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How to Ice Dye – Easy DIY Tutorial

Learn how to ice dye t-shirts, sweatshirts, and denim with this easy ice tie-dying tutorial. I’ll walk you through the whole ice dying process with step-by-step photos and lots of tips and tricks.

overhead photo of two ice dyed t shirts in pink and purple

Ice dying is a cool variation on the traditional tie-dying technique that creates stunning watercolor designs. Instead of liquid dye and squeeze bottles, ice-dyers use powdered dye sprinkled over a pile of ice cubes to make magical patterns on previously plain white tees.

In some ways, ice dying is even easier than traditional tie-dying! You don’t have to worry about complicated folding – the ice does all the work. Plus, it’s super easy to clean up when you’re done!

How to Ice Dye

Tie-dying with ice is super fun and easy to do. In short, here’s how to ice dye:

  1. To start, scrunch up your white shirt or jeans, and place them on a wire rack.  
  2. Pile a bunch of ice cubes on top of the fabric, and sprinkle powdered dye over the ice. 
  3.  As the ice melts, the dye powder mixes with the water to create beautiful organic patterns on your garments.
  4. After waiting for the dye to set, rinse out the garments. Then, wash and wear.

Don’t worry; I’ll go through all of the steps in more detail down below. We’ll cover how to prep, fold, dye, and wash ice-dyed garments

I’ll show you the best and brightest types of dye to buy, as well as all the other supplies you’ll need. Keep reading for a complete tutorial.

Ice Dye vs. Regular Tie Dye

Ice dying is slightly different from the classic style of tie-dye that you already know and love.  

While both tie-dye styles start with the same set of supplies – dye powder, white fabric, water/ice, and time – the methods are pretty different.  

With traditional tie-dye, you dissolve dye powder in water to create liquid dyes. Then, you use squeeze bottles to squirt the liquid dye onto folded and tied garments.

White ice dye, you don’t dissolve the dye powder. Instead, you sprinkle it over a layer of ice cubes on top of the folded garment. As the ice melts, it dissolves the dye powders and slowly saturates the fabric.

Each style of tie-dye gives a different look to the finished garment. Ice dye really excels in creating organic, mottled, watercolor designs.

close up of swirl ice dye design shirt in magenta and teal

Ice Dye Supplies

Before you can start ice dying, you’ll need to gather some supplies and materials. First and foremost, you’ll need the dye powder itself and some fabric to dye. Then, you’ll need to grab a bag of ice, some tools, and safety materials.

Here’s what you’ll need for this project:

  • fiber-reactive dye in assorted colors
  • fabric items, like shirts, socks, or sweatshirts
  • soda ash (you may or may not need this, depending on the type of dye you purchase)
  • Synthrapol, or another laundry detergent
  • bag of ice (you can even use snow!)
  • dish rack or cooling rack
  • washtub or storage bin
  • plastic gloves
  • dust mask
  • measuring cup
  • spoons
  • plastic table cloth or garbage bags (to protect your work surface)

The best type of dye for Ice Dying

The best type of dye to use for ice-dying projects is fiber reactive dye. Fiber reactive dye reacts with natural fibers in cold water to create permanent wash-fast bonds. This means it gives you brighter, longer-lasting colors that are easier to launder. Plus, in my opinion, it’s easier to use than other all-purpose dyes.

Types of fiber reactive dye.

Procion MX dyes: Fiber reactive dye is commonly called Procion MX. (Procion MX used to be a specific brand name, but now it is a common name.)

These professional-level dyes come in a brilliant array of colors and shades. They are colorfast permanent dyes that won’t fade even after repeated washings. They are relatively inexpensive, safe, and easy to use.  

You can find Procion dye kits from supplies like Jacquard or Dharma Trading Co.

Note: For best results, soak the shirt in a soda ash solution before dying with Procion dyes.

Tulip One-Step dyes: The Tulip brand kits use a one-step dyeing process that eliminates the need to pre-soak fabrics in soda ash. They don’t have the same color range as the professional Procion dyes, but you can’t beat their convenience.

Since you don’t need to make soda ash pre-soak, this type of dye is an excellent choice for the occasional tie-dyer, younger kids, and groups/parties. 

You can find Tulip dyes in kits with primary colors and some neons. Since you don’t need the squeeze bottles, you can save a bit of money by buying refill packs.

Color Splitting

One of the coolest things about ice dying with Procion Dyes is the potential to get some “color splitting” on your finished garment. Darker, muddier shades of dye – like browns, blacks, even navy – can split into their various component colors and give you shades you never expect.

Why does this happen? Well, Procion MX dyes come in a wide variety of hues – both pure colors and mixed colors. In a jar of pure color, all dye particles are the same. But, in jars of mixed colors, there is a mixture of different colored particles.  

