How to dye your clothes

Using dye to update your clothes can be a great way to change the look of something you rarely wear, something stained, or something that’s not quite the color you had hoped for. Depending on what color you want and which route you want to take, it can be a very quick and easy process.

In the past week I have dyed two pairs of pants using Rit dye, one powder and one liquid. I started with white pants both times, one pair was cotton (recommended) and the other was a poly-blend (not recommended). ••Update: learn to redye your faded jeans.••

The reason is because dying your clothes is a chemical reaction, and the color molecules attach better to “real” fabrics, like cotton, instead of synthetics like polyester. Nevertheless, it’s totally possible to dye polyester, but it won’t be as deep of a color as cotton, and it’s a little harder to do.

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1. Identify the item(s) of clothing you want to dye.

2. Decide what color(s), and get the dye needed for those colors. Check out Rit’s website for their recipe guide if you want to mix colors together, or you can do what I did and wing it.

3. Decide if you’re using your washing machine (super easy), bathtub (don’t do it), or plastic tub (like a big washbin).
I used the washing machine both times. The dye won’t gunk it up, and as long as you follow the instructions, it’ll clean out.

4. This is the fun part: prep your clothes. Make sure there isn’t anything in the pockets and they are unbuttoned (that’s my preferred dying process). Then, submerge them in water (elsewhere, like in the bathtub if you’re using the washing machine). The Rit directions say the clothing needs to be wet to begin with.

5. Prepare your dye bath. Use the HOTTEST water possible that is still safe for the fabric (I went with warm, which is really hot in an apartment like ours). Use just enough water to cover your garment. If you use too much, it will dilute the dye.

6. Pour the dye in with the water, but DON’T add your clothing yet. You want to let the water fill in before you do.

7. Add your clothes! (they should still be wet from step 4).

8. Reset the wash cycle so it takes about 30 minutes. If you’re not using a washing machine and instead using a basin or tub, you need to constantly stir your clothing for 30 minutes. So, invest in a stick or something (don’t use your hands! They will stain!).

9. Once the wash cycle is done, set it to rinse once more time. Then, wash the clothing in a normal cycle with detergent and dry as normal.

10. You need to “wash” one more cycle through your washing machine, even though nothing is there. It’s recommenced to use a cup of bleach and the hottest water possible to get any remaining dye out. I did neither and my machine is fine, so it’s up to you, just be prepared for the possibility of leftover dye if you do nothing.

Yay! Now you’ve dyed your clothes! (Be careful washing them in the future, it’s possible for the color to bleed!)

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My tips and suggestions:
I like liquid dye better. Why? Because somehow I breathed in the powder dye and had blue nostrils and snot for DAYS. Gross.

You can add a cup of salt to aid in the dying process, but I didn’t. Has anyone tried this? Did it work?

The poly-blend pants I chose to dye did work, although they said dry-clean only! I wouldn’t reccommend trying to dye something you can’t live without. Start small and work your way up to something crazy!

There is a product that helps remove color from your clothes before you dye them, if you need. I found it at Michaels along with the clothing dye.

Any questions or comments? I am by no means an expert, but am just trying to share how I did it.


26 thoughts on “How to dye your clothes

  1. “So, invest in a stick or something.” This is my favorite part. I’m still laughing.

    LOVE the lavender slacks in the first pic! You’re rockin it girl.

      • I also thought that was very funny! The thing is the other day I was washing our bed sheets in the bathtub (Long Story) and I was like I need something to stir this with. Then I got out the broom and unscrewed the handle and stirred my laundry!

    • It’s totally addicting! If you don’t have your own pair, run out to a Goodwill or Salvation Army and find something to dye! You’ll love it 🙂

  2. THANK YOU, Suze! I’m so excited, now. I was terrified to dye clothing, but I have this awesome shirt in the ugliest seafoam green, ever. It’s really light, so should be easy to over dye. Thanks for the tips!

    • There’s also a lightening powder you can get (I DON’T think it’s bleach based) that should help lighten the shirt before you wash it.

  3. Good job! Once you’ve tried with Rit a few times & like the results, you might try some of the professional dyes from places like Dharma Trading Co — (the ppl there are insanely nice & helpful too, can’t recommend them enough!). The range of colors is amazing, & these dyes really last. The process can be a bit more involved, bec. you need to know what fibers your fabric is (cotton, wool, rayon, etc.), & each fiber uses a different type of dye w/different methods (soda ash fixer, salt, etc.). But again, fantastic results.

    The problems with Rit are that you can’t get really vibrant colors & dyed garments tend to fade easily. Dyeing with salt helps fix Rit a bit more, & always washing on cold with like-colored garments will slow fading some. But it’s just not a very powerful dye to begin with. I use it more on accessories & costume items that won’t get washed much.

  4. Hey Suze,
    Just a little tip if you add vinegar to the final wash it will set the dye. This is also great to do to all those inexpensive dark denim jeans that always seem to bleed or turn your skin indigo. Great post. I love dying!

  5. Very cool! I love the green pants especially, what a pretty color. I’ve been wanting to dye some things, but with communal washers in the building (or laundromat), I’ve been hesitant to try other methods. Does dye cover up stains? Mostly I have little (olive) oil stains on my shirts -I have the hardest time getting those out and I’m pretty clumsy.

  6. Once I bought a pair of really dark jeans, and the sales rep told me to add salt to the wash the first time I washed them, because it would help make sure the dark color was really set. Now I do that for a lot of dark clothing when I first get it. I don’t know truly how much of a difference it makes, but salt is cheap so if it helps, I’m on board. Anyway, my point was, apparently salt helps make colors really set in a garment – which helps keep the dye from fading 🙂

  7. I need to go buy some white clothes from the thrift store just so I can dye them. My mom and I used to dye clothes all the time when I was little…’cept we tie-dyed, cause we were hippies like that.

    Those purple pants came out fantastic.

  8. Wow, the lavender pants look awesome!
    I always use salt in my dye baths, but I can’t tell you if it makes a difference.
    I’ve also never done in the machine, I go with the pot on the stove route.
    And as far as never cooking in that pot again… well that wasnt’ going to happen. I make pasta in it all the time and am fortunately not dead.

  9. This is a great little tutorial. I’m thinking of darkening a pair of skinny jeans I have that are faded in odd places. This might work perfectly. Need to head to Target for the dye. – Katy

  10. OOO! This should work to re-dye all my black clothes, right? I have been meaning to re-dye my blacks for approximately 12684134519435135887 years (actually, more like 2 or 3) and you made it look so easy!

  11. Very very cool, thanks for sharing, might need to reference this in the summer! Love the finished product. And while i’ve never done it with clothes- salting dyed silk makes a reallyyy pretty effect! and helps if using two colors together.

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