How to prepare dye bottles for tie-dye

How to prepare dye bottles for tie-dye

If you’re unsure how to prepare your dye solutions to complete your tie-dye project then you’re at the right place. In this post we’ll explore exactly how much water you need and how much dye you’ll use to get just the right color. We’ll tell you how to easily mix your dyes and much more. We’ll cover everything you need to know and leave you feeling much more confident about your dye mixing skills.

For a single medium shirt you will need one teaspoon (8g) of dye in one cup (250ml) of water to completely cover the fabric. If you’re using a tie-dye kit you will need to follow the instructions that come with it, normally you’ll need to fill the bottle near the top with water. You should use lukewarm water for better dilution. Always put the dye powder first in the bottle and then add water. Doing so will prevent clumping. Leave some space in the bottle so you can shake the solution for easy mixing.

How much dye do I need?

First, figure out what color strength you want to achieve on your garment. The more dye in the bottle, the stronger the color will be as a result. The normal amount to use is one teaspoon (8g) of dye in one cup (250ml) of water. This gives us a strong and bold color in the typical style of tie-dye.

StrengthDyeSoda ashWater
Pastel1/20 tsp (0.1g)1 tsp1 cup (250ml)
Soft1/8 tsp (1g)1 tsp1 cup (250ml)
Medium1/2 tsp (4g)1 tsp1 cup (250ml)
Strong1 tsp (8g)1 tsp1 cup (250ml)
Powerful2 tsp (16g)1 tsp1 cup (250ml)

How much water do I need?

Next we’ll figure out how much total dye solution you’ll need depending on the total number of shirts you plan on dyeing. This table uses a strong dye solution as default. For paler colors, calculate depending on the strength required.

WaterDye Powder# Adult T-Shirts
1 cup (250 ml)1 tsp1
2 cups (500 ml)2 tsp2
1 quart (1 L)4 tsp4
2 quart (2 L)8 tsp8

Soda ash in the bottles

In order for the dyes to react with the fabric you need to use soda ash or washing soda, the two are similar compounds that can be used interchangeably. We personally prefer washing soda because it’s safer to handle, but we will refer to soda ash as it is more commonly used. In any case, both work just fine for the purpose of elevating the pH in order to induce a reaction between the dye and the fabric.

We recommend that you put the soda ash directly in the bottles with the dye. You should put the same amount of soda ash as the amount of dye. For one teaspoon of dye you should also put one teaspoon of soda ash. There’s one thing to keep in mind when mixing the soda and dye this way. Having both in the same bottle will make the dye react with the water and will exhaust the dye over time. Solutions with both dye and soda will only stay good for a few hours.

How about using multiple colors?

The total amount of dye solution to prepare depends entirely on the project you plan on doing. How many shirts do you want to dye? How many colors will you use? If you plan on using two colors you will need two different bottles. Divide the total amount of dye solution needed between the two bottles. Let’s say you planned on dyeing one shirt, which requires 1 cup (250ml) of dye solution. You will then prepare 1/2 cup (125ml) of dye solution in each of the two bottles.

Prepare a bottle for each of the color you plan on using. Be careful not to run out of a particular color. Dyes can be finicky and not all colors react the same way on the fabric. For this reason you should try to prepare just a bit more of each color than you think you need. Certain designs might require a lot more of a particular color than others. If a design is 80% red and 20% yellow, then you should plan your solutions accordingly.

What if I run out of dye solution?

One of worse things that can happen when tie-dyeing is to run out of juice in the middle of your project. You thought you had everything under control, you planned your bottles right, you were careful not to spill any dye, but for some reason you didn’t have enough to finish the shirt.

Do not despair, there is hope for you. You have multiple options to consider. You can either finish the design with another color or you can try to reproduce the color you were using by preparing a new mix. If you want to make a new mix you should try to approximate the color to the best of your abilities. Use the same proportions of dye and water as you did previously and the new solution will be almost identical in shade.

If you made a new mix and you realize that it looks a bit different that the previous color, you might want to try again and adjust the dye proportions. Test your colors on a piece of fabric and see what it looks like before applying it to the shirt. If all else fails, you can use a different color to fill up the space or you can even cover up your mistakes with black dye.

