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Safe Washing Guide for Tie Dye Clothing

September 18, 2019

How do you feel about tie-dye clothing? Did you know that they date back to Ancient China? It’s true—there are written records that show that they were used during the Tang Dynasty.

Bright and colorful, these types of garments peaked in popularity during the 1960s and 1970s. While it depends on the design, most include patterns such as spirals and mandalas. More recently, they’ve also been characterized with simple color schemes and motifs. If anything, more and more people are starting to see tie-dye as a form of art, rather than a commodity.

The Science Behind Tie-Dye Clothing

Tie-dye clothing is made with special dyes that are fiber-reactive. Ultimately, what this means is that they react with fabric molecules. To be more specific, the dye bonds with the fabric (cellulose fibers such as cotton, rayon, and linen works best) to become part of the garment. As a result, the colors will not fade even with multiple washings—that is, the tie-dye effect is permanent.

Tie Dying Your Own Shirt

One of the best things about tie-dye shirts is that you can easily make them at home. You just need two things—a tie-dye kit and a white t-shirt. As it is, you can find the former at most craft stores. Aside from that, everything else that you’ll need you probably already have at home (e.g. apron, protective gloves, ziplock bags, etc).

tie dye

Essentially, all you have to do is apply the dye to the shirt. Obviously, you’ll have to prepare it first according to the directions on the label. There are various techniques that you can use to add different patterns. Don’t hesitate to play with more than one color—it’ll give your shirt a more vibrant look. Once you’re finished dying, seal the shirt in a ziplock bag and let it sit overnight. Your shirt will be ready in the morning!

Keeping Your Tie-Dye Clothing Clean

Tie-dye clothing may be bright and colorful but at the end of the day, it’s still clothing. In other words, it will get dirty, just like any other shirt. Remember, most of these garments are made from cotton—a material that soaks up sweat. While this will keep you cool on hot days, it also means that the shirt itself will come into contact with sweat.

Leave it alone in a pile somewhere and it will start to smell. After all, this is sweat that we’re talking about. To make matters worse, it can attract bacteria, which can lead to somewhat of a hygienic issue. Given that, it only makes sense that you’d want to give them a good wash—this is especially true if you’ve exercised in the shirt.

making tie dye shir

The same thing goes for stains. They might not be as visible given the vibrant nature of tie-dye clothing, but that doesn’t mean that you can just ignore it. If anything, you want to wash it off as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to get rid of.

How to Wash Tie-Dye Clothing For the First Time

Can you wash tie-dye clothing like normal clothing? How can you prevent the dyes from fading? Are there certain products that you want to avoid? These are some of the things that we’ll be addressing below.

Are Tie-Dye Shirts Machine Washable?

For the most parts, you can treat your tie-dye shirt like any other shirt. In other words, it’s perfectly fine to put them in the washer. Unless you’re washing other tie-dye garments (ideally, you want to wash just a few at a time), however, you’ll want to wash it by itself—that way, you won’t have to worry about the transfer of colors, should the dyes bleed.

The first thing that you want to do is to rinse the shirt with cold water. In other words, don’t start the wash cycle right away. Instead, you want to fill the washer with cold water. Why? That will allow you to rinse out any loose dye that might be on the shirt. In doing so, you won’t have to worry about it loosing too much color at once.

machine washing tie dye shirts

Pro-tip: Always check the care tag label before you put your shirt in the washer. You never know if it has to be washed a certain way!

Once you’ve rinsed out the shirt, you’re ready to wash it. For the best results, place it in a mesh laundry bag—that will prevent it from being damaged in the machine. Keep in mind that there’s always a chance that the bag will become stained with dye. Place the shirt into the washer and select a delicate setting. Unlike regular items, you want to wash the tie-dye garment with hot water—that will help to “set” the colors.

The next step is to add the detergent. For the best results, you want to use something that contains synthrapol—it’s a special type of chemical that’s effective at rinsing excess dyes. Be sure to follow the directions on the label. The last thing that you want to do is to add too much—you’ll end up with something that’s way too sudsy!

Press start and wait for the washer to run. Check to see if your shirts look clean during the final rinse cycle. Ultimately, you want the water to be clear—that means that it’s done washing. If the water looks muddy, you might want to wash it again. It’s not uncommon for some tie-dye shirts to require more than one wash, especially if it’s new.

Finally, you want to air dry the shirt. Assuming that it’s made from cotton, it’s best not to put it in the dryer—the heat can cause the material to shrink. When in doubt, check the care tag label for drying instructions.

drying tie dye shirt

Washing Tie-Dye Shirts by Hand

Just because tie-dye shirts are machine washable, doesn’t mean that you have to use the machine. You can just as easily wash them in the sink! First things first, you want to rinse the shirt with cold water. To do this, simply place it under the faucet in the sink. The goal is to rinse out all of the excess dye—you can tell when you’re done by the color of the water (you want it to turn clear).

Once you’ve rinsed it out, fill a basin or tub with warm water; the heat will help set the remaining dye so that it will not transfer to other items. Add a small amount of laundry detergent and mix to create soap suds. Place your tie-dyed shirt into the basin and let it soak for at least 15 minutes (longer if necessary).

hand wash tie dye shirts

Afterwards, wash the shirt gently with your hand. Avoid rubbing the material as that can cause the dyes to run. From there, you want to let the shirt soak again. For the best results, refill the basin with clean water. Once you’ve done that, rinse the shirt with cold water. Do not twist or wring the shirt as that can harm the fabric.

Finally, set the shirt onto a flat surface. Consider covering the area with a piece of plastic wrap—that will help to prevent stains. Blot the garment gently with a towel to remove some of the excess moisture before allowing to dry naturally in a well-ventilated room. As mentioned earlier, you do not want to put it in the dryer.

Best Way to Remove Stains From a Tie-Dye Shirt

Stains should be treated as soon as possible. Unlike regular shirts, however, you want to be careful about the type of spot remover that you use—the wrong product can easily remove the stain and the dye! Ideally, you want to choose something that does not contain any bleach (just a little bit of it can ruin your shirt!).

Not sure what to use? Consider just using laundry detergent. Basically, what you want to do is to just spot-treat the stain. To do this, mix a bowl of warm water with a little bit of detergent. Using a soft-bristled brush, apply the solution onto the stain—make sure to saturate the entire area. Once you’ve done that, leave it alone for 20 minutes; that will allow the soap to lift the stain.

Afterwards, rinse the shirt with cold water. Check to see if the stain is removed. If it isn’t, repeat the steps again. If it’s gone, you can wash the shirt as normal.

Tips For Setting Tie-Dye on Clothing

Fading shouldn’t be a major issue if you’re using quality dye. With that said, you do want to set the colors. It’s easy—here’s how!

Using Vinegar

Fill the sink or a bucket with cool water. Add in 1-2 cups of white vinegar depending on the size of your item. It’s important that you don’t overfill. Once you’ve done that, swish the water—your goal is to mix it with the vinegar. Finally, place your tie-dye project in. Leave it in the sink and allow it to soak for at least 30 minutes—the longer the better. Take the garment out once the time is up. Rinse it with water and wash as normal.

Using Table Salt and Vinegar

Vinegar can also be used with salt. First things first, pour 1-2 cups of vinegar into a sink or bucket. Add a generous amount of table salt and mix everything with cool water. Submerge your tie-dye project and allow it to soak for at least 30 minutes—make sure that all of the fabric is immersed. Wash the garment as normal afterwards.

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