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How To Tie-Dye a Colored Shirt – 3 Simple Techniques

When you think of tie-dye, what usually comes to mind is bright, swirling patterns against a crisp, white background.

Using white fabric is the typical choice for creating tie-dye patterns, and for good reason! Tie-dye tends to show up at its brightest and most colorful against light colored backgrounds.

Can you tie-dye a colored shirt? You can indeed tie-dye a colored shirt! Tie-dyeing a colored shirt is a fairly straightforward process that can have remarkable results. You can reverse tie-dye, bleach and then dye the bleached portions, or tie-dye a light shirt with the usual technique.

This article will teach you all that you need to know in order to tie-dye a colored shirt, including 3 simple tie-dyeing methods as well as tips for best practices when tie-dyeing colored fabric. 

3 Methods for Tie-Dyeing a Colored Shirt

The best way to create vibrant colors when tie-dyeing a colored shirt is by using discharge dyeing methods. Discharge dyeing is the process of removing dye through the use of chemicals or bleach.

This process is used in tie-dye as well as the Japanese art of shibori and in stenciling and block-printing textiles.   

Reverse Tie-Dye

Reverse tie-dye is a popular tie-dyeing technique that works great on darker colored fabrics. Use this technique when you want to create a lighter pattern against a darker background.

How To Do It

Be sure to wear protective gear when handling bleach, as it is corrosive.

To reverse tie-dye, you will need to first tie your shirt into your desired pattern, then apply bleach either with a spray bottle or poured over the fabric.

You can use your gloved hands to spread the bleach around. Any area that isn’t tied tightly will be bleached. 

Allow the bleach to soak into the fabric for 15 minutes or until the bleached areas begin to turn an orangish color, and then rinse it thoroughly under cold running water. 

You can then soak the fabric in a neutralizing bath in a washer drum full of water mixed with Anti-chlor or 3% hydrogen peroxide.

The neutralizing bath will prevent the bleach from reacting with and damaging the fabric.  

Wash the fabric immediately after the bath and dry as usual, and voilà, you’ll have your very own radical looking reverse tie-dye design!

Bleach & Re-Dye

Bleaching and then re-dyeing your dark colored shirt is a good technique to use when you want to keep the dark background of the fabric and create a bright and colorful design. 

I’d recommend using a reliable dye, like Tulip, to ensure deep color penetration and excellent contrast against the dark material.

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How To Do It

Follow the steps outlined in the reverse tie-dyeing process.

After you have allowed the bleach to soak into the shirt for 15 minutes, rinse the fabric under cold running water. Then wring the fabric out, and let it dry until it is slightly damp. 

Put a disposable tablecloth or a drop cloth down and lay the shirt flat. Then carefully apply the dye.

Pay attention to what colors you choose to put next to each other; blues and oranges can quickly combine to create a muddy brown color.

Turn the shirt over and make sure that the dye has soaked through to that side. If it hasn’t, simply apply more dye to the lighter areas. 

Put the shirt in a zipper plastic bag and let it sit for at least 8 hours. The longer you let the shirt sit, the more time the dye will have to soak into the fabric and the brighter the colors will be.

Rinse the shirt thoroughly under cold water until the water runs clear. Then wash the shirt either by itself or with other recently tie-dyed items with hot water and regular detergent.

Dry on high heat and your shirt should be ready to wear!

Tie-Dye a Light-Colored Shirt

You can always apply tie-dye directly to a lighter colored shirt without applying bleach beforehand. This technique can be used when you want to avoid the use of caustic chemicals.

How To Do It

You will want to wash your light-colored shirt before tie-dyeing it. When your shirt is slightly damp, use rubber bands or kite string to tie your desired pattern into the fabric.

Mix the tie-dye and apply it directly to the shirt. In general, darker colors will show up better on any kind of colored fabric, including fabric that is light in color.

Put the tie-dyed shirt in a bag and let it sit for at least 8 hours. Then follow the rinsing, washing, and drying instructions as outlined in the bleach and re-dye procedure.

3 Tips for Tie-Dyeing a Colored Shirt

There are a few simple steps that you can follow that will help you to get the best results when tie-dyeing a colored shirt. 

Pre-wash the Fabric

Pre-washing the fabric helps by removing sizings and finishes that were applied at the factory that can affect how well the dye sticks to the shirt. 

Use a Neutralizing Bath When Bleaching

While many people tend to skip this step, it can help to keep bleach from damaging the fabric.

If you’ve ever leaned up against a countertop after cleaning it with a bleach spray, then you know the damage that just a little bit of bleach can do to a shirt.

The longer bleach sits on fabric, the more likely it is to eat through the fibers. 

Use the Right Colors for the Shade of Fabric

If your fabric is a lighter color, darker colored dyes will show up better than lighter colored dyes.

You can also use fabric paints on darker fabrics, keeping in mind that they may need to be heat set after application.

Keep color theory in mind when tie-dyeing colored fabric: if you use a light blue dye on a pink shirt, for example, you might end up with a light purple color once the dye sets in. 

Related Questions: 

Can You Tie-Dye a Shirt With Print on It?

You can tie-dye a shirt with a print on it. Dyeing printed fabrics is called overdyeing, and it is important to remember that the tie-dye can mix with the color of the printed fabric to create a new color.

Can You Tie-Dye With Regular Fabric Dye?

Tie-dye is a fabric-reactive dye that is designed to bond to cellulose fabrics.
As long as the type of fabric dye you use is made to react to the fabric that you are dyeing, you can use it to create intriguing tie-dye patterns. 

For best results, use a high-quality name-brand dye, like this one.

Tulip One-Step 5 Color Tie-Dye Kits Ultimate, 1.5oz
  • The dyes are permanent and color-fast, so they won't fade in the wash, and since they're mixable,...
  • Kit includes: purple, fuchsia, turquoise, lime, yellow dyes.


When you have a basic understanding of color theory, it is easy to tie-dye colored shirts.

You can use the reverse tie-dye process, bleach and re-dye the shirt, or apply tie-dye directly to a lighter colored shirt to produce amazing results!

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