DIY Fabric Dying

Whether it’s faded black clothes or other drab linens, fabric dying at home in your own top loading washing machine is a great way to add some new life to old material.  Bed sheets, curtains, pillow cases, tote bags, clothes, shoes, you name it.  If it’s fabric you can probably dye it.  My mom used to do our clothes all the time.  It was like getting a whole new wardrobe!

What?  You’ve never tried??  It’s soooo easy!  As long as you know a few tips and tricks.

Click on the post for complete instructions!

First, chose fabrics that are cotton or some other natural fiber or blend.  Man made fibers will not hold the dye as well.  I’m going to work with some old cotton pillow cases from some throw cushions. They are kind of bleh.

Make sure to wash your fabric with a little detergent, but do not use fabric softener.  Do not dry the fabric before dying.

Get out your dye!  I chose a rich purple.  You can usually find Rit powdered dye at the grocery store or drug store around where the shoe polish is.  I found liquid Rit dye at Michaels craft store.  If you check the Michaels website, they almost always have a 40% off coupon you can print and use.

A few things to keep in mind;  if you want the colour to be very intense, you may want to use two boxes of powder, or just use the liquid (it’s more intense).  Especially if you are dying black.  Also, if you are dying your fabric a totally different colour then it is originally, be prepared for it to not turn out the exact colour of the dye.  I’m using purple dye on grey, dark blue, green and tan fabric.  I’m expecting them to turn out anywhere from purple to varying browns and I’m not even sure if the green will take as I think the pattern is screen printed on, but we’ll see!  To get the colour on the box or bottle, use fabric that is close to the same colour to begin with or white.  In reality though, it’s always a bit of a guess as to what the final outcome will be, so you need to be ok with that.

Here comes the dying part!

Using a super hot wash and medium fill wash, add the dye to the washing machine.  If you use a full fill wash, the dye bath will be less concentrated.  If you are using powder, be careful and open it over the washer… as the powder will be super messy if it gets on things!  Close the lid of the washer, let it completely fill and agitate for a few seconds to make sure the dye is all mixed up.

Stop the washer, open the lid … and proceed to the next step.  It already looks like an awesome colour and I don’t even have the pillow cases in yet!

Key point!  Make sure the fabric is still wet when you put it into the dye bath.  It needs to be wet so the dye will absorb evenly.  Dry fabric will give you blotchy results!

The longer the agitation cycle, the richer the colour.  If you want the colour to be very intense, before the washer starts to drain and rinse, set it back to go through the agitation cycle again and let it go through completion (rinse, spin etc).  Make sure the final rinse cycle is cold.

If you have used a dark colour dye, you may want to do an extra rinse and add 1/2 cup white vinegar to the rinse cycle.  Vinegar will help set the colour, keep it from running and act as a bit of a natural fabric softener.  The fabric will not smell like vinegar afterwards, I promise!  Hang or lay your fabric to dry.

Run a quick empty wash cycle through your machine with some detergent just to make sure there is no dye remaining in the tub.  You may also need to wipe down the inside of the lid and top of the wash basin.  I find the powder is messier then the liquid in this regard.  If you clean up properly, no one will ever know you dyed fabric in the machine.

Here are my results!

I think they turned out great!  I have to say, I am impressed with how vibrant the colour turned out (the photo doesn’t do it total justice!)  New life to some old pillows for only a couple dollars.

Rit also has a neat colour formula guide you can access on their website to help you create or mix that perfect shade.  They also have some further dying techniques if you are interested.

Look out Ikea sofa slipcover…. I’m coming for you next!

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  1. AZDonna says

    Very good ideas and your tutorials are WELL DONE….good for you! I found you through Pinterest….fabulous place to get ideas!

  2. says

    These looks lovely, thank you for the post! I’m curious to know if you ever did dye your Ikea couch slipcover? I’m thinking of doing that to a couch that I just bought. It has a white 100% cotton slipcover, but will be used in a church and cannot stay white or any light color!! I’ve never dyed anything before, and any tips on the ikea cover, specifically, would be so helpful!

    • says

      Hi there, actually, I did dye it! I did it a coral colour and it is awesome. Be sure the cover is clean and well rinsed and has not been washed recently with fabric softener. Then, just make sure the entire cover is wet, completely soaked. Let the washing machine fill with the hottest water possible, add the dye and close the lid. Let it agitate for a minute and then stop it. Add the slipcover and resume the cycle. I use the longest cycle setting on my washer, then, right before it empties for the first rinse, I start it agitating again, then let it finish the cycle, rinse etc. If it’s a really dark dye you are using, run the washer again on cold and add in a 1/2 cup of white vinegar. It will help set the colour and keep it from bleeding. Hope that helps you! Oh, and you can see the colour of the sofa slipcover I did, here…., from another post I did.

    • says

      Amber, that slipcover is a GORGEOUS coral!! Oh I could die…So lovely(as is that button-up pillow!) I’m actually sitting here waiting for the final cycle for my cushion covers to finish up. I’m shooting for a medium grey, and my first attempt at this was a pretty big fail…I diluted black dye for the 6lb slipcover base and it turned out way more purple than I would have expected. Now I’m trying 6 packets of grey dye with the 7lbs of cushion covers…I’ve running 3 cycles to agitate. It’ll probably be lighter than desired, but if it’s not a purple tint I’ll be happy! :)

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