How to Ice Dye
Thanks to the pandemic and people’s subsequent search for joyful hobbies during the on-going stay-at-home mandate, 2020 has unofficially officially become the Year of Tie Dye. Now, we assume most of you reading this have tried classic tie dye, where you bind up fabric and squirt or dunk liquid dye onto it to produce classic designs like swirls, bullseyes, and scrunches. But have you ICE DYED yet?!
Ice dye is the art of placing ice cubes on top of fabric, then sprinkling dye powder on top of the ice, letting the melting process dictate how the dye splits and bleeds, and where it ultimately lands on the fabric–leading to surprising and delightful results every time!
Did you know that dye powder is made up of multiple color pigments mixed together to create a single hue? When that dye powder is mixed with water, the dye becomes a single unified color. BUT, when the dye powder is let loose over ice, those hidden pigments have the chance to seep down to the fabric on their own. That’s why you might see dots of red appear from black dye, and specks of blue appear from purple dye! You truly never know what to expect when ice dyeing for the first time.
This magical process might look familiar to you by way of some of our friends & fellow DIY mavens Erica Chan Coffman of HonestlyWTF and Julia Sir Wester of Camp by JW. Erica shared this incredible denim ice dye project exactly 1 year ago and, more recently, Julia shared her top ice dye tips in a super helpful IG Live! (Julia is currently working on an expert ice dye class so be sure to sign up for her newsletter here to be notified when her class is live!!) Major thanks go out to both of these ice dye mavens for sharing their unequivocal ice dye know-how!
Since we’re more than a little obsessed with all forms of tie dye here at TNTP, we wanted to adapt this mesmerizing technique for our favorite easy-to-use dye — Tulip® One-Step Tie-Dye® — so that you can try it out too using our TNTP Tie Dye Kits! This tutorial does still include info on how to ice dye using other dye powders, so regardless of which dye you use, you can follow along!
(Note: Different dyes split differently, so if you’re really committed to figuring out the ice dye results you prefer best, we encourage you to test out a variety of different powder dye brands!)
If you try out ice dyeing using this tutorial, be sure to tag us on Instagram @theneonteaparty!!! WE CANNOT WAIT TO SEE HOW YOUR CREATIONS TURN OUT!!!!! Happy ice dyeing!!!!!!
HOW TO ICE DYE
- Items to dye (100% all-natural fibers are best: cotton, rayon, linen, silk, wool, etc.)
- Tie dye powder* (this tutorial shows ice dye with Tulip® One-Step Tie-Dye®)
- Plastic spoons
- Cardboard or poster board cut into 2-3″ wide strips (they should be pliable enough to bend into a ring shape)
- Strong tape, like masking or duct
- Tie dye rack with tray or cookie rack + plastic container or tray
- Plastic table cloth* or garbage bag to protect your work surface
- Small paper cups (optional)
- Rubber bands* (optional)
*Indicates item comes in our TNTP Tie Dye Kits!
PREPPING YOUR ITEM FOR DYE
For best results regardless of dye brand, pre-wash your items.
If you’re using a dye other than Tulip® One-Step Tie-Dye®, you will want to soak your items in a mixture of water and soda ash, according to your dye manufacturer’s instructions. Be sure to ring out water before applying ice and dye powder, starting the ice dye process with your item(s) slightly damp.
If you’re using Tulip® One-Step Tie-Dye®, there’s no need to soak your items in soda ash (hence the “one-step” in the name!). We tested out ice dyeing with both damp items and dry items. We found ice dyeing with dry items to yield varied color intensities (our preference – pictured throughout this tutorial!), while the damp samples came out more muted and watercolor-y. We encourage you to test both and see for yourself which method you prefer!
Place a baking/tie dye rack on top of something that can catch dye drippings, such as a tray, plastic bin, or layers of paper towels.
Scrunch your item on top of the baking rack.
Create a paper hoop to go around your item, using poster board or cardboard strips taped together with strong tape. This is used to keep the ice on top of your item. Your hoop should be large enough to fit snugly around your item. Your item should have lots of nice little folds but still be laid out flat enough to ample surface area for dispersing color powder.
Another option for prepping your items for dyeing is to band them up in classic tie dye patterns to achieve ice dye versions of fun patterns such as swirl and mini bullseyes. Check out this fun swirl example:
The shape and size of your ice matters when it comes to ice dye. Ideally, you want ice crushed to a small-to-medium size and in a variety of sizes. This is ideal for a couple of reasons: 1. it helps make sure all the nooks and crannies of your item are covered by ice and 2. it makes for even patterning. (Large ice blocks will create blank spots.)
If your ice is large and chunky, you can smash it up with a hammer or mallet to make smaller pieces.
HOW TO ICE DYE
Cover your scrunched up item with ice per suggestions above. At this point, your fabric should be inside a hoop on a baking/tie dye rack. The ice should be an even-ish layer covering the entirety of the fabric.
