready for you to wear, without you risking your dye smearing all over the place or staining anything in your home!

Wear your new DIY designs with pride, teaming with summery bike shorts or classic black jeans to make the tie-dye colors really pop.  

Washing Tie Dye After First Wash

As we’ve established, the first wash is by far the MOST important wash! It will be the determining factor in how much bleeding happens in every sequential wash. 

Saying that, how you wash it after your first wash will have an effect on the longevity of your design, the vibrancy of your colors, and the amount of dye that leeches out from your tie-dye. 

To keep your tie-dye garments looking good for years to come, you’ll need to think about maintaining them in addition to the initial washing period.

Fortunately, caring for tie-dyed shirts isn’t particularly difficult.

You just want to be sure you are taking steps to protect the fabric dye so your shirts stay vibrant for the long run.

If you’re going to wear your tie-dyed shirts again, you might want to wash them separately so they don’t bleed into each other for the next few washes. Before washing your shirt, turn it inside out.

Washing your shirt inside out will help prevent fading from occurring on the outside of the shirt.

Coldwater washes help prevent dyes from bleeding, and gentle detergents formulated for cold water washing work best.

Here are 3 ways that you can choose to wash your tie-dye clothing:

1. Hand Wash

2. Machine Wash

3. Soap & Water

Hand Washing

If you’re looking for a quick way to clean your tie-dye clothes, hand washing is probably the best option.

However, hand washing does not provide enough agitation to dislodge any stains or dirt that might be embedded into the fabric.

This means that if you do decide to go with hand washing, you need to be extra diligent when cleaning your clothing. 

Make sure that you thoroughly rinse your tie-dye t-shirts under running water to remove any residue left behind from the soap.

Machine Washing

If you’d like to save time while still getting a thorough cleaning, machine washing is a great choice.

Just remember to follow these tips to ensure that your tie-dye shirts last as long as possible:

1. Use a mild detergent designed specifically for delicate fabrics such as cotton.

2. Do NOT use bleach or harsh chemicals.

3. Wash at low temperatures to avoid damaging the fibers.

4. If you notice a lot of color bleeding, try washing your shirt again later.

Soap & Water

The final method of washing is simply washing your tie-dye shirts in a bucket filled with warm water mixed with some kind of laundry detergent.

Using this method will help to loosen up any stubborn stains or dirt that may be embedded within the material.

Be careful though, because too much agitation can cause damage to the fabric.

Also, using hot water can potentially fade the color of your tie-dye shirts over time.

Tie-Dye Kits

The easiest way to get started with tie-dyeing is to buy a kit. Kits come with everything you need to start off right.

They include all the necessary supplies such as dye, mordant, and substrate.

A good kit also includes step-by-step instructions on how to properly tie-dye.

There are many different types of kits available on the market today. Some kits contain only one type of dye, while others offer several options.

Tulip One-Step Tie-Dye Party Kit

Tulip One-Step Tie-Dye Party, 18 Pre-Filled Bottles, Creative Group Activity, All-in-1 Fashion Design Kit, 1 Pack, Rainbow

This Tulip Party kit is a great one to choose as everything comes premixed, you just add water to your dye bottles!

This is a great option if you want to dye lots of shirts or invite a few friends around to join in on the fun!

Tulip sells some of the most popular tie-dyed materials on the market today and provides easy-to-follow instructions on how to dye your shirt.

If you want to wash your shirt using Tulip dyes, here’s the recommended washing process:

Let the shirt rest in a cool place for 8-12 hours before washing it.

Rinsing out excess dye under cold water will help remove any remaining color from your clothes.

It may take some time, but you should rinse until the water runs clear before moving on to the next step.

Don’t wring the shirt out; just move it gently under the tap.

Wash the shirt separately at least three times before putting it into the wash.

Meland Tie-Dye Kit

Meland Tie Dye Kit - 18 Colors DIY Tie Dye Set with 3 White T-Shirts, All-in-1 Fabric Tie Dye Craft Set for Kids & Adults, Tye Dye for Party Birthday Christmas Gifts for Girls Boys(Shirts+18 Bottles)

Another popular choice is this Meland tie-dye kit! Also coming with a huge range of fun colors and rainbow shades for you to get creative with, this is a slightly cheaper choice. 

However, the bottles of color are not quite as big, so if you are looking to get a bit more product, the tulip party pack may be the best one to go for!

As always, read the instructions on your individual dye kits for the best way to prep, wash, and take care of your tie-dye creations!

Tie-Dye Techniques

Now that we’ve covered how to prewash and prepare your tie-dye clothing, let’s talk about the various ways you can tie-dye!

All of the above information for washing and caring for your tie-dye still applies to these methods, though they are aimed at fabric dyes – stressing the importance of removing excess colors. 

For a lot of these methods, such as sunlight bleaching, you won’t need to worry about that, but you should still be careful about how you treat your garment, especially in terms of heat exposure and light exposure to maintain a great-looking design. 

The Original Method – Using Soda Ash

This is by far the easiest and cheapest way to tie-dye. You simply add soda ash to your dye bath and mix thoroughly.

