Tricks and Tips to Tie Dye

Tie Dye tips

Tie dye is such a great craft activity because you can experiment with so many different colors and patterns. There are different methods that you can use to get different techniques, but the most common is using string, rubber bands, and even zip ties. Below we share tips and tecniques for a succesful tie dye project!

Download a printable version of this article so you can easily follow the steps and designs.

How to Be Successful with Tie Dye

My experience with tie dye is that natural fiber fabric will hold more dye, leading to a brighter, longer lasting result. You can use 100% cotton shirts or even other fun items like scarves, bandanas, and draw string bags. I suggest pre-washing the materials if you can, for sizing and to remove any dirt so that the dye saturates better (do not use fabric softener or dryer sheets, which can leave a residue).

Important Tip: If you pre-wash (recommended), there is no need to dry your garment. You want the fabric to be wet (but not dripping) when you tie and dye.

Two helpful tips are to wear gloves and to make sure that you secure all folds, regardless of which method you use, with rubber bands or one of the above tools. Also make sure you tie tightly. Material will expand when it is wet, so making sure to tie each fold will secure the dye in place. Get it – tie dye!

The two most important factors for a successful your tie dye are color choice and color saturation. In order to avoid a large amount of white on your finished product, the trick is to squirt enough dye into the folds. Squeeze the area saturated with dye to insure color penetrates the inside layers of fabric for a bold result. When choosing colors to place adjacent to each other, remember the color wheel. Do not place“opposite” colors next to each other, such as red near green, blue near orange, or yellow near purple: the results would be a brown, muddy mess. If you really like bright colors avoid placing a color with red mixed in it, such as purple, near green.

Video Tutorial

Tie Dye Design Techniques

  • Vertical/Horizontal Stripe: Fold a piece of fabric in vertical pleats, and you’ll end up with horizontal stripes. Horizontal pleats result in vertical stripes.
    • Diagonal pleats are an option for diagonal stripes.
  • Bullseye: For concentric circles, grab the cloth where you want the center to be, and pull, until you’ve more or less made a long tube of garment, then apply rubber bands at intervals along the fabric.
  • Classic Spiral: Lay the garment on a flat surface, smooth out all the wrinkles, then make a small pleat right across where you want the center to be. Grab the very center of that pleat with a clothespin, and begin to twist. As you twist, pleats appear farther away from the center; as these pleats get too large, split the pleats with your hands, keeping each fold the same height above the table, no more than one to two inches in height.
  • Circles: Another technique is to use small rubber bands to pinch and bind fabric in several places all over the garment. This will make circles of color.

tie dye instructions

See our Color Splash Easy Tie Dye Kit for even more detailed information on tying tips!

tips for tie dye


Color Combination Fun:

  • A lot of fuchsia and a little yellow make red
  • Red and yellow make orange
  • Yellow and turquoise make green
  • A lot of turquoise plus a little fuchsia makes blue
  • Turquoise plus fuchsia makes purple

Mixing the Dyes

  • Always add powder dye to empty squirt or spray bottles first and then add water.
    Be careful when you measure out the dye. Leave the jars open as short a time as possible and use a face mask. Don’t breathe in the dye powder!
  • Replace bottle cap and shake until dye is fully dissolved.
  • For best results, apply dye to fabric within 30 minutes of mixing.
  • To help ensure the dye stays on and help preventcolor bleeding, you can pre-soak the fabric for fifteen minutes to one hour in a solution of sodium carbonate (Soda Ash), mixed one cup per 2 gallons of water – unless you are using dyes that have the soda ash pre-mixed in.

Applying the Dye

  • Before folding and tying your project, rinse or soak in warm water and wring out so the item is not dripping. Damp fabric will absorb the dye much more easily.
  • Once you have your fabric folded/tied, lay the garment on a plastic protected surface. Squeeze the dye directly into the fabric, checking to make sure dye has penetrated into the folds. Squeeze the area you just applied dye to so it gets into the folds. Flip over and repeat on the other side.
  • Seal the dyed fabric in a plastic bag to keep wet.
  • How long should you wait? Make sure that the fabric stays wet for the reaction to take place. It should be kept in the plastic bag for 12-24 hours.