These different colored particles can “split” during the melting process since they dissolve and flow at different rates. As a result, the finished garment will have beautiful variations in color, speckles of color, and a mottled watercolor look.

two shirts and four socks with pink and purple ice dye pattern

Things to Ice Dye

You can ice dye all sorts of items, as long as they are made from natural fabrics like cotton, linen, wool, and silk.  

When you look at the tag for the fiber content, you want a minimum of 80% natural fabrics. For example, an 80/20 cotton/polyester blend is acceptable, but a 50/50 cotton/poly blend is not recommended.

Here are some things to try:

Ice Tie Dye Tutorial

Safety Notes: Ice dying is generally an enjoyable and safe activity. But, since you’ll be working with fine powder, you should definitely wear a dust mask. Before we get started, here are a few safety tips.

  • Work outside or on a protected work surface.
  • Be sure to wear old clothes or an apron.
  • Wear gloves when working with soda ash.
  • Wear a dust mask when mixing soda ash or dye powders.

Step 1. Prep your supplies.

Prepping your fabric is one of the keys to getting an excellent ice dye result.

Pre-wash your garments or fabric with Synthrapol or another laundry detergent. Prewashing will remove any fabric softeners, oils, or sizing that may still be on the material from the manufacturing process. These substances prevent the dye from fully saturating the fabric, leading to a weak color payoff at the end.

Then, make the soda ash solution. Treating your fabric with soda ash will help your dye adhere to the material and keep it colorfast. 

Remember: You can skip the soda ash if you are using the Tulip One-Step dyes.

Wear your gloves and a dust mask for this step. Add 1 cup of soda ash into 1 gallon of water, and stir to dissolve. Add your garments, and let them soak for about 15 minutes. Remove them from the soda ash and wring out the excess solution. You want the fabric to be damp but not dripping wet.

Step 2. Prep your workspace.

You can work outside or inside, as long as you protect your workspace from spills and drips. Use a tablecloth or large garbage bag to protect your table from stains.

Then, place the cooling rack in or over the sides of the washtub. You want the rack to be raised off the bottom of the tub so that excess water can drain into the bottom. Depending on the size of your rack and tub, you can rest the rack across the sides of the tub or place balls of aluminum foil underneath the corners of the rack to keep it raised.

crumpled fabric set on a cooling rack over a clear plastic tub on a gray background

Step 3: Place the garment on the rack.

Scrunch up fabric, and place it on top of the rack. You can fold, tie, pleat, or scrunch the fabric to get different results.

The easiest way to ice dye is to use the scrunching technique, where you randomly crumple up the fabric and put it on the rack.  

Or, if you want to make a more complicated design, you can pleat the material in traditional tie-dye folding techniques. You could try a spiral pattern, accordion stripes, bullseye patterns, or even some of the shibori-inspired folding techniques. The more folds you make, the more varied your finished design will be. Totally up to you!

For more step-by-step folding instructions, check out this article: 17+ Tie Dye Patterns and Folding Techniques.

ice dye set up with ice cubes and white fabric over a cooling rack and clear plastic bin

 Step 4. Add the ice.

Next, add a layer of ice on top of the garments. You want to cover the fabric as completely as you can. Any areas without ice will likely stay white since they won’t receive any dye as the ice melts.  

You may have an easier time coving the entirety of the fabric if you use crushed ice (or snow, if you have some!)  

Note: Another way to help keep the ice on top of the garment is to make a tall “collar” of cardboard around the fabric. Cut the bottom out of a cardboard box, or bend a long strip of cardboard and secure it with duct tape or rubber bands. The cardboard will hold the ice in place as it starts to melt.

dye powder sprinkled over an ice dye set up over a cooling rack and clear plastic bin

Step 5. Add the dye.

Then, wearing your dust mask, use a spoon to sprinkle the dye powder over the ice.

You can sprinkle the colors around randomly, or you can place them in a more controlled pattern. Remember, as the ice melts, the various colors of dye will bleed together as they touch.

So, when you’re placing your colors, think back to art class and the color wheel to predict how colors will mix. The dyes will blend together where they meet. For example, if you sprinkle red dye next to yellow dye, you should expect some orange color on the final shirt.  

Another fun thing about ice dye is that some dye powders “split” into their component colors as the ice melts. Color splitting can create some really cool effects that remind me of watercolor painting.  

crumpled up t shirt with dark colors of dye

Step 6: Let the ice melt.

Once you’ve finished sprinkling the dye powders, it’s time to sit back and let the ice melt. Put the tub in a safe place where it won’t be disturbed, and let it sit for 24 hours. (The ice may melt faster than this, but the dye needs to process for 24 hours for the brightest colors.)

Step 7: Rinse and wash the garments. 

After 24 hours have passed, it’s time to rinse out the dye. At this point, the fabric might look pretty dark or muddy, but don’t worry. It will get lighter as your rinse it.

