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August 04, 2015

Everything You Wanted to Know About Dyeing, But Were Afraid to Ask

Hello all! Jillian here! Some of you may know me from my blog, ReFashionista where I transform thrift store castoffs from frumpy to fabulous.  🙂


Hey! It’s me!

Before we even get started with the subject matter at hand, let me just say how stoked (Yes, stoked) I am to be blogging here at The Good Life! Anyone who knows me knows I’m huge fan of Goodwill…both their stores and the awesome work they do in our community.  🙂

But enough of that. It’s time to talk about dyeing.

No no no! Not THIS!

Get those morbid thoughts out of your head!

Get those morbid thoughts out of your head!

But this!

Taste the Rainbow (actually don’t…dye is pretty toxic)!

Taste the Rainbow (actually don’t…dye is pretty toxic)!

One of my favorite tricks for making an old garment look new again is to dye it. I usually do this in my washing machine. Instructions on how to dye vary by brand, but if you follow them, you can end up with some pretty great results.




I get lots of questions about dyeing my thrifted finds.  Let’s address some of them, shall we?

Q:  I see you dye a lot of stuff in your washing machine.  Doesn’t that stain it? How do I clean it out?

A:  Don’t worry! You’re safe!

The washing machine method is indeed my fave, and I have yet to stain one (my current landlord is resting easy right now)!  The instructions on the bottle (or box if you choose) tell you what to do.  Once you’re done dyeing/rinsing your future refash, just run the machine on its hottest/fullest setting with detergent and bleach.  If some of the dye got on the lid of the machine, just wipe it off with a paper towel and household cleaning spray.  BAM!  Done!  🙂

It'll come out, I swear!

It’ll come out, I swear!

Q:  How do I know what color I’m going to end up with?

A:  You really don’t.

Well…not entirely.  A lot depends on the fabric.  Natural fibers, like cotton take to dye really well, whereas synthetic fibers like polyester or rayon barely take dye at all.

To get something to take on as much color as possible, make sure you’re dyeing it with as hot of water is safe for the fabric and try to make the dye bath as long as possible (at least 1 hour).

You’ll never be able to dye a pink polyester dress black, but you might be able to get it to turn a purple hue.  So play around a little!  Mix & Match!  Surprise yourself!

Or, if you’re feeling less adventurous, RIT has made a Color Formula Guide just for you! 🙂

Q:  Will dye cover up stains?

A. Sadly, no.  :/  

As you can see in the pic below, dye usually just makes them stick out even more, as they usually end up darker than the the rest of the fabric.



Q:  What other dyeing methods should I give a try?

A:  Omigosh…the sky’s the limit, folks!

You could try a funky jar dye, like Erica over at Recycled Fashion.  Or, you could do a fun dip dye!  If your worried about the toxicity of artificial dye, you could try a much safer tea dye.

I hope this post inspires you to give dye a try! It’s a terrific way to revamp and customize your wardrobe.

Do you have a question I didn’t answer in my post?  If so, just leave it in the comments below and I’ll get right back to ya!




  1. How do you use Rit dye in a HE washer? I used to dye all the time in my old washing machine, but now that I’m all fancy, I can’t figure out how to do it. Seems like there isn’t enough water in an HE washer to dye. is that right?

    • You have to wait until it’s started the main cycle, then put the dye in through the detergent drawer and put another quart of water through the drawer -and use one of the loooong programs

    • Hainerd is right! I’ve had limited experiences with “fancy” washers as I’ve always owned top loaders. The main thing is to make sure there’s enough water to throroughly saturate the garment and that it’s getting agitated enough to spread the dye evenly. 🙂

    • I dye in my HE washer all the time. Pouring it in through the detergent holder didn’t work for me — it was too much liquid and all ran out the side! So now I just pour it right in the barrel of the machine, let the machine fill partway with water and do an initial spin , then pause it and add the garment. As long as the garment is thoroughly wet before it goes in, I haven’t had any trouble with uneven dyeing.

