How to Dye Clothes

Four Parts:Preparing the Clothes and WorkspaceNatural Dye MethodChemical Dye, Stovetop MethodChemical Dye, Washing Machine Method

Transform a plain white or light colored garment by dyeing it a bright, vibrant hue. You can dye clothes using natural plant materials and chemical, store-bought dyes. The process is simple either way. Here's what you need to do.

Part 1
Preparing the Clothes and Workspace

  1. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 1
    Choose the proper dye. Most dyes work best on natural fabrics, so if you plan to dye a polyester or other synthetic garment, you might need to find a special dye blend or choose another garment.[1]
    • Choose a white or off-white item of clothing for the purest color.
    • Natural dyes work best with cotton, wool, silk, and muslin.
    • Chemical dyes work best with cotton, linen, silk, wool, and ramie. They also work well with rayon and nylon synthetic fabrics.
    • If you have a garment made from 60 percent dyeable fiber, like cotton, then you can usually dye it with a chemical dye even if the remaining fibers are not dyeable. Note, however, that the color will be much lighter than it would be with 100 percent dyeable fabrics.
    • Avoid clothes made of polyester, spandex, metallic fibers, or those labeled "dry clean only."
  2. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 2
    Wash your clothes before dyeing them. The clothes you choose to dye should be clean before you begin. Put them through a normal warm washing cycle with a mild laundry detergent.
    • Make sure that all stains are removed before proceeding.
    • You can also use bleach to make your clothes even whiter. A pure white garment will produce a purer color than a dingy white garment.
    • You do not need to dry your clothes after washing them. They actually need to be wet for the dyeing process.
  3. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 3
    Cover your workspace. Dyeing fabric can be messy business. To make the clean-up easier, cover your workspace with a plastic drop cloth or several layers of newspaper.
    • You should also keep sponges and paper towels nearby in case any dye spills as you work

Part 2
Natural Dye Method[2]

  1. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 4
    Let the clothes soak in a fixative. Dye fixatives allow your clothes to absorb the dye more readily. The best type of fixative will depend on the type of plant material used for the dye.
    • When making dye from berries, prepare a salt fixative. Combine 1/2 cup (125 ml) salt with 8 cups (2 L) cold water.
    • When making dye from other plants, prepare a vinegar fixative. Combine 1 part white vinegar with 4 parts cold water.
    • When using a chemical dye, apply a fixative based on the type of fabric being dyed.
    • Let the clothes sit in this fixative solution for one hour. Rinse the clothes afterward in cool water before dyeing them.
  2. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 5
    Choose the right color. The material you choose will determine the color of your dye. Do a bit of research to determine which plants, berries, and spices can be used to produce the color you want.
    • Create orange dye with onion skin, carrot roots, butternut seed husks, and gold lichen.
    • Create brown dye using dandelion roots, oak bark, walnut husks and hulls, tea bags, coffee, acorns, and goldenrod shoots.
    • Make pink dye using strawberries, cherries, red raspberries, and grand fir bark.
    • Create blue-purple dye with dogwood bark, red cabbage, lavender elderberries, purple mulberries, cornflower petals, blueberries, purple grapes, and purple iris.
    • Make a red-brown dye using elderberries, red onion skin, pomegranates, beets, bamboo, and dried hibiscus flowers.
    • Form a gray to black dye using blackberries, walnut hulls, oak galls, and butternut hulls.
    • Make a red-purple dye with daylilies, huckleberries, or basil.
    • Go for a green dye by using artichokes, sorrel roots, spinach leaves, Black-eyed Susans, snapdragons, lilac flowers, grass, or yarrow flowers.
    • Make yellow dye using bay leaves, alfalfa seeds, marigold blossoms, St. John's Wort, dandelion flowers, daffodil flower heads, paprika, and turmeric.
  3. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 6
    Gather the plant material. Any plant material you decide to use needs to be in a ripe, mature state.
    • Fruit and berries need to be ripe.
    • Nuts need to be mature.
    • Blossoms should be in full bloom and near the end of their life cycle.
    • Seeds, leaves, and stems can be harvested as soon as they grow in.
  4. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 7
    Cut the plant material into small pieces. The plant material should be chopped into fine pieces using a kitchen knife. Transfer the plant material to a large stockpot.
    • The stockpot should be about twice as large as the clothes you plan to dye.
    • Cutting the material into fine pieces exposes more surface area, so the natural color of the material is drawn out more easily.
  5. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 8
    Simmer the dye. Fill the pot with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer for roughly 60 minutes.
    • Use twice as much water as plant material.
  6. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 9
    Strain the dye. Pour the dye through a colander to remove the plant material from the liquid. Transfer the liquid back into your dyeing stockpot.
  7. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 10
    Simmer the clothes in the dye bath. Place your wet clothes in the dye bath and simmer together over medium heat until the desired color is achieved.
    • Note that the color will be lighter once it dries.
    • At minimum, you will need to let the clothes sit in the dye bath for 30 to 60 minutes.
    • For a rich shade, let the clothes sit in the dye bath 8 hours or overnight.
    • Stir the clothes in the dye bath occasionally to ensure even dyeing.
  8. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 11
    Wash dyed fabric in cold water. For the first washing, wash your dyed clothes in cold water apart from other garments.
    • The colors will run.
    • Dry your clothes using a dryer or by drying them in the sun.