No need to worry about anything else, just get yourself a bucket of warm water and a bowl full of soda ash, and you’re all set!

The Acid Bath Technique – Using Lemon Juice

This technique uses citric acid instead of soda ash. Citric acid is found naturally in lemons and limes.

In order to make an acid bath, you would first boil a cup of water and then pour it over a couple of tablespoons of citric acid. Once cooled down, you can add your colorants and mix thoroughly.

The Sunlight Technique – Using Vinegar & Salt

Vinegar is a great alternative to using lemon juice because it doesn’t contain citric acid. Instead, vinegar contains acetic acid, which reacts similarly to citric acid.

For this method, you’d start off boiling a cup of water and pouring it over two cups of white vinegar. After cooling down, add your colorants and stir thoroughly.

The Cold Water Technique – Using Sodium Hydroxide

Sodium hydroxide is commonly known as peroxide or bleach. It’s used to bleach laundry and kill bacteria.

However, it also has some great tie-dye uses. By adding sodium hydroxide to your dye bath, you’ll create a chemical reaction that will remove the color from your clothing. 

The Hot Water Technique – Using Oxalic Acid

Oxalic acid is another substance that can be used to tie-dye. It’s a natural product that occurs in many plants and fruits.

Like other acids, oxalic acid dissolves in water and creates a solution. This means that it works well for both cold and hot water techniques.

Fabric Dyes – Using Food Coloring

If you want to use food coloring, you don’t necessarily have to use liquid food coloring. You can also use gel or solid food coloring.

Gel colors are more concentrated than liquid ones, so they’re perfect when you want to create bright shades. Solid colors are easier to control, making them ideal for creating darker tones.

How To Make Tie Dye Patterns

Now that you know how to wash and care for your tie-dye clothes, you might be wondering how to actually tie-dye.

There are several different ways to do this, each with its own pros and cons. Here are the most common:

The Simple Striping Technique – Using Liquid Colorants

The simplest way to tie-dye is to use strips of cloth and dip them into your dye bath. While this is simple, it does not allow for much creativity and is pretty boring.

If you want to try something more creative, this is probably not the best option for you.

The Dip-Dry Technique – Using Dry Colorants

The second way to tie-dye involves dipping your material into your dye bath and letting it sit there until dry.

When it comes out of the dye bath, you can either hang it up to air dry or put it through a washing machine on low heat.

Either way, this allows you to get creative with your designs.

The Squeeze Bottle Technique – Using Liquids & Dry Colorants

With this method, you take small amounts of your liquid colorant and squeeze it directly onto your fabric.

Then, you let it sit there until it dries. This technique is similar to the dip-dry method but requires less time.

The Spray Bottle Technique – Using Liquid Colorants

This technique is similar to the squeeze bottle technique, except instead of squeezing the liquid directly onto your fabric, you spray it.

This makes it easy to apply multiple colors at once.

Spiral Tie Dye Technique – Using Dry Colorant

In this method, you wrap your material around itself, securing it with elastic bands in a star formation on your shirt.

You can now either spritz, squeeze bottle, or dip it into a dye bath. Once it’s done, you unroll it and let it dry.

This gives you a unique design that looks like a real tie dye spiral pattern! Remember, wherever you start rolling from is where the middle of your spiral will be!

Striped Pattern

Roll up your shirt into a sausage shape. Secure it along the lengths with evenly spaced elastic bands. Using the squeeze bottle technique, fill in each elasticated segment of your shirt.

You’ll end up with a cool rainbow effect when you untie it after the dye has set!

Frequently Asked Questions

Still with us? Awesome! Got time for a quick FAQ session?

Do You Wash A Shirt After You Tie Dye It?

You will eventually need to wash your tie-dye shirt, but don’t do it right away. The dye needs time to soak into the fibers of the fabric.

If you wash too early, the colors may bleed or appear faded, which, most of the time, is not what you want.

How Long Should You Wait To Wash A Freshly Dyed Tie-Dye Shirt?

Ideally, you should wait about 24 hours before you wash your freshly dyed shirt. I know that wearing your madeover shirt is an exciting prospect, but if you want it to last, patience is key.

How Do You Wash Tie-Dye Without Bleeding?

One of the best things you can do to prevent color bleeding in your tie-dyes is to turn them inside out before washing them.

Then, use cold water only, and retrieve your dyed item as soon as the wash is complete. Leaving it to stagnate can also be the cause of bleeding.

Why Is My Tie-Dye Washing Out?

There are a number of reasons that your tie-Dyes are washing out of your clothes. Are you using hot water?

Are you forgetting to turn the garment inside out? Are you using the correct dye for the fabric?

Final Thoughts

Tie-dye clothing is an inexpensive hobby that anyone can enjoy. It’s fun to play around with different techniques and see what kind of patterns you come up with.

Keep in mind that if you plan on selling your shirts, you will need to make sure that they pass any safety standards before being sold.

With just a few supplies and some basic knowledge about tying, you can start dyeing your favorite shirts today!

Amanda Brown

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