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Tie Dyeing Without Soda Ash – Here Is How To Do It

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Soda ash, or washing soda, is the common name for the inorganic compound sodium carbonate.

Soda ash has many different uses, including in the manufacturing of glass products, as a water softener and air purifier, as an ingredient in detergents and paper products, and in the tie-dying process.

Do you need soda ash for tie-dye?

While soda ash is an important component of the traditional tie-dying process, there are other options that will work. Baking soda, salt, or vinegar can be used in place of soda ash, or you can use alternative methods that don’t require soda ash, such as ice tie-dyeing and reverse tie-dying.

In the following you will learn why soda ash is used in traditional tie-dyeing methods as well as different ways of tie-dyeing without soda ash, and how to keep your tie-dye projects from bleeding.

Using Soda Ash To Tie-Dye

Soda ash is commonly used in tie-dyeing to help to set the colors and keep them from bleeding.

The Purpose of Soda Ash in Traditional Tie-Dye Methods

Soda ash is an alkaline substance that can be used to reduce the acidity levels in swimming pools by raising the pH of the water.

Similarly, in tie-dyeing soda ash changes the pH level of the tie-dye which helps it to adhere better to the fabric.

Basic Tie-Dye Process

  1. Fill a bowl with warm water. 
  2. Add the soda ash to the water at a ratio of 1 teaspoon soda ash to 1 cup water. Mix the soda ash and water well.
  3. Soak the fabric you intend to dye in the soda ash and water mixture until it is soaking wet. This can take up to half an hour. Cellulose fabric (such as cotton) works best for tie-dye.
  4. Remove the fabric from the soda ash mixture, and wring out the excess water.
  5. Fold the fabric using whatever pattern you desire, and tie it using rubber bands or kite string. 
  6. Apply the dye to the fabric. Squeeze bottles are a great way to apply the dye without making a mess.
  7. Put the bound-and-dyed fabric into a sealable plastic bag, and let it sit for at least 8 hours.
  8. Remove the fabric from the bag and rinse it thoroughly, letting the water run over the fabric until it is mostly clear.
  9. Soak the garment in a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water for aproximately 30 minutes. Rinse again in clean water and ring out the excess.
  10. Launder the fabric in your washer and dryer (alone) using normal settings.

What Happens If I Don’t Use Soda Ash?

If you don’t use soda ash when you tie-dye, the colors may run together, creating an unattractive blending of dyes, or it may result in an alluring happy accident, but results are not guaranteed!

Can You Tie-Dye Without Soda Ash?

You can indeed tie-dye without soda ash. There are several different methods of tie-dyeing without soda ash, but they are all simple and can be done with the use of basic household ingredients.

Soda Ash Alternatives for Tie-Dyeing

Most people don’t have soda ash laying around their house, but they do tend to have salt, ice, baking soda, vinegar, and bleach – all ingredients that can be used as alternatives to soda ash in the tie-dyeing process.

Reverse Tie-Dyeing

For reverse tie-dyeing you will need dark-colored shirts – black works best. You will also need bleach, rubber bands or string, disposable gloves, and tie-dye of course!

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Mix the bleach with water at a 1:1 ratio, and pour it into a spray or squirt bottle. 

It’s a good idea to cover your work surface with a disposable tablecloth, as tie-dyeing can get a little messy, especially if you are working with children.

With reverse tie-dyeing, there is no need to dampen the fabric before dyeing it. Fold the fabric into the pattern you like and tie it with the rubber bands or string.

Apply the bleach, and let it sit for 20 minutes or so until it has turned the fabric a light orangish color. Then take the rubber bands off and rinse the fabric.

You could be finished with the reverse tie-dye at this point, or you could continue on and add tie-dye color to the bleached areas. 

If you choose to add color, wring the fabric out so that it is slightly damp, then lay it out on a flat surface.

Apply the color carefully to the bleached areas; having a basic understanding of color mixing can help you to avoid creating a muddy mess here. 

Be sure to dye both sides of the fabric, then put it in a plastic bag for 6-8 hours. The longer it sits, the brighter the colors will be.

Afterward, rinse the dyed material, soak in vinegar solution if desired, and launder the fabric on normal settings.

Ice Tie-Dyeing

Tie-dyeing with ice creates a cool, crystalline design, and is super easy to do. Simply scrunch up your fabric and put it in a bowl. Then dump ice cubes on top of the fabric.

Sprinkle tie-dye on top of the ice, then set the bowl aside for an hour. Dump the bowl into a sink, rinse the fabric, and hang it up to dry.

Salt Tie-Dyeing

Salt may be used in place of soda ash – use 1 cup per gallon of water for the pre-soaking solution.

Alternatively, tie-dye as usual (without the soda ash), then rub sea salt all over the fabric. Wrap the fabric in plastic wrap and leave it alone for 6-8 hours.

Then remove the rubber bands, brush off the salt, and wash the fabric in warm water and dry on a low setting.

Baking Soda Tie-Dyeing

Put fabric in the washing machine along with half a cup of baking soda. Wash the fabric on hot and spin dry, then tie-dye as usual.

Allow the fabric to sit in a plastic bag for at least 48 hours, then rinse and launder as with the traditional tie-dyeing process.

Vinegar Tie-Dyeing

For delicate materials such as silk, soaking garments in vinegar rather than soda ash is the way to go.

This could also be used for any tie-dye project; however, the colors may not come out as vividly as you hoped – but cool nonetheless!

Simply soak garments in pure white vinegar for about 15 minutes before starting the dyeing process.

Related Questions:

What Happens If I Don’t Use Soda Ash?

If you don’t use soda ash as part of your tie-dyeing process, it’s not the end of the world.
The colors may not set into the fabric as well and may be more prone to bleeding, which can affect the vibrancy of the colors.
Soaking in vinegar after the first rinse may significantly help to set the colors.

How Do You Keep Tie-Dye From Bleeding?

Use cold water.
After removing tie-dyed fabric from the plastic bag or wrap, rinse the fabric until the water runs clear, then soak in a vinegar/water solution before washing.
Turn t-shirts inside out before the first wash.
Wash dyed fabrics separately from other clothing for the first few washes.

Wrapping It Up

While soda ash is traditionally used in tie-dyeing to set colors and keep them from bleeding, there are several alternative methods that can be employed to create intriguing tie-dye designs that maintain their vibrant colors.

Whether you try reverse tie-dyeing or use salt, ice, vinegar, or baking soda to tie-dye, you’re sure to come up with some unique patterns and have fun with the process!

By the way, if you’re not against using soda ash but can’t seem to find any locally, here’s how to make your own easily…

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