How to Tie-Dye


If you want to know how to tie-dye shirts, you’ve come to the right place.  Here are the basic how to tie-dye instructions for you to follow to make awesome DIY tie-dye creations.  These instructions tell you what supplies you will need, how to prepare the dyes and fixer, and the basic steps you’ll follow.  Some of the instructions here are very general because you will need to tie and dye differently to make different tie-dye patterns.  The tie-dye patterns gallery will lead you to the specific instructions for each pattern.


How to Tie-Dye Instructions


Step 1: Collect Tie-Dye Supplies


Supply List:

  • 100 % Cotton T-Shirt(s)
  • Rubber Bands and/or Artificial Sinew/Synthetic Thread for Sewing
  • Soda Ash (Sodium Carbonate)
  • Bucket for Soda Ash Fixer
  • Plastic Garbage Bags or Plastic Table Cloth
  • Gallon size resealable bags
  • Dyes (Fiber Reactive Procion Dyes are best)
  • Mason jars
  • Funnel
  • Squirt Bottles
  • Gloves
  • Apron
  • Dust Mask
  • Plastic Disposable Plates
  • Paper Towels
  • Synthrapol

Note on Tie-Dye Kits: Many different kits are available, and they will supply some/most of the items needed.  There are even some with dyes that do not require the use of soda ash fixer.  Check your kit’s contents and instructions carefully, then collect any additional supplied that are needed.


Step 2:  Prepare Soda Ash Fixer Solution

Soda Ash Solution Mixing for Tie-Dye

Mix 1 cup of soda ash and 1 gallon of warm water in a bucket large enough to hold both the solution and the items you will be soaking.

Caution: Wear a dust mask when measuring and mixing the soda ash powder, and wear gloves and eye protection when handling both the powder and the soda ash solution.   Measuring cups used for tie-dye should not be used with food.

For more information (the serious chemistry kind) about soda ash (sodium carbonate) click here.


Step 3: Prepare Dye Solutions

Caution: Wear a dust mask when working with the dye powder and wear gloves when working with both the dye powder and solutions.  It is best to work with the dye powder outside.  Measuring cups and spoons used for tie-dye should not be used with food.

Refer to the manufacturers instructions to determine the amount of dye powder and water to mix.  The amounts of dye powder and water to use can vary, even for different colors.


Mixing water and dye powder for tie-dye.

Place the desired amount of water in a jar, and then carefully,  to minimize the amount of powder becoming airborne, add the measured amount of dye powder.


Dye stocks for tie-dye stored in jars.

Gently shake the jar until the dye has fully dissolved.  Dyes can be stored in the jars until ready for use.  Refer to the manufacturer’s directions for information on how long mixed dyes can be stored before losing effectiveness.


Squirt Bottles Filled with Dye for Tie-Dye

When the dye is mixed, use the funnel to pour the dye into the squirt bottle for use.

***Note***If you are using single-step type dyes DO NOT MIX DYES AHEAD OF TIME!  The dye will only work well for a short period of time.  The manufacturer’s instructions will indicate how long the dyes will remain effective.


Step 4: Tie your items

Fold and tie all of your items to be tie-dyed.  Tie-Dye Patterns has ideas and leads you to specific instructions for the tying steps you will need in order to learn how to tie-dye the different patterns.


Step 5: Soak the items in the soda ash fixer

T-shirt soaking in soda ash solution in preparation for tie-dye.

Safety: Wear gloves and eye protection when working with the soda ash solution.

Completely submerge your tied items in the solution.  Squeeze the bubbles out of tightly tied item, like spirals, to make sure the fixer soaks all of the fabric.  Leave them to soak for 10-20 minutes.  When they are finished, wring them out well.


Step 6: Dye your items

Wear gloves and apron when working with the dyes.  For specific instructions see our Tie-Dye Patterns for information on how to tie-dye different patterns.


Step 7: Allow dye to set for 24 hours

Dyed spiral tie-dye shirt in sealed plastic bag.

Place the dyed item in a sealed plastic bag.  While shorter periods of time are okay, allowing it to set for 24 hours will produce the best results.


Step 8: Rinse and untie

Wear gloves when rinsing tie-dye.  Take the dyed item out of the bag and rinse in the sink under running water.  Rinse a fair amount of dye out while your item is still tied to prevent white areas from being stained with excess dye, then remove the ties while continuing to rinse.  It will take a lot of rinsing to remove the excess dye, particularly blue dyes.  In fact you will not get it all out until it has been machine washed several times.


Step 9: Machine wash the tie-dye

Your new tie-dye is now ready to be machine washed.  Caution: it will still bleed excess dye for a few washes.  Make sure to wash separately or with like colors.  You can also protect  un-dyed areas and other clothing by washing with a special detergent called Synthrapol, which helps prevent excess dye from reacting with other fabric.  The amount of Synthrapol to use varies with the size of the load and amount of excess dye.  A couple of teaspoons will be plenty for small and/or well rinsed loads, while large and/or poorly rinsed loads may require up to 1/4 cup.


Now that you know how to tie-dye, check out our tie-dye patterns!


DIY Instructions for Cool Tie-Dye Patterns