Part 3
Chemical Dye, Stovetop Method[3]

  1. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 12
    Simmer a stockpot of water. Fill a large stockpot three-quarters full with water. Bring it up to a simmer on your stove using medium heat.
    • Use a 2-gallon (8-L) stockpot. Otherwise, you may not have enough room to adequately and evenly dye your clothes.
  2. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 13
    Add a fixative. For chemical dyes, the fixative should be added directly to the dye bath. The fixative should be determined based on the type of fabric your clothes are made from.
    • For natural fibers, like cotton and silk, add 1 cup (250 ml) of salt to the water as it comes to a boil.
    • For synthetic fibers, like nylon, add 1 cup (250 ml) of white vinegar to the water.
  3. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 14
    Add the dye solution to the water. You can use granular dye or liquid dye. Follow the instructions provided on the package to determine the correct amount of dye to use.
    • If using a box of powder dye, you will usually pour the entire package into the simmering water.
    • If using liquid dye, you will usually use half the bottle.
    • Stir the dye into the water until evenly dispersed.
  4. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 15
    Dunk your clothing item into the dye. Drop the clothing item into the dye bath until the entire garment is covered.
    • Use a mixing spoon to press the fabric completely beneath the surface.
  5. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 16
    Let the clothes simmer in the dye bath. Once the dye bath reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 30 minutes.
    • Stir the garment periodically to ensure even dyeing.
    • Do not cover the stockpot.
  6. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 17
    Rinse the clothing in running water. Carefully remove the clothes from the hot dye bath using two spoons and lift it until a metal sink. Run hot water over your garment, gradually decreasing the temperature until it reaches ice cold water and the water running off the garment turns clear.
    • Dump your dye bath in a metal sink to dispose of it.
    • A lot of dye will come out as you rinse the fabric. This is normal and inevitable.
    • Using ice cold water at the end sets the dye into the clothing.
  7. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 18
    Let the clothes air dry. Hang the clothes somewhere and let it dry completely.
    • Do not dry in a drying machine.
    • Place an old towel or rag beneath the clothing to catch any dripping dye as the item dries.

Part 4
Chemical Dye, Washing Machine Method[4]

  1. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 19
    Fill your washing machine with hot water. Use the hottest water possible as long as it is safe for use with the type of fabric you are dyeing.
    • Set the washing machine to fill with enough water for a small load. If you fill the machine all the way, you will dilute the dye too much and end up with a faded garment.
  2. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 20
    Pour the dye into the water as the washing machine fills. Pour the dye into the water as the basin continues to fill.
    • Do not add the clothes yet.
    • By adding the dye to the machine as it fills with water, you do not need to stir it in. The rapid flow of water into the basin will stir the dye in well enough.
    • Follow package instructions for the chemical dye you choose to use. You will usually use a full package of powder dye or half a bottle of liquid dye.
  3. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 21
    Add your clothes to the dye bath. Once your washing machine has finished filling, add your clothes.
    • Note that the clothes should be wet before you add them to the washing machine dye bath. Otherwise, the color will not set correctly.
  4. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 22
    Set the washing machine to a 30 minute cycle. Reset the washing cycle so that it takes a full 30 minutes to complete. Set the machine to a longer cycle if you want to produce a stronger color.
    • The advantage of the washing machine is that you do not need to stir the clothes as they sit in the dye bath. Instead, the washing machine will agitate the clothes for you.
  5. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 23
    Put the washing machine through another rinse cycle. Let the clothes go through a full rinse cycle in your washing machine to strain out some of the excess dye.
    • Use warm water for this rinse cycle. Warm water will draw out the excess dye more readily than cold water.
  6. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 24
    Wash the clothes with detergent in a normal cycle. Wash the clothes in a normal cycle with cold water and mild detergent.
    • The cold water will set the dye. Meanwhile, this wash cycle will wash the clothes, cleaning them after they have soaked in the dye bath.
    • Do not wash any other clothes with the dyed garments.
    • Dry the clothes in a dryer or by hanging them in the sunlight to dry.
  7. Image titled Dye Clothes Step 25
    Run your empty machine through another wash cycle. After you remove your dyed clothes from the washing machine, run your machine through another wash cycle to rinse out any excess dye and prepare it for your next load of laundry.
    • For best results, use hot water and 1 cup (250 ml) of bleach.


  • Use stainless steel or other metal buckets to dye and rinse your clothes. Do not use plastic or porcelain tubs since the dye will likely stain them.
  • Keep in mind that different fabrics react to the same color dye in different ways. Even dyeable fabrics will take on a slightly different shade due to fiber content and weight. As a result, if a garment you dye has sections made from different materials, these sections will be slightly different shades of the same color.
  • Protect your hands and outfit by wearing disposable gloves and a smock or apron. To be on the safe side, wear clothes that you do not mind ruining or dirtying when dyeing other clothing.


  • When using chemical dyes, check the package for specific instructions and allergy information. Chemical dyes are usually safe, but some can contain elements that pose a slight allergy risk that you should be aware of.[5]

Things You'll Need

  • White or light clothes
  • Drop cloth or newspaper
  • Laundry detergent
  • Salt
  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Metal stockpot
  • Washing machine
  • Mixing spoons
  • Plant material for dyes
  • Kitchen knife
  • Chemical dye
  • Apron
  • Rubber gloves

Article Info

Categories: Fabric and Clothing Decoration