How to Tie-Dye — A Beginner’s Guide

If tie-dyeing some tee shirts sounds like a fun idea to do with the kids, think again. It is messy, requires some precision and definitely some patience. But I would compare tie-dyeing to childbirth — you will quickly forget the stained hands and spilled dye and be ready to do it all over again when you see your amazing results! To make your tie-dyeing adventure as painless as possible I consulted my friend Denise who is a tie-dye guru. Most of these tips have come from her and from my own trial and error experimenting.

Now put on some junk clothes, grab your rubber gloves and lets make some tie-dye magic! Make sure you check out the “pro tips” at the bottom for a great experience!


  • Disposable table covering
  • Rubber gloves– disposable latex gloves are fine, but the reusable gloves they make for dish washing work better because they come up higher on your arm.
  • Resealable plastic bags– Large enough to fit dyed material!
  • Soda ash– Yes, you need this. Denise confirms without it your colors will be lackluster.
  • Bucket
  • Rubber bands
  • Cooling rack (optional, if you don’t have one, use paper towels or a paper bag)
  • Tie-dye kit– Denise says only use Tulip brand! The other brands just don’t create the same vibrant colors. And definitely buy a kit that comes with the mixing bottles. Try this kit with primary colors, or this kit comes with the soda ash!
  • Material to tie-dye– 100% cotton is best and you can get white tee shirts at Michaels or Wal Mart for about $4.

Before you start:
I know, it already feels like you need a glass of wine, but it’s probably best to wait until the end. You’re gonna do great!

  1. Wash all the shirts (or material) being dyed without fabric softener.
  2. Soak material in soda ash mixture for 20 minutes (or follow package directions if different).
  3. Research/decide what kinds of fold designs you will be making.
  4. Wear clothes you don’t mind staining.
  5. Prepare your work surface- keep a rag or paper towels handy!
  6. Prepare dye according to package (wear gloves!)
  7. Ring out material from the soda ash mixture right before dyeing. Your material needs to be wet when you dye it!

Let’s do this:

  1. Fold your shirt according to instructions and rubber band in place. YouTube is a great resource for this. Here is my accordion fold and my spiral fold.
  2. Place shirt on cooling rack or paper towel/ bag (this is to allow for dripping or absorbing the extra color so it doesn’t pool). Choose dye colors and dye the material. Let dye settle for a couple of minutes before turning over and dyeing the other side. Apply your colors in the same pattern to match the front. Here is a video of my process to get the idea.
  3. Carefully place shirt (or dyed item) in a resealable bag and place in the sun.
  4. Let bags sit outside in the sun for 48 hours, flipping occasionally.
  5. Remove rubber bands and rinse each item individually to wash out excess dye. This takes a while!!
  6. Wash and dry your items.
  7. Congratulate yourself!

Pro tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to try other material to dye. One of my favorite white tees got a stain on it; I tie-dyed it and you’d never know it was there. It also works great to give new life to yellowing race or school logo tees. I did cotton blend shirts and I’ve seen Converse turn out cute. Just be aware that natural fibers hold dye best!
  • Wipe off your gloves consistently or the dye will transfer onto anything you touch. My daughter’s blue shirt has a nice purple spot thanks to the dye that was on my glove!
  • Be aware of what color it will make if the colors bleed into each other. Red and yellow make orange. Red, blue, green and yellow all mixing into each other will make a muddy brown. Yuck.
  • A little bit goes a long way. We opened five bottles of dye for eight items and a lot went to waste. Don’t feel like you have to open every color in the kit. You can save some for another day!
  • Buy color catchers and add to the wash! I used three while washing eight items just to be safe!

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