How to have Less White on Your Tie-dye

Having white in your pattern is not always a bad thing. Often, it can enhance the design and make other colors stand out.

But what if you don’t want to have any white on your tie-dye?

In this article I’ll explain how to achieve complete color saturation. I’ll show you how to prevent leaving white areas on your tie-dye shirt.

Why is There so Much White on my Tie-dye?

It’s quite common to have white in your patterns. White is the default color of the blanks we dye, after all. Any area of the fabric that doesn’t receive dye stays white.

Having white areas left over is almost always a result of poor dye penetration. It happens when you miss some areas of the fabric when dyeing.

You can leave white intentionally, to include it as a color in your pattern. But sometimes, you’d rather not have any white at all.

White areas can take many forms depending on the folding technique used. It can appear as lines, spots, patches, or other.

So, let’s see some reasons why you might leave white by mistake, and how to prevent it.

1. Use More Dye

This first trick might sound obvious, but it’s one that most newcomers struggle with. When you’re inexperienced, it’s not easy to know how much dye you should use.

Poor too little dye and you might leave undesired white areas or get colors that aren’t saturated enough.

If you don’t want to leave white on the shirt, pour more dye than you think is necessary. Pouring too much dye is not harmful, the excess simply runs off the shirt.

Keep in mind that all blanks need a different amount of dye based on the size and weight of the fabric.

You’ll know the fabric is completely soaked when dye starts dripping from the bottom. You may also notice dye starting to pool on top of the shirt once it’s full.

Be sure to flip the shirt over and dye the underside. Dyeing only the top will result in a lot of white in the final design.

2. Not too Dry

Fabric that’s too dry has a hard time soaking up dye. It makes it harder to fully saturate the fabric.

Dyeing a dry shirt will often result in white areas being left over in the final design. This is why it’s better to dampen the fabric first.

Take the shirt straight out of the washer. The spin cycle leaves fabric with the perfect amount of water. Alternatively, you can wet the shirt, then wring it out by hand before folding and dyeing.

If your shirt is already folded and has become too dry, you can spruce it up. With a spray bottle, mist the shirt all around until it reaches the right humidity.

You’ll know the shirt is too dry when dye beads up on the surface. The dye also has a hard time spreading in the fabric, both vertically and horizontally.

It’s harder to get good coverage on dry fabric, and it’s harder for the dye to penetrate deeply enough to reach the center.

It takes way more time and effort to tie-dye dry fabric and it’s prone to leaving you with white areas.

3. Not too Wet

Just like a dry shirt can make it harder to dye, fabric that’s too wet also can sabotage your results.

Make sure to wring out the shirt if it’s too wet. It should not be dripping, but only slightly damp. Taking the garment straight out of the washer after a wash cycle is a great way to get a perfect blank.

If the fabric is already saturated with water, then it cannot readily accept anymore liquid. Liquid dye has a hard time pushing through fabric that’s clogged with water.

If the shirt is too wet, you’re gonna have a hard time getting the dye to penetrate to the center. It’s bound to leave white areas.

You’ll know the shirt is too wet if the dye has a tendency to spread on the surface rather than going in. If you see dye pooling on top and clear water dripping from the bottom, then it’s good sign that you should have let the shirt dry up.

If you don’t want white areas, make sure to get the shirt to its optimal humidity level, which is slightly damp.

4. Dye Between the Folds

When you’re dyeing a shirt, it can be hard to reach every nook and cranny with dye.

A folded shirt is made up of many folds, small and large. It’s easy to overlook some areas and leave white behind.

If you don’t want to leave white, open up the shirt’s folds as you’re dyeing. Check for any spot you might have missed.

With your bottle’s nozzle, gloved hand, or with a tool, push apart the pleats and inspect them. Look for any signs of white fabric.

If you see any white, it means that the dye hasn’t penetrated deeply enough. Pour dye directly in the fold to saturate it with dye.

This often happens with large pleats, such as the exterior pleats of a spirals which are much taller than average.

Push the pleats enough so that you can see their center, which is the area most likely to evade coloration.

When folding, don’t bind your garment too tightly. If bound too tight, it’s much harder to push apart the pleats.

5. Pouring Dye in Successive Layers

A great way to dye that will give you the best results is to pour dye in a series of successive layers. This method helps achieve a better coverage and limits the amount of white areas left over.