Next, apply the dye powder directly onto the ice by gently pouring the dye powder onto a plastic spoon and gently sprinkle the powder onto the ice. Try to avoid large mounds of dye powder in any one section. You can also pour the dye powder into small paper cups before scooping some up with your spoon, which works especially well when tie dyeing with kids!
Add colors one at a time, evenly dispersing the colors across the surface of your ice. Be mindful of color placement and avoid placing two colors next to each other that may turn brown when mixed (unless that’s the look you’re going for!).
Depending on how much of your item you want to be filled with color, you can fill in all spots with color or leave some areas blank — up to you!
CONTROLLING COLOR INTENSITY
Once all of the ice melts, take the item out of the rack/paper ring setup and lay it flat on a surface. If there are rubber bands around your fabric, feel free to take those off at this point and lay your item out flat.
If there are any blank spots on your creation or if you would like to layer on more colors, now is the time to ice dye those patches. Place ice cubes on the area to which you’d like to add dye, then sprinkle on dye powder and wait for the ice to melt, filling the space with dye.
Conversely, if any of the dye spots look too intense, you can place ice cubes on top of those spots and let them melt to help mute the too-saturated dye spots.
Depending on how pastel/bright you want your colors to be, you can either wash your item right away (pastel) or let it sit out for 8-24 hours (bright).
WASHING & CARING FOR YOUR ICE DYE
Ice dye is simply another tie dye pattern! You can follow our recommended instructions for washing and caring for your tie dye found at the bottom of this page!
We so hope you enjoy trying out this super cool tutorial! 😜 Be sure to leave any questions in the comments section below and show us what you create by posting to Instagram and tagging @theneonteaparty!
Peace, love & neon,
Woah! ice die is so cool! – Hermione Morrison
It’s so much fun!!!!! You’ll have to let us know if you ever try it!!! Miss you Hermione!!!! <3, Marisa
My favorite one is the pink, yellow, and orange! Did you add the little flecks of green or did a color split? I’d love to do a similar thing for a quilt back!
Same here Jennifer! Wearing it now actually!!! The green flecks came from an OLD packet of Tulip One-Step Lime dye powder. It looks like they’re reviving the color so hopefully we’ll have it in the shop soon! Be sure to send pics of the quilt to email@example.com or tag us on IG @theneonteaparty — can’t wait to see how that turns out!!!! xx, Marisa
Love, love, love! Can I add some pics from when we do/finish ours here at home? Thanks so much!
Hi, this looks so fun. I just found a whole bunch of D’uva ChromaCoal Powder heat fixable dry pigment in my art supplies. Will this work for this process
Hey Chris! I’m not familiar with this pigment, but just looked it up! It sounds like ChromaCoal Powder is typically used like a watercolor and has to be fixed with heat. For those reasons, I’m not sure if this would work for ice dye, as there’s no heat involved. That being said, you could always try it with a small piece of 100% cotton fabric to test!
Thanks for this super helpful tutorial! We are ice dying today and love that you explained this so well. Fingers crossed it turns out great!!
Aw yay Michelle! I’m sure it will all look fabulous!!!!! Hope you had a blast!!! Be sure to send photos if you can!!!! firstname.lastname@example.org / @theneonteaparty on IG!!!! xx, Marisa
Hi! Do you have an estimate on how long it takes the ice to melt?
Hi Marlee! It depends where you let the ice melt and the time of year, if you’re somewhere with multiple seasons. It usually takes about 12 hours, I’d say? Unless it’s melting outside in the sun, then it will melt in a couple of hours. I’d say go with a longer melting method for more layered coloring! I hope that helps! xx, Marisa
Does the dye go all the way through to the back of the garment you are coloring?
Yep! Just as long as your item isn’t too scrunched up! (As in, don’t scrunch it into a ball — just a slight scrunch to get the patterning you’re looking for!) The liquid dye drips down through the back of the fabric, so you get color on both sides! Happy ice dyeing!! xx, Marisa
Hi! This is so fun! I can’t wait to try myself. Thank you for sharing 🙂 Do you flip over and do both sides as well or does the dye set in good enough? Normally when I use dye, I’ll flip over and make sure the back is fairly saturated too! Thanks!
Hi Sarah! So happy you enjoyed the tutorial!! Regarding dyeing the backside with ice dye, it depends on the item, how you laid it out before putting the ice and dye on it, and how it ultimately turned out! If your item isn’t bundled up too tightly and isn’t too bulky, the dye should seep through to the backside as the the ice melts. However, if you band it up tightly or dye something bulky like thick sweatshirt or sweatpants, there’s a good chance you may want to repeat the process on the back, filling in whatever patches need some dye love. Hope that helps! And happy dyeing!! xx, Marisa
Once the ice has melted (it was outside and took around 2 hours) we unscrunched and took off the elastic bands. They look good. Do we just hang them up to dry for now? Then rinse in a day or two before washing? Or should we keep them wet?
