How to Dye Clothes | An Easy Step-by-Step Guide

One of the best things about leading a sustainable life is learning new things. Like how to dye clothes. 

You can take any old garment where the fabric is still in decent condition and give it a new lease of life and it’s super easy to do.  Here’s what you need to know!

How to Dye Clothes

Understand The Challenge Of Your Fabric

Some fabrics dye easier than others and if this is your first project, may we recommend starting with something easy and working up to bigger challenges at a later date?

  • Cotton. Anyone can dye cotton, it eats up new colors like a color eating unicorn would.
  • Nylon (and Rayon). Yes, they’re not natural; but they too like being dyed and you can’t shrink them, either.
  • Silks. The good news is that they dye easily. The bad news is they lose their shape easily too.
  • Linen. Another easy to dye material but linens will shrink during the process (most of the time).
  • Wool. You can dye wool but you need to be super careful or you destroy the surface of the material as you do.
  • Polyester (or Acetates). They are very hard to dye and generally, at home, you can’t dye them black or bright colors at all.

understand the challenge of your fabric

You should also be aware of one more thing: if your fabric has been treated to become water-repellent – it won’t take dye. 

Don’t bother trying – the repellent will repel the dye

You Should Wash It First

Before you dye any fabric, and especially if that fabric is brand new, you need to give it a quick wash.

You Should Wash It First

Throw it in the washing machine (you don’t need detergent) and run it through on a warm cycle – this prevents shrinkage in the drying process. 

Hang dry – don’t tumble dry, when you’re done. 

Get The Dyes Together

Then the next step is to get your dyes.  You can buy dyes (like these awesome tie-dyes) or you can make them (read this book to find out how). 

get the dyes together

However, we would note that homemade dyes often have a very weak effect.

You might want to buy the dyes for your first project, then experiment with making them at a later date. 

Get Dyeing! 

Then it’s time to add the dye and get dyeing!  You’ve got two options here: machine dyeing or sink dyeing.  

In The Washing Machine

Get the fabric wet and pop it in the washing machine. 

Mix the dye (1 cup of dye: 4 cups of water). 

For natural fabrics get a cup of salt.

For silk or nylon get a cup of white vinegar and mix it with 2 cups of water. 

In The Washing Machine

Then pop some dish detergent into the container and add your dye to the dispenser.

Then pour your salt or vinegar mix into the dispenser too. 

Flush that dispenser. (Use 4 cups of hot water).

Run the machine for 30 minutes – at the maximum heat. 

In A Sink (Or A Bucket, For That Matter)

Fill the sink/bucket with water at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Mix up the dye and add it to the water. 

Test it with a paper towel – if it’s too dark, add more water.

In A Sink (Or A Bucket, For That Matter)

Then, wet your garment and drop it into the dye container.

Stir, constantly, for 10 minutes.

Leave it to sit for 30 minutes. 

Remove and then wring out the excess dye and water. 

Make Sure To Give Them A Thorough Rinse

You’re nearly done!

The next step is to give them as super thorough rinsing – until the water runs clear (do this in a sink). 

Try to use hot water for this as it helps the dye affix to the fabric properly. 

You can switch to cold when the color strength dips significantly of the rinse water.  

Give Them Another Wash

Then throw them in the washing machine again – this time use detergent. 

This fixes the color. 

Dry Them In The Air

Hang them outside and let them dry naturally.

Job done! Enjoy your newly dyed clothes. 

Final Thoughts On How To Dye Clothes

Making your clothes last longer is part of a commitment to ethical fashion

It lets you look awesome, all the time, while being much kinder to the planet.

We hope you have a lot of fun dyeing your old clothes and if you create something amazing – we’d love to see pictures of it.