Don’t pour all the dye in one go. Start by pouring a first layer to cover the area. Then wait a few seconds for the dye to soak into the fabric. Then, lay down a second layer of dye.

After dyeing the whole topside, inspect the fabric and check for areas where the color appears lighter. Those areas often need more dye to be completely saturated.

I always dye a first layer over all the sections, then go over each color a second time to make sure I get enough dye in the shirt.

By layering your dye applications, you can make sure that it goes straight down to the center of the fabric instead of spreading at the surface.

6. Use a Surfactant

Using a surfactant can help you dye even the most recalcitrant of fabric. With it, you can even dye a tightly bound and totally dry garment.

Use a surfactant to break the surface tension of water and makes the dye slide into hard to reach spots easier. Add in a few drops per bottle when mixing your dyes.

A common surfactant used in tie-dye is called calsolene oil, but you can also use other kinds.

It’s a product normally reserved for advanced patterns, and you don’t need to use it every time. You can get full color coverage without a surfactant.

The effect is noticeable, you’ll see the dye soak up easier. Be aware, that it also makes colors more homogeneous. It can also increase the mixing together of neighboring colors.

The end result of using a surfactant is less white areas in the final design.

You only need a few drops per bottle. Don’t use too much or the dye will be too “slippery” and have a hard time getting into the fabric.

7. Inspect the Shirt after Dyeing

When you’re done dyeing, you still have a chance to check the shirt and make sure everything looks alright.

If you notice areas that are too light compared to their surroundings, it might be because there is not enough dye to fully saturate the fabric. Fill in those areas if you think more dye is needed.

It helps to check the shirt under a new angle, you might notice white spots that didn’t get their share of color.

Go over your work and examine it carefully, checking for inconsistencies. Don’t hesitate to pour more dye if you suspect that your tie-dye needs more.

Now is your last chance to make a difference before you let the shirt set.

Take your time and go over between each pleat again if you need to. Often, it’s better to check twice in order to catch mistakes.

8. Don’t Bind too Tightly

Make sure not to bind the shirt too tight, as it can cause the fabric to be squished together. And fabric that is squished tight has trouble soaking up dye.

When binding the shirt, don’t put too much pressure on the fabric, keep it somewhat loose if you can. This way you let the dye flow easier into the fibers and it let’s you open up the pleats later to check if there’s any white in the middle.

If your dye has trouble passing through and going to the center, then you might leave some white areas behind even if you’re taking your time.

In general, this is more of a problem that happens with sinew and string rather than with rubber bands. But it can happen too if you use too many rubber bands.

Dye has trouble penetrating to the center when the fabric is held too tight. This can cause white areas and it takes longer to dye a shirt that has trouble soaking up dye.

9. Fill in the Blanks Afterward

If all else fails and you still have too much white left over in your design, then the only option is to try filling in the blanks afterward.

You’ve finished your tie-dye and now it’s rinsed and washed. If you don’t like that there’s white left over, then you can dye it a second time.

The easiest way to proceed is to give the whole shirt a light background color. But you need to be mindful of other colors you might change in the process.

This works better if you’re only using a single hue on the shirt. It might be different shades, but as long as it’s the same base color, you can add a lighter version to the whole shirt without problem.

You can also try spot dyeing, which is dyeing of the fabric manually rather than folding it.

This is not usually recommended, as it can be much harder to dye a shirt once it already has color on it. You need to be careful not to stain the other colors.

You can dye the shirt while it’s still open and try to fill in the blanks, but it’s really hard especially if the pattern is complicated.

Most of the time, it’s not worth it to fill in the blanks afterward, except if you can do a light background color on the whole shirt, which is easy.

10. Make your Pleats Smaller

A great way to control how much white you leave behind in your tie-dye is to make smaller pleats. Having small pleats makes it so the dye doesn’t have to travel as far to reach the center of the shirt.

If you can, make pleats that are one inch tall or less. Makes them all consistently with the same height and width for best results.

Fold the garment so the pleats are all distinct from each other. Large pleats that overhand on top of other, smaller pleats, make it difficult to saturate the shirt fully.

Making small pleats, you’ll see more of the fabric, it’s easier to spot where more dye might be needed. With tall pleats, on the other hand, it’s easy to overlook certain areas.

It takes some practice to be able to fold small pleats, but it’s well worth it in the long run. Take your time, practice often, and you’ll learn quickly.