Hi Anna! Great question! It’s probably too late for your project, but in the future, I just leave the item scrunched up, even after the dye has melted, for another 4-6 hours — that way the dye sets where it landed and doesn’t end up bleeding out into white spots from being laid flat. At that point, give it a good rinse, the right into the washer followed by dryer. Ultimately, you can’t *really* go wrong so I’m sure whatever approach you ended up taking worked out just fine!!! Share pics if you can!!! @theneonteaparty on IG — would love to see!! xx, Marisa
This looks sooooo cool. Definitely will try!
Can’t wait to see Jameca!! Be sure to tag us on IG @theneonteaparty if you try it out!!! xx, Marisa
tryingit tomorrow! How much dye will I need per project? I bought the tulip kit that has the powder in bottles – there are 14 bottles (apparents to make 36 project with traditional liquid dye) and I have 8 girls for a party dying sweat shirts.\Thanks!
Hi Kim! I hope your party went well! For future reference — the amount of dye you need will be proportionate to the item(s) being dyed. For example, a mask or headband wouldn’t need much dye, while a sweatshirt would need a bit more. I hope this helps!
Could you link your white sweatshirt? I love it!!
The exact sweatshirt shown here is no longer available, but any white 100% cotton sweatshirt will work!
Marisa,I am confused earlier in the directions you say: “ Once all of the ice melts, take the item out of the rack/paper ring setup and lay it flat on a surface. If there are rubber bands around your fabric, feel free to take those off at this point and lay your item out flat.” Your reply to Anna said: “ I just leave the item scrunched up, even after the dye has melted, for another 4-6 hours — that way the dye sets where it landed and doesn’t end up bleeding out into white spots from being laid flat. At that point, give it a good rinse, the right into the washer followed by dryer.”
Do I leave scrunched up or lay flat to dry?
Also, what do I do about the item in the bottom of the container? Thanks for the help. Lisa
Hi Lisa! Apologies for any confusion. Whether you leave the item scrunched or lay it flat after the ice is melted is completely up to you — there’s no right or wrong here! By leaving the item scrunched, you’d be keeping the ‘inner’ fabric (all of the tiny scrunched-up folds) as white as possible while the dye sets. By laying it flat, you’re allowing the moisture to naturally pull the dye into the areas that were scrunched up, giving you more of the watercolor look. You can try experimenting with both methods to see which you like better!
As for the dye at the bottom of the container that’s run off of your item, it can be disposed of.
Let us know if you have any more questions! – Dorothy
Wooow!!! So THIS is how my favorite tiedye is made!! Thanks for this super-easy tutorial. I will definitely be trying this method in these upcoming weeks.
Yes!! Ice dye is SO easy (and SO addicting). Be sure to send us photos of what you make!!
Hi, I’m back again. I was wondering, how do you ice dye the back side of a piece of clothing? For example, if the material is thicker, or if it’s a pair of pants, where the dye might not soak through to the back. Do you have to do it in 2 steps, one step for the front, the other for the back, or would you put ice and dye powder under the item, too?
Hi Rachel! The moisture from the melted ice should pull the dye all the way through the back of your item. The longer you let the item sit with the dye (we recommend the maximum 24 hours!), the more time your dye has to travel and set in the fabric. If you lay your item flat after 24 hours and find that there are some blank spots you wish had more color, you can place ice cubes on the area to which you’d like to add dye, then sprinkle on dye powder and wait for the ice to melt, filling the space with dye!
Let us know if you have any other questions!
Okay, I shall try it. I’m using Darma dye, so they say to let it set for 72 hours, so that should be enough time, I assume. I finally found all my white items, so my mom and I will be doing our ice dyeing this coming week. We are really excited! I shall certainly send you pics of my finished projects. 🙂
Amazing!! Can’t wait to see your results!
If you are dying something smallish, could you place the item in a freezer-safe container covered in water, then freeze the whole thing and then place your dyes?
We haven’t tried this, but it would definitely work. What an amazing idea!!! Definitely send us photos with your results!
Rayon is not a natural fabric. It’s a polyester. This is a cool thing though!
I’m sorry, I’m about to be really nerdy. If you do not need this level of fiber nerdiness in your life right now, feel free to ignore!
Rayon is made from wood pulp, so it’s cellulose like cotton– it definitely takes dye like other natural fibers. Polyester is basically plastic, and won’t absorb dye.
So rayon is not synthetic in the sense that it’s made of plastic, but it *is* highly processed (both physically and chemically) to be transformed from a honking big tree into malleable thread. Cotton could theoretically be spun right off the plant (if you don’t mind that it’ll be full of seeds n stuff), but rayon, after undergoing all the processing, is then extruded (like spaghetti) to make thread, similar to how plastic-based thread is made. So it’s like a synthetic in its *physical* form, but the base material –molecularly– is still cellulose, which is all the dye cares about.
Never apologize for fiber nerdiness- you’re in good company! Thanks so much for taking the time to share valuable details!
Hi! I was just wondering about if I needed to use tie dye powder specifically or would I be able to get good results using normal fabric dyes and using those powders instead?
Hi Laiba! Thank you for your question! Tie dye powder IS fabric dye! (It’s just the way it’s packaged and labeled!) Any powdered fabric dye will work great for ice dyeing. I hope that helps!! Have fun! xx Marisa