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How To Wash Tie-Dye To Prevent Bleeding and Fading

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There are a few essential steps that you need to take in order to create a vibrant and attractive tie-dyed item.

These steps include choosing fabric that is conducive to bonding with the dye, picking and properly folding an appealing pattern, following the color wheel when applying dye, allowing the dye to soak into the fabric for the recommended amount of time, and rinsing and washing the fabric after the dye has set in.

How do you wash a tie-dyed shirt for the first time? Begin by rinsing the shirt thoroughly under cold running water until the water runs clear and no more dye is coming out. Rinse your sink well to prevent staining. Next, wash the shirt by itself in the washing machine using hot water. Dry the shirt in the dryer using a high-heat setting.

The following will teach you everything you need to know to properly wash a tie-dyed shirt for the first time as well as tips for caring for tie-dyed items.

You will also learn whether you should wash items directly after tie-dyeing them, what temperature to wash tie-dyed materials in, how long tie-dye should sit before rinsing, how to rinse tie-dye, and how to clean your washing machine after tie-dyeing.

How To Wash a Tie-Dye Shirt for the First Time

The first wash after tie-dyeing a t-shirt is important, as it removes any extra dye from the fabric and sets the colors. 

As soon as you remove the tie-dyed shirt from its plastic bag, you will want to rinse the shirt under cold water until the water runs clear.

You will then want to adjust your washer settings so that the machine is at a small-load capacity and a hot setting. Wash the shirt either by itself or with other tie-dyed items, and then dry them on high heat.

4 Tips for Tie-Dye Care & Future Washings

  1. It’s a good idea to wash recently tie-dyed fabric alone or with other recently tie-dyed items to make sure that the colors are set and won’t discolor other items in the wash. 
  2. Turn tie-dyed items inside out before washing them to keep the colors from bleeding.
  3. After you’ve washed the tie-dyed items a few times in hot water, switch to washing them on a delicate setting with cold water.
  4. After drying the tie-dyed items a few times on a high-heat setting, switch to drying them on low or medium heat, or, better yet, hang them up to air dry.

Do You Have To Wash Shirts Before Tie-Dye?

You don’t have to wash shirts before you tie-dye, but it is a good idea. Washing and drying your shirts before you tie-dye them helps to remove any residue on the shirt and shrink it to size.

If you skip pre-washing your shirts, the dye may not adhere properly or look as vibrant.

Sizing is a solution that is added to fabric to aid in adding body to the fabric, resist stains, and help to make stain removal easier during laundering. It is also added to fabrics in order to make ironing easier.

Fabric finishes can refer to any of a number of processes that are applied to a piece of fabric to alter its function or appearance.

A fabric finish might include acid wash, colorfastness, deodorizing, distressing, embroidery, flame retardant finish, garment dyeing, or lightfastness, among numerous other finishes. 

Prewashing the fabric before applying the tie-dye is the best way to safeguard against creating weird effects that may result from combining tie-dye with fabric sizings or finishes. 

What Temperature Should I Wash My Tie-Dye Shirt?

Prewash the shirt to be tie-dyed in hot water. The first few times you wash your tie-dyed shirt, it should also be washed in hot water. All future washes can be done with cold water. 

Can You Wash Tie-Dye Without Rinsing?

You should definitely rinse your tie-dye before washing it. Sticking a tie-dyed shirt in the washer without rinsing it first is just asking for a big mess. 

Do You Rinse Tie-Dye in Hot or Cold Water?

Cold water stops the dye reaction, so you’ll want to thoroughly rinse the tie-dyed item in cold water before washing it.

Many people will first rinse the item in cold water until the water runs clear, then switch to warm water, then wash the item in the washer in hot water.

How Long Should Tie-Dye Sit Before Rinsing?

Most tie-dyed items should sit for anywhere from 8-24 hours before rinsing.

While it can be tempting to want to untie your item to see your design, it’s best to wait the full amount of time before doing so in order to let the dye soak into the fabric.

Can You Put Tie-Dye in the Washing Machine?

You can indeed put tie-dye in the washing machine, and it is actually recommended to launder your tie-dye in a washing machine on a hot setting in order to help the colors set.

Many people are afraid of tie-dye staining their washing machine, but there is a simple process of cleaning your washing machine after washing tie-dyed items.

  1. Pour 1 cup of bleach into your washing machine.
  2. Put your washing machine on its hottest setting. This setting might be labeled “Whites” or “Cottons.” Newer machines may have a “Clean Washer” option. Select this option if it is available to you. 
  3. After running the washing machine through this cycle, use paper towels to wipe the inside of the drum. If dye comes off on the paper towel, you will need to repeat this process. 

Can You Wash Tie-Dye With Other Clothes?

You can wash tie-dye with other clothes, but it’s a good idea to keep tie-dyed items separate for the first few washes to keep the colors from bleeding onto your other clothes.

How Many Tie-Dye Shirts Can You Wash at a Time?

