While cotton is the most common fabric to tie-dye, you might want to dye something that is made of something else. Depending on what you have in mind, that might not be such a good idea.
There are, in fact, many different kinds of fabric that can be dyed. There are also some fabrics that cannot be dyed using conventional tie-dye methods.
In this post, I’ll tell you what fabrics you can tie-dye and what fabrics you cannot.
- How Tie-dye Works
- Best Fabric for Tie-dye
- Cellulose Fibers
- Protein Fibers
- Synthetic Fibers
- Can you Tie-dye Fabric Blends?
Whether you’re dyeing you own garments or you’re planning on selling your tie-dye products, using the proper fabric is essential.
When talking about fabric, we really are talking about the fibers that compose the garment. The dyes we use in tie-dye only work on certain types of fibers.
Tie-dye is best practised on natural fabrics rather than synthetic fabrics.
How Tie-dye Works
For tie-dye, we use what are called “fiber-reactive dyes.” They are the only dyes able to color fabric at room temperature.
They’re the best dyes for tie-dye because of their ease of use, safety, and price.
Fiber-reactive dyes are only effective on fabrics made of natural fibers. Cellulose fibers (plant-based) and protein fibers (animal products) are suitable for tie-dye.
In the presence of soda ash and water, dye and fiber react together to form a permanent connection. This process works best at temperatures of 70°F or more and requires at least 8 hours for a complete reaction.
Best Fabric for Tie-dye
Fabrics differ in their price, availability, durability, and comfort.
You can tie-dye all natural fabrics, but some of them are more appropriate than others. They share the common characteristic of taking color well.
Cotton is by far the best choice for tie-dye. It takes dye superbly, is cheap, and is highly durable.
The most common blanks used are plain white cotton t-shirts. Look for 100% cotton fabric when buying blank clothes for tie-dye. Bonus points if the cotton is thick and heavy, making it more absorbent.
What’s more, cotton clothing is easy to get and more sustainable than polyester and other synthetics. Check the tag to make sure the composition is right. We have links to cotton blanks of all kinds on our supplies page.
Interestingly, most plant-based fabrics can be used for tie-dye. Their fibers are composed mainly of cellulose, with trace amounts of other components.
It’s the cellulose that gets dyed in the tie-dye process.
All fabrics made of cellulose can be dyed at room temperature using fiber-reactive dyes and tie-dye methods.
This category includes fibers that come from plants. Some, like the cotton shrub, produce balls of fibers that are harvested before being processed. Others, like hemp fibers, come from the plant’s stalk.
Fiber Comparison Table
Can you tie-dye Cotton?
Yes, cotton is ideal for tie-dye. It dyes well and holds color permanently. Using fiber-reactive dyes on cotton gives you beautiful, deep colors that won’t fade.
Cotton is soft and comfortable. It is highly breathable and cheap to buy. It’s also absorbent, which helps in dyeing.
Some of the cotton fabrics you can tie-dye include jersey, denim, canvas, flannel, corduroy, muslin, and terry.
It doesn’t matter the size or the shape of the fabric. Any garment will work as long as it’s made of cotton.
Can you tie-dye Rayon?
Yes, you can tie-dye rayon with normal tie-dye methods and supplies. Rayon is a semi-synthetic, pure cellulose fiber made from purified wood pulp.
Rayon has the advantage of being made of 100% cellulose, compared to cotton’s 90%. Dyeing rayon will result in slightly deeper colors. It is the best fabric to achieve true, perfect colors.
Unfortunately, rayon also has disadvantages. When wet, rayon becomes pretty weak. It’s easy to damage garments made of rayon when folding them, especially if you’re using tools.
Rayon is cheap and comfortable, but is generally harder to obtain than cotton. Because of its durability issues, it is used less frequently than cotton.
Other names for this fabric are viscose, tencel, and modal.
Can you tie-dye Hemp?
Yes, you can tie-dye fabrics and garments made of hemp fiber. It is a good choice if you’re looking for a highly durable piece of clothing.
The main disadvantages of hemp are its higher cost and the fact that it contains only about 70% cellulose. Dyeing hemp results in slightly less intense colors.
On the other hand, hemp is one of the strongest and most resistant natural fiber. It can take a beating without a problem and becomes softer and more comfortable as you wear it.
Protein fibers come from animals. Most protein fibers are in the form of animal wool, fur, or hair. The exception is silk, which comes from insects and is also a protein fiber.
Despite their different origins, all types of wool and silk can be dyed in a similar way. All animal fibers are composed of the same building blocks.
Can you tie-dye Wool?
Wool fibers are commonly made from the hair of sheep. Other popular types of wool are alpaca, angora, cashmere, mohair, and vicuna.
Yes, you can tie-dye wool, but it requires a different method. Unlike cellulose fibers, wool actually requires an acidic pH to react with the dye. It also requires more heat to set.
Dyeing wool will require that you use citric acid instead of soda ash. You’ll also need to set the dye by either boiling the wool in a dyepot or by steaming the wool after application.
Just about any animal hair fibers can be dyed using this method.
Can you tie-dye Silk?
Yes, you can tie-dye silk the same way you would cotton. Silk is versatile and can be dyed with regular tie-dye methods.
Silk is more sensitive to alkaline pH, so it’s best to not let the soda ash solution sit on the fabric too long. Your best bet is to increase the temperature to set the dye faster.
Synthetic fibers are made from petroleum products. Polyester, nylon, acrylic, and most other synthetic fibers actually are forms of plastic.
They are formed into thin, long filaments that are then woven to create fabrics. Because of their chemical composition, they cannot be dyed using the regular tie-dye method.
Synthetic fibers require the use of specialized dyes and much higher temperatures. They cannot be dyed at room temperature.
They might look like they’re absorbing the dye, but all the colors will wash out instantly when rinsing.
Can you tie-dye Polyester?
No, you cannot tie-dye polyester fabric at home. Its hydrophobic nature requires the use of specialized dyes.
Disperse dyes are used to dye polyester, but require very high temperatures of 100 °C to 130 °C in order for the color to set.
While it could be possible to fold, dye, and then set the garment, it would require specialized equipment and is outside the scope of home dyeing.
Can you tie-dye Nylon?
No, you cannot tie-dye nylon using regular tie-dye supplies and methods. Nylon requires the use of either acid dyes or disperse dyes and high temperatures.
Can you tie-dye Acrylic?
No, you cannot tie-dye acrylic using regular tie-dye methods. Acrylic can be dyed with either disperse dyes or basic dyes at high temperatures.
Can you tie-dye Spandex?
No, you cannot tie-dye spandex using regular tie-dye supplies. While you cannot tie-dye spandex itself, you will be fine tie-dyeing an item containing only a small percentage of spandex.
Can you Tie-dye Fabric Blends?
Yes, you can tie-dye fabric blends. Either natural blends, or natural/synthetic blends can be tie-dyed at home.
Keep in mind that the synthetic fibers will not get dyed during the process. The color will only stick to the natural fibers.
A 50/50 blend of cotton and polyester, for example, only half of the fibers will retain the color. Meaning that the result will appear faded.
I recommend only dyeing 100% natural fabric, but if you don’t have the choice, it’s fine to tie-dye blends, but make sure to have at least 50% natural fibers.