How To Tie-Dye At Home — Without Destroying Your Clothes & Washing Machine

Photo: getty
Your How To Guide For Tie-Dyeing Without Destroying Your Clothes And Washing Machine

You’ve whipped up that TikTok coffee, you’ve baked every quick dessert imaginable, and guess what? You’re still bored.

Luckily, the internet has given us a new phenomenon to occupy these long, quarantined days: tie-dye. 

This craze emerged from the ashes of the 1960s to grace us with its vibrant presence, and is dominating my Instagram feed and Pinterest board. Who doesn’t need a little (or a lot of) color in their life these days?

The best part is, tie-dye looks amazing on hoodies and sweats, so you don’t even have to change out of your usual quarantine attire to hop on this trend. You also don’t have to worry about spending money on new clothes because you can tie-dye almost any old clothing item, even blankets or curtains.

If you’re worried about messing up this DIY project, have no fear. Here's how to tie-dye at home, without ruining your clothing or bleaching your washing machine.

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1. Consider your clothing of choice.

Despite how things appear on Instagram, you can’t dye every single item in your wardrobe. Bleach and most dyes won’t affect synthetic fabrics like polyester, so look on your clothing labels for items will a higher cotton content.

Whatever you do, do not attempt to dye a delicate fabric like silk, lace or chiffon. If your item is flimsy or a little sheer, the bleach will damage the fabric. Also, if you’re buying a new item, especially to tie-dye it, make sure you pre-wash it. Dye will not work on clothing that has never been washed before.

If you’re dyeing dark colored clothes, regular household bleach will achieve what the expert DIYers call a "reverse tie-dye" look — basically, just a bleached design on your colored item. The bleach will come out somewhere between white and rust colors depending on the color of your item (the surprise is part of the fun).

If you want a multicolored design, get your hands on a tie-dye kit or some fabric dyes.

These dyes will show up best on a white or light-colored item.

2. Get your ingredients together.

The beauty of tie-dyeing is that you can do it all with items you probably already have in your home. Here's what you'll need:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Rubber bands or hair ties
  • Spray bottles or squeeze bottles (you could also just poke a hole in the top of your dye bottle or re-purpose an old spray bottle from a cleaning product)
  • The items you plan on dyeing
  • Bleach or dye

For the bleach, mix it with equal parts water and bleach. If you're feeling especially crafty, you can make natural dyes from boiling ground turmeric or red onions.

Make sure to have a designated workspace to avoid dyeing your whole house. Dyeing outside is the best way to avoid fumes and not damage anything precious to your home. If that’s not an option, you can always use the tub or a shower.

Lay out an old sheet or garbage bags around the bathroom floor, and use this as your work area.  

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3. Choose your design.

My favorite part of tie-dyed clothes is that no two items look exactly the same. It's so easy to customize your dye look, and one of these designs will help get you started.

Bullseye Tie-Dye


A post shared by The Bohemian Concept (@thebohemianconcept) on Mar 9, 2018 at 7:05pm PST


  1. Pull the center of the fabric through your hand to make a tube shape out of the clothing.
  2. Tie your rubber bands at even spaces down the length of the tube.
  3. Dye each section with a different color, or use one color to get larger non-dyed outlines.

Spiral Tie-Dye


A post shared by abct77 (@bethtrib) on Apr 15, 2020 at 7:06am PDT


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  1. Choose where you want your spiral to start, and pull the shirt from there (the center works best, if you ask me).
  2. Twist in one direction until the whole garment is in a circle.
  3. Use bands to secure the shape.
  4. Spray or pour dye into diagonal sections across the circle.

Striped Tie-Dye


A post shared by Abbi Ford (@tiedyetilidie) on Jul 11, 2015 at 2:21pm PDT


  1. If your item has sleeves, start by folding them inward so the whole fabric is a square/rectangle.
  2. Pinch at regular intervals down the fabric and fold over so the fabric is gathered over itself. 
  3. Secure on the ends of the item with bands to hold the shape.
  4. Then, tie them evenly across the tube.
  5. Cover the entire item with dye. The folded parts will not get color on them and will be your stripes.

Scrunch Tie-Dye


  1. Lay your item out flat and scrunch random parts by pulling the fabric into your closed fist or pinching it.
  2. Shape the item into a ball, being careful to not ruin your scrunches.
  3. Place a few bands over the whole ball.
  4. Spray the dye randomly across the ball, without cover it entirely. 

If none of these choices suit you, there are plenty of other designs to choose from.

4. Let the dye absorb.

Once you’ve applied the dye to whatever design you choose, you’ll need to let it work its magic for a little.

Bleach works fast and will take effect in 10-15 minutes. For your colored dyes, the length of time you leave them on will decide how strong the colors turn out.

Leave the dye for at least 1 hour for a light dye, and up to 24 hours for a more vibrant look. Wrap the item in a plastic bag while you wait to avoid staining your tub. Just be careful not to let the colors touch each other and ruin your design!

5. Rinse and dry.

Untie your bands and give the clothing a good rinse under some cold water. You can use your tub here, or even a garden hose.

Putting dyed items directly into the washing machine will dye your next laundry load, which you definitely don’t want. Wash them until you can no longer see color in the water. Then, put your newly dyed item into the washer alone and wash it on a regular cycle.

If you’ve dyed several items, you’ll have to wash them separately. Use detergent to take out the rest of the dye and keep the machine clean. Hang them to dry or use your dryer.

And voila! Snap a cute picture in your new item and be the envy of your friends!

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Alice Kelly is a writer with a passion for lifestyle, entertainment, and trending topics. 

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