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Can You Tie Dye Polyester? Read this First!

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Tie-dye is a timeless technique that adds a splash of color to shirts, hoodies, and more. But today, we’re here to answer a common question: Can you tie dye polyester? Well, let’s dive in and find out!

Understanding Polyester

Before we start mixing up our dyes, let’s talk about polyester. Polyester is a synthetic fiber made out of petroleum. It’s very popular – you’ll find it in everything from t-shirts to throw pillows to bed sheets.  

But when it comes to tie-dye, polyester doesn’t react the same way that natural fibers do. Why is that, you ask? Let’s dive a little deeper.

Challenges with Dyeing Polyester

Here’s the deal: Polyester is a bit of a challenge to dye, especially when compared to natural fibers. At a chemical level, polyester fabrics are hydrophobic. That means that they resist water – and by extension,  water-based tie-dyes. 

So, your regular cold-water tie-dye techniques that work so well on your cotton tee shirts? I’m sorry to say, they won’t be as effective on polyester.  Using fiber-reactive dyes on 100% polyester fabrics will result in dull, pale colors that wash out over time.

How to Get Tie-Dye to Stay on Polyester

But hey, it’s not all bad! With special dyes and the right techniques, you can still get some pretty impressive results on polyester fabric.

Polyester requires either heat or chemical treatments to open up its fibers enough to absorb the special disperse dyes used to color synthetics.

  1. Start by choosing a dye that’s specially designed for synthetic fabric, often called disperse dye. Rit DyeMore line is a popular choice, and we’ll talk more about that later.
  2. Next, you should know that polyester requires either heat or chemical treatments to be able to absorb dye. So, you’ll need to simmer your polyester item in a dye bath on the stove on high heat, at least 200°F. (Yes, you heard it right. You can’t use regular cold-water dyes on synthetic fabric).
  3. Rinse and wash according to the dye package instructions, and voila! Your tie-dyed masterpiece is ready.

Remember, regular cold-water tie-dye won’t work on polyester. So, you might not be able to create traditional tie-dye patterns like the rainbow spiral design or the crumple design.

But, this hot-water method can bring some fantastic results. Just always ensure you’re safe when handling hot water and dye!

Using Rit Dye on Polyester

Now, let’s talk about the special types of dye that work with polyester fabrics. Rit Dye is a classic in the dye world – but you can’t use the regular Rit line for polyester and expect great results.

Instead, you need to look for Rit’s DyeMore line, which is designed explicitly for synthetic materials like polyester, polyester-cotton blends, acrylic, and acetate. It’s also non-toxic and pretty easy to use at home.

If you can’t find that, you can also use iDye Poly from Jacquard, which is another dye designed for synthetic fabrics. In fact, you can use iDye Poly to dye plastics and nylons, buttons, frisbee discs, toys and wigs.

Better Fabrics and Dyes to Use Instead

Now, while you can definitely have some fun tie-dying polyester, natural fibers like cotton, silk, or linen generally take tie-dye better.

Natural fibers like cotton work best with a type of dye called fiber-reactive dye. These dyes are a popular choice for tie-dye enthusiasts due to their ease of use and vibrant results.  We love that you can use them in room temperature water, and that you don’t need to turn on the stove.

Our favorite brands of fiber-reactive dye include Tulip One-Step Tie Dye and Procion MX Tie-Dye from Jacquard.

Related Reading: The 12 Best Tie Dye Kits and Supplies

What about cotton-poly blends?

If you want to use fiber-reactive dyes, your best bet is to use 100% cotton fabric.  But if that’s hard to find, use a cotton-poly blend with the highest cotton percentage as possible. 

Why? The higher the percentage of polyester in your fabric, the more pastel-colored and uneven your dye will appear.

Whatever fabric you choose, always remember to rinse out excess dye and wash separately for the first few washes to prevent color bleed.

To Sum Up

So, can you tie-dye polyester? Absolutely! It might require a different approach than your regular tie-dye process, but don’t let that discourage you. With the right dye powders and the proper high-temp technique, you can still get bright colors on synthetic fabrics.

Learn More About Tie Dye

If you’d like to learn more about tie-dye, check out the following related articles.

Peggy Donald

Tuesday 27th of February 2024

I do hope you can help me..We are doing a hippie fest event for senior ladies....we need to tie dye 250 100% polyester napkins for this...since I had only used 100% cotton in the past ...but could only find 100% poly for the napkins...... I was told to get fiber reactive dye, which I did, but after dying some of the napkins, they were a beautiful color but were stiff so I rinsed them in cold water as someone suggested....but the color came right out....so my question is this....is there something I can add to the dye to hold the color.....so they can be used? And any suggestions on keeping them from being stiff? We could not find 100% cotton and have all these poly ones and are beginning to panic! Thank you for any help you can give.

Sarah Stearns

Wednesday 28th of February 2024

Unfortunately, the polyester fiber is the culprit here. The cold water fiber reactive dyes won't work. Instead, look into Rit’s DyeMore line, which is designed for synthetic materials like polyester.

Jen

Sunday 25th of June 2023

So my daughter is looking to upcycle a bed sheet by dyeing it before cutting it to make it into a dress. She really wants to use a tie dye type of design. I have no idea what the fiber content is (no tags) but it definitely has a bit of polyester in it since she’s already tried to bleach it with VERY subtle results. I thought instead of bleaching in any way, we’d instead add color patterns to the sheet. I understand that we’ll need to get the special dye for synthetics, but how would we be able to do this with any type of pattern and still get to 200 degrees? Would she rubber band/use string, then submerge? Would appreciate any suggestions! You have already posted the most complete information we could find, thank you.

Sarah Stearns

Sunday 25th of June 2023

Yes, you have the right idea. Since you need to basically boil the sheet in the dye solution, you'll want to use heat-safe materials that can withstand that temperature. Rubber bands might be okay in the hot water, but I'd suggest using cotton twine to tie up your design if possible. Here's a guide from Rit Dye about this techinique: https://www.ritdye.com/techniques/tie-dye/immersion-technique/