Skip to Content

How to Use Soda Ash for Tie-Dye

Do you want to learn how to use soda ash for tie-dye? If so, you have come to the right place! This blog post will discuss everything you need to know about using soda ash for tie-dye. You learn what it is, how it works, and how much soda ash you need.

We will also provide a step-by-step guide on how to make a soda ash solution for tie-dying. So, whether you are a beginner or an experienced dyer, this tutorial is for you!

6 folded tie dye shirts in a variety of rainbow colors

What is Soda Ash?

Soda ash is a common household chemical, also known as sodium carbonate. It’s used in many industries, such as glassmaking, detergent manufacturing, and paper production.

When it comes to tie-dyeing, soda ash prepares the fibers of your fabric to better absorb the dye.

In other words, soda ash makes the dye stick to the fabric, which is why it is an essential ingredient in tie-dyeing.

How Does Soda Ash Work?

Soda ash works by raising the pH level of the dye bath. Soda ash makes the solution more basic – in other words, less acidic.

The increased pH level activates the molecules of the fabric so that they can better absorb the dye. This results in brighter and longer-lasting colors.

Note: The soda ash method is used with fiber-reactive dyes like Procion MX dyes and Tulip One-Step dyes. Soda ash won’t help all-purpose dyes like Rit dyes become more colorfast. I always recommend using fiber-reactive dyes for tie-dye.

How Much Soda Ash Do I Need?

The amount of soda ash you need will vary depending on how much water you are using – not the amount of fabric or dye.

Generally speaking, you will need about one cup of soda ash per gallon of water. One gallon of soda ash solution is enough to pre-soak ten t-shirts.

Use this chart to know how much soda ash you need to make a soda ash pre-soak for tie-dye.

Soda AshWater
1 cup1 gallon
1/2 cup1/2 gallon
1/4 cup1 quart
2 tablespoons1 pint
1 tablespoon1 cup

Where can I buy soda ash?

You can find soda ash online at dye supplies such as Dharma Trading. You can also find it on Amazon under the Jacquard and Tulip brands.

You can sometimes find soda ash at the grocery store in the laundry aisle, although it’s becoming less and less common.

3 pairs of tie dye socks bundled in rubber bands on a wire rack

How to Use Soda Ash for Tie Dye

Now that you know what soda ash is and how it works, let’s get down to business! In this section, we will provide a step-by-step guide on how to use soda ash for tie-dye.

Important: The soda ash solution is mildly caustic, and can irritate your skin. When working with soda ash, wear gloves and eye protection. If soda ash gets on your skin, rinse it off immediately.

Materials

Here are the materials you’ll need to tie-dye with soda ash.

  • Large bucket or bowl. Choose a container that’s large enough to fit the solution and the fabric items that you’ll be soaking.
  • Soda Ash. You can find soda ash online.
  • Warm water. You’ll want the water to be warm, but not too hot. Aim for a temperature around 96°F (35°C).
  • Dye powder

If you don’t have any of the supplies listed above, you can also buy a tie-dye kit online or at your local craft store.

Step One: Make the Soda Ash Solution

First, mix the soda ash solution.

  1. To a large bucket, add 1 gallon of warm water.
  2. Then, add 1 cup of soda ash.
  3. Stir to dissolve.

Step 2: Pre-soak the Fabric

Then, prepare your fabric. To do this, you will need to soak it in a solution of water and soda ash.

  1. Add the pre-washed fabric items to the bucket with the soda ash solution.
  2. Soak the items for 15 minutes.
  3. While wearing gloves, remove the items from the bucket. Wring out the excess soda ash solution.

Now you can continue with folding or tying the fabric items to create your tie-dye pattern.

Can I Add Soda Ash to the Dye Instead?

Some people prefer to add the soda ash to the dye solution itself, instead of making a separate soda ash pre-soak.

(In fact, this is one of the main selling points of the Tulip One-Step tie-dye kits. They come formulated with soda ash already in the dye power.)

To add soda ash to the dye solution:

  1. To each squeeze bottle, add 1 cup of warm water.
  2. Then, add 1 tablespoon of soda ash and 2-3 teaspoons of dye powder (depending on the color and your desired color intensity.)
  3. Cap the bottles, and shake until completely dissolved.

The upside to this method is that you don’t have to pre-soak the fabric items in the soda ash solution.

The downside to this method is that it starts the dye reaction as soon as you add the soda ash. Once the dye reaction starts, you only have a few hours before all of the dye reacts, and the dye stops working.

You can’t store dye once it’s been mixed with soda ash because it stops working after a few hours.

white t shirt with a rainbow spiral tie dye design

What If I Don’t Have Soda Ash?

If you don’t have soda ash, you may try one of these soda ash substitutes. However, you should know that they won’t be as effective as soda ash, and will not produce the same results.

Using washing soda instead of soda ash

The type of “washing soda” sold in the laundry aisle is very similar to soda ash sold by dye suppliers. But washing soda is usually much weaker than soda ash. You’d need to use 2-3 times as much washing soda as you would soda ash.

In addition, most laundry “washing soda” has other additives in the mix that may interfere with the dyeing process. If you can, I’d recommend getting soda ash labeled for tie-dye.

Using baking soda instead of soda ash

Baking soda is another household chemical that’s similar to soda ash, but it’s even weaker. It won’t create a high enough pH level for the dye to react well with cotton or other plant fibers.

I forgot to use soda ash. What can I do?

If you forgot to pre-soak your fabric in a soda-ash solution before dying, you could use a soda ash solution after you’ve applied the dye.

With this method, the dye colors may run together a little more than expected – but it’s better than having them wash out completely in the first wash.

  1. Make a soda ash solution of 1 cup of soda ash in 1 gallon of warm water.
  2. Pour the soda ash solution onto the fabric bundle, while it’s still tied up in the rubber bands.
  3. Place the fabric bundle into a plastic bag, and let it sit in a warm place overnight. This will give the soda ash time to react, and give you the best chance at a successful result.

Note: The soda ash method applies to fiber-reactive dyes like Procion MX. Soda ash won’t help all-purpose dyes like Rit dyes become more colorfast.

More Tie Dye Tutorials

If you’d like to learn more about how to tie-dye, start with these related articles.

What’s Next?

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

Leave a comment: We 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. We love to see what you make!

Have questions? Join the Facebook Group!

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

Morgan Lockhart

Monday 5th of December 2022

If using the soda ash in the bottles do the shirts need to be damp still or can you use on a dry shirt after tying it! I’ve only ever done the soaking method before. Im trying to do a whole school class project so I thought having the soda ash in the bottles would be a better idea.

Sarah Stearns

Tuesday 6th of December 2022

Hi Morgan, I agree that the Tulip style dyes with everything in the bottle are the way to go.

As far as damp vs dry, it's more of a preference than a hard rule. But it's my experience that slightly damp shirts are easier to fold and give a better result. You can do dry shirts too, but expect more white space between the colors where the dyes don't penetrate.

Sherritta

Tuesday 25th of October 2022

I never intend on washing or getting wet the final project I’m working on. Do I still need soda ash?

Sarah Stearns

Tuesday 25th of October 2022

Will you still need to rinse out the excess dye though? If so, I would use soda ash for the brightest, most saturated colors.

John

Saturday 11th of June 2022

Aloha. After ringing out the shirts from the soda ash water,Do i rince the shirts out before dying? THANKS

Sarah Stearns

Tuesday 14th of June 2022

Nope, keep the soda ash solution on the fabric. After wringing out the excess, you can fold them and dye them straight away.