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Lesson: How to Prep & Wash Tie Dye

Everything you need to know to prep, wash & care for your tie dye creations!

  • Rubber gloves*
  • Apron or smock*
  • Ziplock bags or plastic wrap (plus a Sharpie if you’re doing this with friends!)

*Indicates inclusion in our Tie Dye Kits!



How to Prep and Wash Tie Dye

What to Dye

What you dye is TOTALLY up to you! The one important requirement for anything you’re dyeing is that it’s a natural fiber: 100% cotton, silk, rayon, and wool are all great options. Acrylic / polyester fabrics won’t work take the dye, and however some blended fabrics containing those fibers may take if the blend is at least 50% cotton.

Prepping Items to Dye

It’s recommended that anything you’re planning to dye be washed first with a bit of detergent and nothing else (no fabric softener nor dryer sheet). This removes any potential residue from the fabric and shrinks it down to size if it’s new. It's ok if you skip this step -- your dye will still come out just fine, only slightly less vibrant.

If you’re using Tulip One-Step Tie Dye, prep is only more step: dunk item(s) in water and ring out excess water.

If you’re using another type of dye, be sure to follow the exact instructions on the dye package. Don’t skip any steps!

How to Prep & Wash Tie Dye

Which Type of Dye to Use

If you’re interested in the easiest and most variety-filled option, I can’t recommend enough Tulip Brand’s One-Step Tie Dye, which comes with everything you need (minus water and items to dye) to go crazy tie dyeing up to 36 projects with a veritable rainbow of different colors.

The “one-step” in these kit names refers to the missing step of needing to soak garments in a mixture of water and soda ash before dyeing, making the dye so easy to use. Just add water to the dry dye powder in neat squeeze bottles, shake and dye your heart out!

If you’re planning to tie dye using fabric dyes other than Tulip’s One-Step dyes, be sure to follow the instructions on the dye package as there are additional steps involved including soaking fabric in water and liquid dish soapsoda ash, and salt. Be sure to follow the instructions on the dye’s package for best dyeing and color results.

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT DYES: Dye maintains its potency for only 48-72 hours. I recommend activating only the colors and amounts you plan on using in a given session to avoid wasting precious dye.


How to Prep & Wash Tie Dye

Prepping Your Space for Dyeing

Dyeing is messy business. Before touching the dye, be sure you have gloves on your hands, a table cloth on your work surface, and a smock or apron. Lay out a piece of paper towel slightly bigger than the item you’re dying, and place the item on the paper towel before dyeing. The paper towel will catch excess dye and prevent it from pooling beneath your creation, leaving dye where you don’t want it to go.

How to Prep & Wash Tie Dye

Choosing Colors

Colors that are applied next to one another will inevitably bleed together where they meet, so placing colors next to each other that look nice when mixed is a good idea. Pink next to blue might create a peek of purple while yellow next to red will create a little orange. However, purple next to yellow will create brownish splotches, which are less than ideal. In short, avoid placing complimentary colors next to one another. If you would like to use a set of complimentary colors next to one another regardless, just be sure to leave ample white space between each section of dye so that the colors can bleed into white, rather than into each other.

How to Prep & Wash Tie Dye

Dye Intensity

You can adjust the dye color intensity by playing with the dye-to-water ratio. Tulip’s One-Step dyes are pretty intense to begin with, so if you’d like a more pastel look, shake out some of the dye from the prepped dye bottle before adding water, or if you have a partially empty bottle of dye, add more water to it to dilute the remaining dye.

In any case, you can test your dye colors before applying them to your fabric by squirting a little on a paper towel. The color will be less intense after washing, so be sure to take that into account when deciding if the color is what you’re going for.

How to Prep & Wash Tie Dye


When you’re finished dyeing, place each item in a separate ziplock bag or wrap it up with plastic wrap to keep the item moist while the dye sets. Choose whichever method will most easily prevent the different colors from making contact with one another. For example, a long, skinny bullseye might be better off wrapped in plastic wrap like a burrito, rather than coiled up to fit into a plastic bag.

If using Tulip One-Step Dye, let your items sit for 8-24 hours to absorb the dye. The longer your dye sits, the more intense the color will turn out. If using a different dye, follow the length of time indicated on your dye instructions.


How to Prep & Wash Tie Dye


Once your dye has set, it’s time for the moment of truth. Throw those gloves back on, head over to a sink or tub, and remove all rubber bands to reveal your creations! Rinse each item separately under warm water, rinsing out excess dye until the water runs clear. If you’re rinsing multiple items, be sure not to pile them on top of each other as you go, as the wet dye will transfer.

How to Prep & Wash Tie Dye

Wash & Dry

Be sure to wash items right after rinsing as colors can bleed into the white if they sit and will stain those areas. If you need to wait, it’s best to lay your item flat in the meantime so wet colors don’t run onto other parts of the fabric.

You want to wash each item individually or with other items dyed in the same color(s) with nothing else in the machine. Set load to normal, water to warm, and add a small amount of detergent.

Dry together only the items that you washed together as well without a dryer sheet. Single items can stick to the wall of the dryer so if you have a tennis ball, you can throw it in with the item to ensure it dries all the way. Wash your creations individually for the next wash or two to prevent remaining dye from staining other items.

How to Prep & Wash Tie Dye

Caring for Your Tie Dye

Here are some helpful tips for keeping your tie dye bright wash after wash:

  • Try soaking your tie dye in equal parts white vinegar and cold water for 30 minutes after you initially rinse out the dye from your garment. The vinegar helps with colorfastness.
  • After the first couple washes, wash tie dye in cold water to prevent dye from fading.
  • Use gentle, color-safe detergents.
  • Hang your items to dry, rather than using the dryer.

Apply your new-found skill to create awesome things! Here’s a round-up of project inspiration.


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