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

Photo: PreechaB / Shutterstock
tie dye t shirts

Most of us have dyed t-shirts before in school or at camp, or maybe have even bought a cool tie-dye shirt at the store. But what if you could do tie dye at home without ever using a washing machine?

Luckily, it's entirely possible to relive your childhood while adding some pizzazz to your wardrobe.

The tie-dye craze emerged from the ashes of the 1960s to grace us with its vibrant presence, and is dominating social media feeds. Because who doesn’t need a little (or a lot of) color in their life these days?

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Whether it's a t-shirt, sweatpants, hoodie, or other articles of clothing, tie-dye looks amazing on all sorts of garments. And the best part is that you can be fashion-forward without having to worry about spending money on new clothes. You can tie-dye almost any 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.

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 light-colored or white shirt or 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 can 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 tie-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.

The best 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

Instructions:

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

Instructions:

1. Choose where you want your spiral to start, and pull the shirt from there (the center works best).

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

Instructions:

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

Instructions:

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, including diamond shapes, mandala spirals, spider designs, ombre fades, accordion folds, or even star-shaped designs.

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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, and be sure to keep gloves on so you don't stain your hands.

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 bathtub 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 senior news and entertainment editor for YourTango. Based out of Brooklyn, New York, her work covers all things social justice, pop culture, and human interest. Keep up with her on Twitter for more.

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