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How to Wash Tie-Dye So It Doesn’t Fade

If you’ve just made a cool tie-dye t-shirt and are wondering how to wash it the first time, you’re in luck! In this blog post, I’ll give you some tips on washing your tie-dyed items for the first time so that the colors stay bright and vibrant for years to come.

a variety of tie dye t-shirts in multiple bright colors

This summer, so many people are learning how to tie-dye some t-shirts. Spiral, rainbow, and even heart-shaped designs – tie-dye patterns are so much fun!

But how do you wash tie-dyed shirts the first time so that they stay bright and colorful?

Before you wash tie-dye for the first time, make sure you read this post – I’ll show you how to wash tie-dye the first time so that the colors don’t fade in the wash.

How to Wash Tie Dye

The key to getting vibrant colors that don’t wash out is twofold: setting the tie-dye long enough and washing it properly.

So, what’s the best way to wash tie-dye? 

Here are the steps to wash tie-dye for the first time:

  1. Rinse out the excess dye under cold running water.
  2. Take off the rubber bands, and keep rinsing until the water runs clear.
  3. Wash the tie-dyed items in the washing machine with hot water and Synthrapol detergent.
  4. Wash tie-dyed items separately for the first few wash cycles, so the colors don’t get muddied. After that, you can wash and dry them with your regular laundry.

Notice what I didn’t include? Vinegar. Some people recommend setting tie-dye with white vinegar or salt to keep colors bright, but that’s just not necessary. 

Read on to learn the best ways to wash tie-dye and keep your shirts looking bright and vibrant.

a photo collage showing how to fold a t-shirt with rubber bands and apply tie-dye in a nebula design.

Start with the right dye and fabrics.

First things first. The most important thing you can do to ensure your tie-dye doesn’t fade in the wash is to select high-quality, colorfast dyes.

When using cotton fabric, the best type of tie dye is fiber reactive dye. If you use them correctly, fiber-reactive dyes are permanent – they won’t fade, even after repeated washings.

I recommend two types of fiber reactive dye: Procion MX dyes and the Tulip One-Step Tie-Dye kits. For more info, check out our list of the best tie-dye kits.

Do I need a soda ash pre-soak? 

Soaking your fabric in a soda ash solution before dying can give you brighter, more saturated colors. When you’re working with Procion MX dyes, you’ll need to pre-soak your fabric in a soda ash solution before dying.

But, if you’re using the Tulip One-Step tie-dye kits, you don’t need a soda ash pre-soak. Tulip dyes are formulated with soda ash already in the dye powder, so you don’t need the separate pre-soak step.

To learn more about how to tie-dye for the best results, read this guide: How to Tie Dye – Easy Techniques for Beginners

Set the tie-dye.

The second most important step to keep your tie-dye colors from fading is to make sure you let the tie-dye “set” or “process” for long enough. The dye reaction needs time, heat, and water to create a permanent bond with the fabric.

How do you set tie-dye?

First, let the dye set on the fabric for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight. You can even let it sit longer, up to 24 hours. Longer setting times will result in brighter, stronger colors.

While it sets, make sure to keep the fabric warm enough – at least 70°F (21°C) for the best results. The dye reaction happens more quickly at warmer temperatures.

And finally, make sure to keep the dyed fabric damp while it sets. I usually put the dyed items in a plastic bag to keep them from drying out overnight.

For more information about setting tie-dye, read this article: How to Set Tie Dye.

How long should tie-dye sit before rinsing?

Let tie-dyed items sit for at least 8 hours, or up to 24 hours, at room temperature.

Does vinegar set tie-dye?

No, vinegar does not set tie-dye. It is not a dye fixative, and it will not help tie-dye from rinsing out in the wash.

tie dye t-shirt with a rainbow spiral design

Rinse out the excess dye.

After the tie-dye has set for at least 8-24 hours, you can start to rinse it out.