Rinse the garments under cool running water until the water runs clear. Then, put the newly dyed items through a complete washing machine cycle with Synthrapol detergent.

crumple dye ice dyed shirt in pink and purple colors

And there you have – a beautifully unique ice dyed garment! For extra insurance against color bleeding, wash your iced dyed clothes separately for the next couple of washes. After that, you can wash them with the rest of your laundry.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to ice dye?

Ice dye takes a minimum of 24 hours, but the vast majority of that time is hands-off. Most of the time is spent waiting for the ice to melt and the dye to cure.

How do you speed up ice dye?

Ice dye is a slower drying process since you must first wait for the ice to melt and then at least 6-8 hours for the dye to set. I recommend waiting up to 24 hours for the brightest, most saturated colors.

If you need to speed it up, you could put the ice set-up in a warmer spot so the ice melts faster. But be warned, the color splits and variation you get with ice dying are all due to the slow melting process.  

If you want a really quick tie-dye process, try traditional tie-dye shirts and process them with the 2-minute microwave method.

How much dye do you need for ice dyeing?

You can use as much or as little dye powder as you’d like. In general, I’d suggest using 1 teaspoon per yard of fabric. The more dye you use, the more saturated the colors will be. You can use less for pastel colors.

Can you ice dye without soda ash?

If you don’t want to order soda ash, you can try ice dying with Tulip One-Step Dye kits. These dyes are formulated with soda ash right in the mix.

Can you use liquid dye to ice dye?

No, I don’t recommend using liquid dye for ice dying since the liquid usually runs right through the layer of ice. In my experience, ice dye works best with powdered dye.  

If you try it, expect lighter, pastel colors and less variation in the finished design.

Can you use Rit dye for ice dying?

You could use Rit dye for ice dying, but it’s not my preferred type of dye. Rit dye is an all-purpose dye that sets best with heat. And since we’re using ice in this process, it’s not going to give the brightest result.

If you try it, expect lighter, pastel colors that may fade in the wash.

Can you ice dye with bleach?

Yes, you can experiment with ice dying with bleach crystals. You’ll want to set this up outside since the bleach fumes can be strong. Here are a few tips:

Start with a dark-colored shirt or sweatshirt. It’s a good idea to test a small, inconspicuous area of the shirt with a drop of bleach to see how fast the color lifts.

Sprinkle a teaspoon or two of bleach crystals over the ice. Vary the concentration in different spots, and leave some areas of ice without any bleach crystals at all.

Let the ice melt, and check the colors of the shirt. If you like the result, rinse it right away. If you want the colors to be lighter, you can let it process for a little longer. Keep an eye on it!

In a well-ventilated area, rinse well in cold water. For the first wash, run it through the washing machine by itself. After that, you can wash it with your regular laundry.

For more tips about how to bleach tie-dye, check out this post: How to Bleach Tie-Dye a Sweatshirt

two folded ice dye t shirts in pink, purples, and light blue

What’s Next?

Pin this post: Save this tutorial to your Pinterest boards, so you can come back to it later.

Leave a comment: I love to hear your feedback. Tell me in the comments below!

Share on Instagram or Facebook: When you make this project, share it on social media and tag me @sarahmaker. I love to see what you make!

Have questions? Join the Facebook Group!

I hope this tutorial was useful for you! If you have any additional questions, feel free to join my Facebook Group. I created this group for you to share your pictures, WIPs, ask questions, and help each other out.

pin image for how to ice dye 101
How to Ice Dye

How to Ice Dye

Yield: 1
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Active Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 1 day
Total Time: 1 day 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: 5

Learn how to ice dye t-shirts, sweatshirts, and denim with this easy ice tie-dying tutorial. I'll walk you through the whole ice dying process with step-by-step photos and lots of tips and tricks.

Tools

Instructions

  1. Prep your supplies. Pre-wash your garments or fabric with Synthrapol or another laundry detergent. Then, make the soda ash solution. Add 1 cup of soda ash into 1 gallon of water, and stir to dissolve. Add your garments, and let them soak for about 15 minutes. Remove them from the soda ash and wring out the excess solution.
  2. Prep your workspace. Use a tablecloth or large garbage bag to protect your table from stains. Then, place the cooling rack in or over the sides of the washtub.
  3. Scrunch up fabric, and place it on top of the rack.
  4. Add a layer of ice on top of the garments. You can make a tall “collar” of cardboard and put it around the fabric to help keep the ice on top of the garment.
  5. Wearing your dust mask, use a spoon to sprinkle the dye powder over the ice.
  6. Put the tub in a safe place where it won’t be disturbed, and let it sit for 24 hours.
  7. Rinse the garments under cool running water until the water runs clear. Then, put the newly dyed items through a complete washing machine cycle with Synthrapol detergent.

Notes

Safety notes:

  • Work outside or on a protected work surface.
  • Be sure to wear old clothes or an apron.
  • Wear gloves when working with soda ash.
  • Wear a dust mask when mixing soda ash or dye powders.

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