What if I made too much dye solution?

Making too much is very common and can actually be a good thing. Other than spilling your dye, there is a tendency to overuse the dye on certain portions of the shirt and flooding the fabric. This can cause you to use much more dye than you anticipated. Having too much dye is rarely a bad thing. It most often means that you can use it on another dye project.

Let’s consider multiple scenarios. If your dye solution contains only water and dye, then you will be able to save it for a few days. If there is soda in your solution then the dye will exhaust in a matter of hours and needs to be used quickly. In any case, you can prolong the life of your dye solution by refrigerating it.

If all else fails, and you don’t have anymore shirts to dye you can dispose of your dyes. Although you should filter your dyes to remove as many dye particles as possible, a common approach is to simply dump the leftover dyes in the sink. You can further reduce the impact of your leftover dyes by exhausting them before disposing of them. Be sure not to dispose of them outside or in nature.

Making small mixes

A very effective way to test your colors is to make small batches of dye solution. You can make a smaller dye mix than what is recommended in our tables. You can make a very small sample-sized mix by simply adjusting your dye and water quantities. Let’s explore what you should do if you want to make a smaller mix.

Making a smaller mix can be difficult if you don’t have the proper equipment, as such we recommend that you use a digital scale to precisely measure your dye quantities. Start by calculating the necessary amount of solution you’ll make. Experiment by making a solution that is 1/10 of the regular volume. A normal solution that is 8g of dye and 250 ml of water would become 0.8g of dye and 25ml of water.

This is an ideal way to make test runs of colors. It doesn’t take much dye when making small mixes so you can spread out the fun over many experiments. You can mix your solutions in standard dye bottles or you can use smaller, needle tipped bottles to test out your mixes.

Making large dye batches

Just like you can make small dye preparations, you can easily make a large quantity of dye. You’re only limited by the size of your container and how much dye powder you have. Many commercial tie-dye studios will mix up large quantities of dye to be used throughout multiple days. Be sure to
refrigerate your solution to keep it fresh longer.

From the regular due solution tables, calculate how much dye you would like to prepare. Multiply the quantities of dye and water in an equal ratio to make a larger preparation. Be careful not to include soda ash, as it will exhaust the dye very rapidly, unless you plan on using all the dye shortly. Large preparations are best used over the span of multiple days, where
the large quantity of dye will save you precious time.

Will the dye go bad?

Dye powder, when properly stored will not go bad, at least not for a few years. Dye solutions, on the other hand can go bad rather quickly, depending on the additives it contains. A typical dye solution containing only water and dye will go bad after a few days at room temperature, extended up to a few weeks in the refrigerator.

Dye solutions containing soda ash will exhaust rapidly in a matter of hours. The dye can react with the water itself when the pH is sufficiently high. Refrigerating such a solution will prolong it’s life, but not for much longer. An exhausted dye will progressively lose it’s strength. It may not be obvious while still in the bottle, but an exhausted dye solution will leave you with poor results on the fabric.

Saturated dye solutions

There is an upper limit of dye you can put in a certain volume of water before it stops dissolving. The way to create such solutions is to first start out with a small pile of dye powder and slowly adding water droplet to it until you get a liquid consistency. You can choose to make very concentrated dyes this way without using much dye powder at all. Additionally, you can add additives to your solution such as soda ash and salt to increase its density and create a sort of dye paste.

Dye solution additives

Not only can you put soda ash in your bottles, you can also introduce a whole array of auxiliary chemicals, each with their own unique properties. The most common of which are sodium alginate and urea. You can add them to your dye solution to change it’s properties.

Adding alginate to your dye will give it a jelly-like consistency which prevents the dye from spreading as much and enhances flow control. Adding urea will help you dissolve a greater quantity of dye in a volume of water and will also help the shirt stay moist for longer, keeping it wet for the whole batching process.

There are questions about wether or not salt can improve the effects of fiver-reactive dyes. While you don’t strictly need it, some people report benefits when using in conjunction with immersion-dyeing where the salt is said to help the fabric attract the dye molecules. It’s not needed in most cases, but can be used to change the consistency of the dye solution or to create a dye paste.