  1. Rinse the tie-dye bundle under cold running water in a utility sink. Or, you can place the tie-dyed items on your driveways and spray them with your hose. You’ll see some color coming out from your dyed fabric – this is just the extra dye.
  2. Then, remove the rubber bands or strings from your fabric. Continue rinsing until the water runs clear.
  3. You can try flipping the fabric and wringing out the fabric to ensure that you rinse out all the excess dye.

Tip: You may want to wear gloves so that the bright colors don’t stain your hands! If you do get some dye on your hands, don’t worry. Read this guide on how to get tie-dye off your hands.

Some color will rinse out. This is normal.

When you start rinsing, you’ll see some color coming out of your fabric. This is normal and to be expected.

What you’re seeing is all the excess dye that hasn’t bonded to the fabric. Most dyes need at least one long rinse in cool water (without detergent) followed by two washes in hot water (with detergent) to remove excess dye.

Washing Tie-Dye For the First Time

After you’ve rinsed the fabric, you can wash it for the first time. You can wash it by hand or in your washing machine.

  1. Wring out the excess water. Place the tie-dyed item in the washing machine by itself or with other tie-dyed items. (Wash similar colors together to avoid color bleeding.)
  2. Select the smallest load size, if applicable.
  3. Set the water temperature to hot.
  4. Add a small amount of Synthrapol or another dye-safe laundry detergent. (Don’t use any fabric softener.)
  5. Run the wash cycle.

What laundry detergent should I use to wash tie-dye?

It’s a good idea to use a special detergent, called Synthrapol, to wash out excess dye and prevent the dye colors from mixing. (Synthrapol doesn’t help set the dye – it just helps wash out the extra dye.)

Can you wash tie-dye shirts together?

Yes, you can wash similarly colored tie-dyed items together in the wash for the first time. I would wash all the light-colored shirts together and all the dark-colored shirts together to prevent muddying the colors.

Don’t wash tie-dye shirts for the first time with your regular laundry, though. Run the newly dyed items through at least two separate wash cycles before washing them with your other laundry.

Can you wash tie-dye in the washing machine?

Yes, you can wash tie-dye items for the first time in your washing machine. You may need to wash the tie-dyed garments separately for the first few washes. But after that, you’ll be safe to wash them with your regular laundry.

Do you wash tie-dye in hot or cold water?

Rinse tie-dye items in cold or cool water until the excess dye has been removed and the water runs clear. Then, wash the tie-dye items in hot water with Synthrapol or another dye-safe laundry detergent.

Drying Tie-Dye for the First Time

After all the excess dye has been rinsed out, and after you’ve washed the dyed item with detergent, you can dry it in the dryer.

Place the item in the dryer by itself or with other tie-dyed items, and dry on high.

Note: Items dyed with fiber-reactive dye don’t need to be “heat-set,” so you don’t have to dry them on high heat if you don’t want to. You can also line-dry them.

The next few times you wash tie-dye

I prefer to wash the tie-dyed garments separately for their first few washes. But after that, you’ll be safe to wash them with your regular laundry.

How to prevent tie-dye items from fading

After all that work folding and dying your tie-dye pattern, you’ll want to make sure your tie-garments stay looking their best. Here are a few tips to keep tie-dye items from fading.

  • Wash the tie-dyed items with similar colored clothing.
  • Turn tie-dye items inside out before washing.
  • Use a gentle laundry detergent.
  • Dry on low heat, or air dry.

More Tie Dye Tutorials

For even more information about tie-dye, check out the following articles:

What’s Next?

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white t shirt with a rainbow spiral tie dye design

How to Wash Tie Dye for the First Tme

Yield: 1
Active Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

How to wash tie-dye items for the first time so that they don't fade in the wash.

Materials

  • newly tie-dyed item
  • Synthrapol or another laundry detergent

Tools

  • utility sink or hose
  • washing machine

Instructions

  1. Rinse out the excess dye under cold running water.
  2. Take off the rubber bands, and keep rinsing until the water runs clear.
  3. Wash the tie-dyed items in the washing machine with hot water and Synthrapol detergent.
  4. Wash tie-dyed items separately for the first few wash cycles, so the colors don't get muddied.
  5. After that, you can wash and dry them with your regular laundry.

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