People always ask me how I’m able to keep the white parts of my tie-dye shirts so white, even though it’s right next to bold, vibrant colors.
The secret to keeping the white crisp and clean is to rinse your tie-dye with care so that back staining doesn’t happen.
In this post I’ll teach you all about keeping the white parts of your tie-dye brilliant and pure. You’ll learn how to rinse and dye your shirt so it doesn’t get discolored or stained.
How to Keep White Areas from Getting Stained
In tie-dye, white is the most fragile color. It can easily get stained before you know it. As with most things, prevention is better than cure.
The first step to ensure a clean white is to take great care when dyeing and rinsing your tie-dye.
Tie-dyeing a shirt in order to leave white in the design is only half of the battle. The other half is to keep it white until the shirt is washed and dried.
You should also be aware of how the dye spread when setting so you have an idea how much the color can encroach into the white sections.
1. Rinse Your Tie-dye Properly
The first, and most important consideration is the rinsing process. This is where you can sabotage all your hard earned work if you’re not careful.
It might be intimidating at first because of the risks, but rinsing is not that scary when you know how to do it.
The trick to rinsing your tie-dye properly is to always start with the coldest water possible. Rinse the shirt under cold running water from the faucet. This is best done in the sink or in a bathtub.
Keep the shirt folded at first and cleanse it thoroughly. Once that’s done, you can begin opening up the shirt under running water, while continuing the rinsing process.
The goal is to remove excess dye and to quickly dilute down any remaining soda ash.
As you may know, fiber-reactive dyes require three things in order to bind to the fabric. These are soda ash, heat, and time.
Rinsing with cold water takes care of the first two. Water washes out the soda ash and the cold water ensures that staining is minimized. Completing the process in an orderly manner takes care of the last element.
Just like a fire, dyes drenched in cold water don’t have any bite. We have a complete guide on how to rinse your tie-dye properly if you need more information.
2. Don’t Let the Shirt Set too Long
This advice may come as a surprise. Surely there is no harm in letting you tie-dye set for a few days? Well, there can be if you plan on keeping your white crisp and clean.
Letting your tie-dye set for longer than 24 hours introduces a risk of the dye spreading where it shouldn’t.
Letting the shirt sit for an extended period of time can cause the colors to mix unevenly or simply spread too much.
The more time you leave your shirt to set, the longer the dye has to spread through the fabric.
This is normally a good thing that helps ensure complete color saturation. But it can be damaging to your efforts if you’re trying to keep crisp white areas in your pattern.
Waiting too long can also cause some areas to dry up, which can leave you with patches of over saturated color.
If the shirt has time to dry up, dye particles can get deposited on the fabric and give you unwanted splotches of colors.
When in doubt, never leave your tie-dye longer than 24 hours before rinsing it.
3. Be Careful when Dyeing near Rubber Bands
This one may seem too obvious to be a real trick, but hear me out.
One of the most common reasons for color getting its way unto white areas is from dyeing mistakes. They can even happen under a watchful eye.
Of course, knocking over a bottle of dye can make quite a mess and douse your tie-dye. Dyeing mistakes can happen in a number of ways, some more subtle than others.
When pouring dye with your squeeze bottles, it’s often preferable to keep the nozzle near the fabric. It’s the best way to be precise when dyeing.
You need to be very careful when dyeing near rubber bands. A simple touch with your nozzle can send dye droplets flying everywhere.
This is, in fact, the most common way I still get unwanted stains, even after years of experience. Take your time when dyeing near elastic bands or you risk catapulting colors where they are not needed.
Alternatively, you can use other methods to bind your tie-dye such as string or sinew. Those are not springy and will not send dye flying after an accidental nudge.
4. Don’t leave the shirt bunched up
This one I’ve only had happen to me once. I was rinsing my tie-dye as usual when something came up which took my attention away.
I hurriedly left the shirt bunched up in my sink. A few hours later, I came back to finish rinsing it.
To my surprise, the shirt had developed a nasty stain where a white part of the fabric was in contact with a half rinsed section of the shirt.
By the time I came back, the stain was permanent and no amount of rinsing could remove it.
That day I learned to never leave a tie-dye shirt half rinsed. Otherwise it can cause white areas or even colored parts of the shirt to get stained.
Better to complete the rinsing process in one go if you can. If that’s not possible I found that leaving a half rinsed shirt submerged in cold water is a great way to prevent staining, even if you’re away for multiple hours.
5. Be Careful Moving the Shirt after Dyeing it
Once you’ve dyed a shirt, you need to be careful how you move it. Freshly dyed fabric has the power to stain and transfer color.
I’m not just talking about dropping the shirt, but any sort of manipulation you might need to do with the shirt.
After dyeing, you may need to move the shirt to another area to let it set. If possible, refrain from picking up the shirt by hand once it’s got dye on it.
When possible, always dye your tie-dye shirts on a backing rack or other support. That way, you can easily move the shirt once you’re done.
This advice also goes when flipping the shirt upside down when you need to dye the underside. Flipping it by hand works most of the time, but you need to be careful not to cross-contaminate the different colors.
Be mindful of not manipulating the shirt more than necessary. If a colored part of the shirt enters in contact with a white part, it might stain it.
6. Cover your Tie-dye
If you’re worried about staining your tie-dye or only parts of it, there’s way to protect it. An effective way to prevent spills and mistakes is to cover the parts that need to stay white.
Attach a plastic bag around the area of the shirt you’d like to stay white. Use rubber bands to secure it in place. You can also use aluminum foil, which doesn’t require rubber bands.
With a layer of waterproof material over it, the white areas will be well protected in case any mistake does happen.
Another reason to protect your shirt it if you live with multiple people in your house, or if you have pets.
Once you’re done dyeing, place your tie-dye in a plastic bag and leave it in an area where it won’t be disturbed while it sets.
While it’s not necessary to wrap your shirt up in plastic for the dye to react, it can help you protect it from external influences.
Can you Fix Stained White?
Sometimes, even if you try really hard, things can go wrong and white areas can get stained. But is there still hope for you when it happens?
Depending on what exactly happened, there are some things you can try.
If the stain is small or is light in color, you can try bleaching it carefully. This can reduce the intensity of small spots of color and make them almost unnoticeable.
Another trick you can try is to cover the stain with more dye. You can tie-dye you t-shirt again and make sure to cover the spot where the stain occurred. Use a darker color so that it hides it well.
If all else fails, you can always cover the area with black dye, which is able to cover any other color.