  2. I know you say “as hot as is safe for your fabric”, but I’m always afraid if I try to dye a shirt, for example, it will shrink in the hot water and then won’t fit. Any thoughts?

    • You DO run a risk of shrinking your clothes in hot water, BUT you lessen the risk if you don’t put the garment in the dryer. You can usually stretch the item out a bit while it’s damp too.

  3. I found a damaged kilim rug roadside that I want to recycle into pillows. The effect I want is an overdyed magenta which I think will make the kilim pattern pop. What would be the best dye brand for this and method?

    • I’m a big fan of Rit Dye. They have a nice wine hue that would give you the color you’re wanting. I would use multiple bottles to make sure you get the saturation you’re going for.

      • If it’s a large rug, go ahead a rough cut it to smaller shapes and fold duct tape tightly over the edges. Dye them with hot water in the bottom of a plastic tote and rinse with a hand-held shower or garden hose instead of trying to shove he heavy rugs into a washer. Sandwich the pieces between old towels or blankets, roll and jump all over to squish out the excess water, then drape to finish drying. I’ve dyed a lot of heavy military tarps this way and it works like a dream – saves me from wearing out my washer and dryer!

  4. will dyed fabric always bleed? Can you ever wash the dyed clothes with normal laundry?

    • As long as your rinse the item thoroughly it shouldn’t bleed.

      I also wash all of my clothes in cold water, which helps too.

  5. I have a pair of pants I’ve been procrastinating on dying because I just don’t feel like the instructions are clear. If the garment says wash cold, can I dye it in hot? Yikes. But my big question is, what cycle do I put it on to keep it in there for a long time? Do I let fill and then stop the cycle? That confuses me.

    • What is the fiber content?

      To answer your second question, keep an eye on your washing machine and reset the cycle several times before the dye water drains out.

      • I finally pulled them out to look at the tag. They are cotton with 4% spandex.

        Btw I just scored a chico’s skirt that was originally $180 brand new with tags still on them for $5 at goodwill!!

  6. When you dye synthetic fabrics do they hold the color after numerous washings?

  7. My machine is a top loader, so once I have the item in with the dye, I let it agitate a minute or two, then prop the lid open with something so it will stop agitating. Every 15 min or so, I go back and close the lid so it will agitate a minute or so, then prop it back open. I keep doing this until I’m sure the item is dyed enough. Hope this helps!

    • That’s a good idea! I always just an eye on my machine so the water doesn’t drain out, but your method is really clever!

  8. I have dyed items like white cotton towels brown and I was very happy with the color after, but sadly as I washed them the dye washed out and now they are a yucky unnamed colour… Is there anyway to make the dye stick? I followed the directions….

    • Did you add salt to the dye bath? That helps it set. Adding a cup of vinegar can help too. 🙂

  9. I was thrilled to discover that Rit Dye will give you the formula for mixing ANY
    color you want for free! You can find all the colors in the spectrum on the Pantone website, then just give Rit the number of the color you are trying to recreate.

  10. Thanks Jillian! I have been following your blog for a while now and I’ve acquired quite a collection of clothing (and scraps) to create with! I have gotten lots of great comments on my creations!

    I’ve been wanting to start dyeing but have been leary to. This post is bookmarked and will be often referred to!! =D

  11. So glad to find you regularly blogging again. Good will is lucky to have you!!!!

  12. I learned the hard way that you can’t put multiple items in the machine at once and expect them all to take on a nice deep hue. It’s like there’s a set amount of color to go around, and it’ll either soak deeply into one item or more lightly on several items. If you want something to get deeply saturated, make sure it’s the only thing you’re dyeing. I also attempted to dye a couple of shirts with navy blue once, but they only came out pale lavender…and then I found the $5 bill stuck to the inside of the machine. That cotton paper REALLY absorbs dye very well, and that’s where it all went. The bank people laughed at me when I went to exchange it.

    • So funny!

  13. Do you ever have dye rub off your clothes? I had a pair of cheap jeans once that left a blue haze on a white sofa. Oops!

    • I took off a purple dress recently and found my white bra to be purple also!!

  14. Loved this post! <3