10 Common Tie-dye Mistakes to Avoid

Knocked over bottle of dye, spilling its contents on white fabric.

We made a list of the most common mistakes you can make when starting out on your tie-dye journey. Most of these scenarios we have experienced ourselves. We are happy to prevent you from stepping in the same pitfalls we have.

1. Using the Wrong Fabric

One of the most common mistakes when starting out is to try and tie-dye any old shirt laying about. You don’t want to go through the efforts of tie-dyeing a shirt and see your efforts washed away.

Always make sure that the shirt contains a reasonable amount of cotton fibers or other natural fibers. You can see all the fabrics you can dye over here.

2. Not Using Enough Dye

Using too little dye on your shirt can leave you with white areas where the dye wasn’t able to penetrate. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the kind of results you expected.

Leaving white areas can actually bring life to your design by elevating the level of contrast. If you wish to completely saturate the area with color, be sure to squirt dye between the folds of the shirt and use enough dye to penetrate the center of the fabric.

3. Using the Wrong Dyes

The best dyes for our application are called “fiber-reactive dyes” and we use them for a reason. Not only are they economical and practical, they can be used reliably at room temperature.

Do not use all-purpose dyes. They do not nearly have the same coloring power. They can only dye your fabric at boiling temperatures. We have a full post on the best dyes to use for tie-dye.

While there are other dyes capable of dyeing fabric, they all have major drawbacks. Fiber-reactive dyes have a very important and unique characteristic that make perfect for tie-dye. Most other dyes are unsuitable and while not provide the results you deserve.

4. Spreading Dyes on Other Colors

This can either a good thing or a bad thing depending on the design you’re going for. Tie-dye uses a lot of contrasting colors, often using complementary colors right next to each other.

Be careful when squirting your dye so as to not mix the colors where you don’t want them to be mixed. While it can complement your design, mixing many colors will often result in a dull brown if you’re not careful.

5. Forgetting to Use Soda Ash

Another common mistake is forgetting to use soda ash as part of the tie-dye process. Without the addition of soda the environment won’t be alkaline enough for the dye-fabric reaction to take place.

Forgetting to use a dye fixer will impact the look of your shirt in a major since the dye won’t be able to react nearly as much. This often results in extremely pale colors and can ruin your project.

6. Not Preparing the Fabric

In order for the proper absorption of the dye solution, it is imperative that the fabric is void of any foreign residue. We always recommend washing any fabric you plan on using for your tie-dye project.

Washing your fabric is important for new shirts that have never been washed before. This is because suppliers will often use waxy compounds to protect the shirts after production.

These compounds can prevent the dye from penetrating fully in the fabric. Washing will eliminate all possibility of contamination with a foreign product.

7. Using Old, Exhausted dyes

If you’ve ever used an old bottle of dye that’s been sitting quietly on a shelf for a while you will know that dyes really do lose strength over time. This is especially true for dye solutions which contain soda ash.

We recommend using fresh dyes when possible. Using old, exhausted dyes will leave you with less than satisfactory results. Old dye solutions can often look fine to the naked eye, better to test them out on a piece of rag beforehand to make sure they still work.

8. Temperature too Cold

Make sure the room is at least 70ºF or above. While fiber-reactive dyes are able to react at room temperature in the presence of soda ash, they still need some warmth to properly function.

The higher the temperature, the quicker and stronger the reaction. Some people can have poor results when dyeing in winter because their room is too cold. It this is the case, try letting the dye sit for a longer amount of time.

9. Using Hard Water

Water from wells can dull out your colors. Heavily chlorinated water can also have a negative effect. You will often not have any problem using tap water, but something the culprit might be the one you least expect.

If you find your water suspicious you can test it for minerals and see whether your water is too hard. A solution to this problem involves either using filters to remove most of the minerals or to use pure water.

10. Using too Much Dye

This is very unlikely. Most often we tend not to use enough. Flooding the shirt with too much dye can result in wasted dye. The fabric has a saturation point over which it cannot accept any more water in its pores.

Pouring dye over and area that is already saturated will only waste your dye as it will flow away and into your tray.

11. Forgetting to Use Protection

While tie-dye is a pretty safe activity, there is a risk for spills and stains. This is why you should protect what you don’t want stained.

Use a plastic tablecloth to cover your work surface. Wear gloves to protect your hands from stains. Wear old clothes you don’t mind spilling dye on.

12. Not Letting the Dye Set Long Enough

A common reason for subpar results is not letting the shirt set long enough. Fiber-reactive dyes need a minimum amount of time to react properly.

After dyeing, let the dye set for at least 8 hours, up to 24 hours. You can leave the shirt overnight and rinse it in the morning.

13. Letting the Shirt Dry Out

If the shirt dries out, it can cause spots and stains. This can happen if you let the shirt set too long. High temperatures and low humidity will make the shirt dry out faster.

Don’t let the shirt set for more than 72 hours.

If you have problems with your shirt drying out, cover it with plastic or aluminum foil to trap in humidity. Alternatively, use urea in your dye mix to prevent the shirt from drying out.

14. Not Rinsing the Shirt Properly

Rinsing is a necessary step, but it can lead to staining if not done properly. This is one of the most common reason for staining.

Always start rinsing your tie-dye in cold water. Rinse it well enough so the water runs clear. Avoid pressing and squeezing the fabric until most of the excess dye is gone.

15. Not Shaking your Dyes Enough

Not shaking your dye bottles well enough can cause the dye powder to form clumps. This can obstruct your nozzle and also can deposit concentrated dye clumps on the shirt.

Vigorously shake your dye bottles for a few seconds. Leave it for a few minutes, then shake again. Look at the underside of your bottle. If you see dye powder still on the bottom, shake it again.