It’s best to wash freshly tie-dyed shirts alone or with a few other tie-dyed shirts. If you have a standard-size washing machine, you can wash a few tie-dye shirts on a small load setting. 

For a medium load, you can wash about half a washing machine drum’s worth of shirts (around 17 shirts).

A large load can hold around 25 shirts; fill the drum to ¾ of the way full.

An extra-large load can be completely full of shirts (around 35 shirts for a washer that holds 15 pounds), but it should not be overpacked, and there should be room for the shirts to tumble freely.

Why Did My Tie-Dye Wash Out?

The reason for tie-dye colors washing out could be one of three things:

Trying to Dye the Wrong Kinds of Fabric

If you try to tie-dye a synthetic fabric, such as polyester, acetate, or acrylic, the dye will not adhere.

Fabrics That Are Good for Tie-DyeingFabrics That Don’t Work Well With Tie-Dye
  • Cotton
  • Silk
  • Rayon
  • Denim
  • Hemp
  • Bamboo
  • Wool
  • Muslin
  • Fleece
  • Linen
  • Polyester
  • Felt
  • Nylon
  • Poly-blends
  • Faux fur
  • Acetate
  • Acrylic

Skipping the Soda Ash

If you skip using a fixative like soda ash before tie-dyeing, that can also lead to the colors washing out.

Soda ash is the common name for sodium carbonate and causes the dye to react with and bond to the fabric. Soda ash is also known as washing soda and can be purchased easily in stores and online.

To use soda ash in the tie-dyeing process, you can mix it with the dye itself at a 1:1 ratio.

You can also soak the fabric to be dyed in a soda ash bath. Mix 1 pound of soda ash with 2 gallons of water, and let the fabric soak for at least half an hour. Then fold and dye the fabric. 

Using Old Dye

Tie-dye does have an expiration date, so another possible explanation to tie-dye colors washing out is that the dye is simply too old.

If you’re not sure how old your dye is, you can test the dye on a small piece of cellulose fabric, such as cotton or hemp.

Soak the rag in a soda ash mixture, then put it in a plastic bag. Add the tie-dye to the fabric and seal the bag.

Allow the dye to sit for 20 minutes, then put the bag in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, being sure to remove the bag when it steams up but before it gets too hot or explodes. 

Be careful removing the bag from the microwave as the plastic can quickly become too hot to touch.

Wait a few minutes for the contents to cool, and then remove the fabric from the bag and run it under cold water until the water runs clear. Then run hot water over the fabric.

If the color is bright, the dye is good to use. If the color is washed out, it might be time to buy new tie-dye.

Do You Need Vinegar To Tie-Dye?

You don’t need to use vinegar to tie-dye, and in fact, it won’t do much, if anything at all, to help to set the colors. Using a commercial dye fixative is a much better option for setting your tie-dye colors. 

How Does Vinegar Stop Colors From Bleeding?

Vinegar is made up of acetic acid and water, making it an acidic substance.

Many people mistakenly believe that vinegar’s acidic nature causes it to function as a mordant (such as alum), which binds dyes to fabric.

However, vinegar is not a mordant and serves instead to lower pH levels. When pH levels are lowered, the protein fibers in fabrics such as wool or silk ionize and allow the fabric to form hydrogen bonds with the dyes. 

Do You Use Detergent When Washing Tie-Dye for the First Time?

Use a small amount of a high-quality, color-safe detergent when you are washing your tie-dyed items for the first time. 

Surface tension is the tendency of unmoving liquid to decrease in size to the smallest possible surface area.

Surface tension is what causes water molecules to stick together and what allows more dense objects to float on water.

Laundry detergent helps to decrease surface tension which makes it easier for chemicals to dissolve in the water, allowing the dye to bond to the fabric.

Wrapping It Up

One of the easiest ways to ensure that your tie-dye comes out looking crisp and vibrant is to properly wash it after dyeing.

Be sure to thoroughly rinse your tie-dyed item in cold water before sticking it in the washer and washing it in hot water.

Dry the tie-dyed item on high heat, and repeat this process for the next few wash sessions. For all future washes, wash in cold water and dry on low or medium heat or air dry your tie-dyed items. 

Prewashing your fabric before dyeing it can help to remove sizing and finishes. If you don’t prewash the fabric, when you go to apply tie-dye, it might not adhere well to the fabric.

To keep tie-dye in tip-top shape, wash recently tie-dyed items alone or with other tie-dyed items the first few times. You can also turn tie-dyed clothing inside out to keep the colors from bleeding. 

The idea that vinegar can function as a mordant is more of an old wives’ tale than anything; vinegar won’t really do anything to help to set your colors. 

Allow your tie-dyed items to sit for 8-24 hours before rinsing them to ensure the brightest designs. 

If your tie-dye washed out, check that you aren’t trying to dye a fabric such as polyester, which the dye can just roll right off of.

You will also want to make sure that the dye isn’t expired, and make sure to use soda ash during the tie-dyeing process.



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