How do you set dye after tie-dyeing?
When I was just starting with tie-dye, I remember that I was really wondering about how to properly set the dye after you’re just done dyeing your shirt. We tested a lot of things to discover the secrets behind the batching process, as it is also called. In fact, the shirt typically needs to cure for a period of time for the dye to react fully and to achieve great colors.
The usual recommendation is to wait from a few hours, to overnight, to up to 24 hours. We tested each option and even more and we found surprising results. You can definitely dye your shirt and let it sit there for just a few hours, and you don’t even need to cover it with plastic! We also found that leaving it to batch for too long could cause some adverse effects and that leaving it for too little time can result in paler colors.
First let’s cover the typical recommendation of overnight or about 8 hours of curing time for the dye. During this period of time, you leave the shirt as it was when you finished dyeing it, you leave the dye on the shirt for the full 8 hours. What will happen when you open up and rinse the shirt is that the colors are strong and appear very good! The curing process happens gradually with time, as long as the dye is in contact with water, soda ash, and natural fibers.
What normally happens in my experience is that you always are in a hurry to open up your tie-dye project faster than you should and I would say my average time is just a few hours at most. Personally I quite like leaving for 2 hours, the colors will not be as bright, but they will still be plenty strong. After a lot of testing we came up with special tricks that can help you not only in achieving the perfect result each time, but also by speeding up the curing process!
How long should I let my tie-dye sit for?
Can you leave your tie-dye overnight? Yes! It works just fine, and is the preferred method for beginners. It removes all the guessing about how long to let the dye set for. You can be carefree by thinking that you will go to sleep and the next morning you can wake up with anticipation to go rinse your shirt.
We absolutely recommend that you use this method if you are a new tie-dye artist and also if you are experienced and just want to remove any worrying from the equation. As we discovered, somewhere around 8h, which is about the time it takes to sleep, is plenty enough for the dye to react in a large enough proportion so the color is strong and good-looking.
As it turns out, if you take or add a few hours to the 8 hours recommendation, you are left with a result that is very similar. Leaving the shirt to cure for 10 hours, will have a very small difference that you cannot really see. Up to a certain point, which is about 24 hours, you will achieve the maximum reaction from the dye. At this point, the shirt should start to dry and the dye to stop reacting. Most of the dye in contact with the shirt will have reacted and the colors will be close to maximum strength.
Can you let tie-dye sit too long?
You definitely can let the tie-dye sit for too long, and it can leave you with very unpleasant effects that can ruin your tie-dye creation. We have lived this a lot at our workshop where we would forget a shirt for a few days or we were waiting to test it out. What we found is that you definitely should consider rinsing the shirt before it is too late.
What we found is that up to 24 hours is a relatively safe time, and that over that is a risk you will take. We have seen shirts that have been curing for too long and they tend to make patches of extra dark color, leaving spots that do not fit with the rest of the pattern and look out of place. We definitely recommend that you rinse the shirt overnight but not much more than that! If you’ve forgotten your tie-dye project for a day it’s not a big deal, but do not leave them for the whole weekend, you risk staining the shirt.
We now know that leaving the shirt to batch for too long may have consequences. It will impact the way the dyeing process occurs. Maybe we could find a way to control this process and use it in useful ways?
We have talked about the average length of time you should let the dye sit for, which is overnight, and we also saw how you shouldn’t let you tie-dye sit for too long. What if we tried to let the shirt sit for less time? Could we speed up the process of curing and be able to rinse the shirt quicker?
How can I speed up the curing process?
We have been interested in technology that can help us increase the capacity of production for a long time. As a tie-dye business that relies on producing many tie-dye t-shirts and other apparel and every advantage can help us. We searched far and wide for an answer to the question and have came up with interesting information.
As it turns out, there is a way to speed up the curing process of the dye. The way the tie-dye process is happening, the solution of dye, soda ash, and water is reacting with the fibers of the fabric. This reaction needs a minimum temperature to work correctly. The dyes we use are very particular in the universe of fabric dyes, because they can react even at room temperature. The thing is, while they work at low temperature, they work even better at higher temperatures.
The most reliable way of curing the tie-dye faster is to increase the temperature to make the reaction happen more quickly. We found that the best way to achieve a higher temperature for a period of time is to simply use a space heater. Other people tell you that you can put the shirt in the microwave, the only problem is that you shouldn’t use a microwave that you use for food. Now we definitely recommend a great deal of safety if you are going to use anything that makes heat!
Our favorite way of batching the shirt quicker and the way we personally used in our workshop is to use a an incubation module, which is temperature-controlled by a small space heater with temperature control. We do not recommend everybody do this, only if you are an expert and you follow all the required safety precautions. Definitely never leave an heating appliance unsupervised, be it a microwave or a heater!
Do I need to cover my tie-dye after dyeing it?
You have probably heard the same thing as we have. People are always showing you that you need to cover the shirt in plastic to let it cure properly, but is that really necessary? If you are like us, you do not want to add an unnecessary and messy step to your tie-dyeing process if you don’t have to! We made the test and we discovered a shocking truth about how to set the dye.
Soon after we started tie-dyeing we were already suspicious of the old rule of wrapping the shirt in plastic or aluminum foil. We heard it everywhere, but nobody seemed to explain why. What they told us is that it helps in keeping the shirt wet and helping the dye react with the shirt for longer. What we found is that you do not need to cover your tie-dye after dyeing it.
What we discovered is that, in the time it takes for the dye to react, the shirt does not even have time to dry out. It seems that the dye reacts way more quickly than the shirt has time to dry out. Let’s say the shirt was completely dried out, the dye would not be able to color it anymore, the thing is that it can take a long time for the shirt to dry if you leave it at room temperature all bunched up and tied.
The fact is, the shirt can take two to three days to dry out completely. Like we have seen earlier is that we do not even want the dye to stay for that long on the shirt anyway. So our conclusion is that for most uses you absolutely do not need plastic wrap, foil, or any type of container to keep the moisture in the shirt. It is especially not useful because of the way the tie-dye is evolving towards quicker and shorter batching times.
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We are Samuel and Francis. About two years ago we bought our first tools and supplies for tie-dyeing. Ever since then we’ve been learning the skills of folding and dyeing in intricate ways. We’ve learned from our experiences on the field about what techniques works and what doesn’t. This is the site were we share everything we’ve learned.
Samuel and Francis
We are the sole owners of this site, we live in Canada where we work everyday on making tie-dye more accessible to everyone. We are always looking forward to teaching you something new.