Tip: You can drop each fabric item into its own re-sealable plastic bag and label it with person’s name and time to wash out.

tie dye

Washing the Tie Dyed Material

  • Carefully cut any rubber bands making sure not to snip your fabric. Rinse by hand in cold water before machine washing.
  • Rinse first in cold water to release excess dye from the fabric, then again in the hottest water available to remove any trace of the un-reacted dye until the water runs clear.
  • Now your garment should be ready for the washing machine. Wash and dry separately for the first few washes.

Congrats, you’ve just created your first tie dye item! Share your photos with us so we can see your creations!

View all of our great tie dye products here!


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35 thoughts on “Tricks and Tips to Tie Dye

  1. Hi! I’ve seen people hang their shirts on a clothes line to spray off, which seems to work well, I’ve noticed when I do this that the colors fade. I thought air drying them outside before washing would help the color last, do you think this is probably why my colors get pale?

  2. I have tie dyed some tshirts, removed the elastic bands and left them to dry but i didnt use soda ash and i dont have any soda ash! If i wash or rinse the tshirts will the dye come out?

    • Hi Martha! Soda ash helps the dye adhere to the cotton in the shirts, and it gives you brighter colors. If you don’t have soda ash, you can use salt as an alternative. When you rinsed the shirt after dying, did all of the color run out?

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  4. I read somewhere to leave the rubber bands/ties on the garment until the first wash is done before removing them. Is that true?

  5. I bought a store kit before I saw this post. My kindergarteners and pre k er had a great time doing shirts for spirit week. But the very first time I washed the t-shirts they faded a lot. After sitting in bags for 6-9 hours I rinsed in cool water till ran clear. At this point the colors were bright. Then washed in cold water with tide. Now faded like last year’s shirts. Any ideas?

    • Hi Maria, we would suggest you leave the shirts in the plastic bags to sit over night or at least 12 hours. Also what dye did you use? Did it have soda ash? That is an important step to keeping the colors bright, sometimes it’s already in the dye and others you need to buy it separately and soak the shirts ahead of time.

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  7. I have also found that if you rinse and squeeze your item under cold running water with the rubber bands still securing your shirt, this will rinse a lot of the excess dye away before it has a chance to get on the white parts of the shirt. I usually rinse until I don’t see very much color coming off when I squeeze the water out, and then I remove the rubber bands or ties and rise a few more times. It also helps, if you are doing a large batch of shirts, to only wash a few at a time – there will be less loose die in the water to re-attach to the un-dyed parts of your fabric.

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  10. My grade level team just did blue and red tie dye and the red ran and now the white is pink, is the above reply the only way to prevent the red from running? I read something about vinager.

    • you might have used too much dye. after a thorough cold water rinsing and a hot water rinsing, they should be immediately washed in a washing machine with synthropol. it keeps excess dye particles suspended in the water and helps remove any dye that runs during the rinsing process.

  11. My mom used to help us tie dye shirts as children and I would love to provide this entertainment to my kids as well. Thanks for the fun tips. I remember the classic spiral method being successful. Another thing to think about would be ensuring that all needed materials are present before starting the project.

    • It’s going to be my first time doing this. Now I have powder dye blue light blue and liquid dye as well. Do they have soda ash in them ? It’s a baby shower and tye dye is awesome! So it has to sit up to 24 hours before rising off.please what dye would you suggest to be the best to use in tye dye. Thank you Molly Margaret Los Angeles California

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  13. No matter how much cold water rinsing I do after 24 hrs of dye setting, the whites do NOT stay white, but pick up some of the red, usually, and the whites are now a dull pink.

    • Hi Mike, are you soaking the items? That could be why the red dye is getting onto the white areas. You want to be sure you are rinsing the items under running water. I usually rinse in the bathtub so I can hold the items under the faucet. It can take a while to rinse clear but you will want to hold the item under the running water, then squeeze the water out and continue this until the water squeezes out completely clear. Let me know if this helps!

    • you might have used too much dye. after a thorough cold water rinsing and a hot water rinsing, they should be immediately washed in a washing machine with synthropol. it keeps excess dye particles suspended in the water and helps remove any dye that runs during the rinsing process.

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