How To Use Soda Ash For Tie-dye (Presoak Vs Bottle Method)

Soda ash is a common household chemical used in laundry. Do not get it confused with baking soda, which is not alkaline enough to trigger the reaction.

Soda ash is an essential part of the tie-dye process. Also called dye fixer, it modulates the reaction between dye and fabric. Soda ash makes it possible to tie-dye at room temperature.

There are multiple ways to introduce soda ash. The two most popular are the bottle method and the bucket method. You only need to use one. Either add it to your dye or add it to the fabric.

Table of Contents

Bottle method – How to mix soda ash

Adding soda ash to your bottles is by far the more convenient way to mix your dyes. It is quicker than doing a soda bath and requires less manipulation. Let’s see exactly how to mix a regular dye solution:

    1. Measure 1 tsp of dye powder
    2. Add dye to a clean squeeze bottle
    3. Fill up the bottle with 1 cup of water
    4. Add in 1 tsp of soda ash
    5. Shake well, wait 5 minutes then shake well again
    6. Apply the dye solution to a damp 100% cotton shirt

This method is a foolproof way of obtaining good results. You must not forget adding in the soda ash, or the color will appear extremely faded.

Once the soda is mixed with the dye, all you need to do is squirt the mix on a damp cotton shirt.

How long does the dye solution stay good for?

Once you have mixed the soda ash and dye together, the mix will only stay good for a few hours. As soon as they are placed together in water they will start reacting. The older the dye mix is, the weaker it will be.

A bottle containing both dye and soda ash will only stay good for 4-8 hours. It may appear fine visually but the color will not transfer to the shirt. You will be left with pale and undesirable colors.

Dye mixed with soda ash will quickly become unusable. Cool down or even freeze your dye solution to extend its longevity. The rate of depletion is proportional to the solution’s temperature. Make sure to use fresh dye for best results.

Presoak method – How to soak a shirt

Alternatively, you can soak the shirt in a bath of soda ash. You can fill up a container with warm water and add soda ash to it at a concentration of a cup of soda per gallon of water.

    1. Fill a bucket or a tub with a gallon of warm water
    2. Measure a cup (8 oz) of soda ash
    3. Add the soda ash to the water and stir
    4. Add one or multiple shirts to the bucket
    5. Let the shirt soak in the water for 15 minutes
    6. Wring out or spin the shirt to remove excess water
    7. Fold and dye the shirt

Make sure that the fabric is completely saturated with the soda solution. Let is soak for a few minutes before taking it out of the bath and wringing it to remove excess water. You should wear gloves at every point of the process to prevent touching the soda ash directly.

Using this technique lets you dye with bottles of pure dye solutions. A dye solution without any soda ash in it will keep for much longer. Using this technique you can save your leftovers dyes to be used later.

The shirt will now be covered in soda ash. The advantage of this method is that it let’s you use unadulterated dye solutions. With this method you will mix your dyes with water only. Such a solution will last for a week at room temperature.

Should you let the shirt dry before dyeing?

No, you don’t need to let the shirt dry up. You want the shirt to be slightly damp for dyeing. Take the shirt out of the soda ash solution. Wring it out or spin it in the washer. Remove excess water until the shirt is no longer dripping.

Do you rinse out the shirt before dyeing?

No, you shouldn’t rinse out the shirt after a soda ash soak. Washing would remove the soda ash and we need it for dyeing. If you remove the soda ash from the shirt then you need to mix it in your dye bottles.

How much soda ash to use?

Mix the soda ash directly in your bottles along with the dye. The quantity of soda ash needed is relative to the amount of water in the solution.

You need one teaspoon (8 g) of soda ash per cup of water (250 ml). A common preparation is to mix one teaspoon of dye powder with one teaspoon of soda ash in one cup of water.

There’s also more ways to use soda ash that we will explore, but putting it in the bottle is the quickest and easiest.

Soda ash per water volume (imperial)

Water (oz)Soda ash (tsp)Dye powder (tsp)
21/41/4
41/21/2
811
1622
3244

Soda ash per water volume (metric)

Water (ml)Soda ash (g)Dye powder (g)
62.522
12544
25088
5001616
10003232

How to use soda ash for ice-dyeing

During the ice-dye process, a common approach is to sprinkle soda ash directly on the shirt. After the shirt has been folded, cover it with dye powder and spoonfuls of soda ash. You are then ready to layer ice on top of it and wait for it to melt.

    1. Fold and bind a damp 100% cotton shirt
    2. Lay down 1 tsp of dye powder on the shirt
    3. Add 1 tsp of soda ash over the dye
    4. Pile on ice cubes over the soda ash
    5. Let the ice melt
    6. Rinse and wash the shirt

how much soda ash for ice-dyeing?

Use as much as you need to roughly cover up the dye powder. Use 2 to 3 teaspoons worth of soda ash, enough to cover the dye powder. You can play around by using a little or a lot to get different results. Just like the dye powder, you can put it either under or over the ice.

How to use soda ash for immersion-dyeing

Immersion-dyeing let’s you explore the full palette of color gradients. Simply dye the shirt in a bath of dye solution. This is the standard recipe :

  1. Fill a bucket or a tub with a gallon of water
  2. Measure a cup (8 oz) of soda ash
  3. Add the soda ash to the water and stir
  4. Add one or multiple shirts to the bucket
  5. Add in 1-4 tsp of dye powder
  6. Let the shirt sit for 30 minutes
  7. Rinse and wash the shirt

When and how soda ash is introduced can drastically alter the way the reaction turns out. Add it beforehand or add in after the shirt has already soaked in dye for a more homogeneous effect.

Why use soda ash at all?

What makes soda ash so special its ability to make the dye solution more basic. This, in turn, makes it possible for the dye to react with the fibers at room temperature. Without soda ash you would need high temperatures to get the dye to give off its color.

When you tie-dye, the coloring of the shirt takes place when the fabric is in contact with a solution of water containing both dye and soda ash. There’s a number of different ways you can use soda ash. Each way let’s you achieve different effects on the shirt.

Traditional recipes tell you to soak the shirt in a soda ash solution. While this definitely works, we prefer putting the soda ash directly in the bottle with the dye. Simply mix in an equal volume of soda ash and dye inside a squeeze bottle.

What exactly is soda ash?

Known by it’s formal name, sodium carbonate. This chemical is a common household item used mostly for washing fabric and for the chemical treatment of pools. Not to be confused with baking soda which is used in cooking and which will not work for tie-dye.

The reason we use soda ash, out of every alkaline chemical, is because it’s readily available, safe, and does a great job for a low cost. There are other products that could give us the basic pH we need, but they all have drawbacks. Closest alternatives include washing soda which is weaker and sodium silicate which is more dangerous.

Soda ash vs washing soda

These two substances are the same, but with on major difference. Soda ash and washing soda both contain the same chemical, which is sodium carbonate.

The difference between the two is that washing soda is a form of hydrated sodium carbonate. What this means is that it contains water molecules in addition to the soda. In effect, this is a diluted version of soda ash. It is 2-3 times weaker than pure soda ash.

Washing soda works the same, you only need to use more. Use 2-3 times the amount of washing soda as you would soda ash. Being somewhat weaker, washing soda is also safer to manipulate.

Where to buy soda ash?

Sodium carbonate can be bought cheaply in bulk at most household goods retailers or on the internet. Pool supply stores often carry bulk quantities of soda ash. Also called washing soda, it can also be found as a household laundry aid. It is cheaper to buy locally.