Tie-dye Party: How to Tie-Dye With a Group

Collection of tie-dye bottles, each filled with a different colored liquid.

Are you planning on hosting a tie-dye party?

Whether you’re organizing an event for a summer camp or a school, or you want to tie-dye a large number of shirts yourself, we’ve got you covered.

Tie-dye is an ideal activity for a group of people to join in together and create art while having fun.

It’s quick and easy to do and lends itself well to a host of settings, be it with friends and family or during an organized event.

Essential tie-dye supplies

Anyone intent on hosting a tie-dye party must be prepared. Having enough of the basic supplies is a must.

Let’s see what essential supplies we’ll need:

Blank t-shirts (100% cotton)
You need blank (preferably white) t-shirts. Make sure they are 100% made of cotton, or else they won’t take the dye.

Regular t-shirts are the most common item to tie-dye. Any other garment can also be used as long as they are made of cotton or other natural fiber.

Make sure to get high quality dyes specifically made for tie-dye. Those are called “cold fiber-reactive dyes“. They are they only dyes that can permanently color fabric at room temperature.

Soda ash
Also called dye activator, soda ash works to enable the reaction between dye and fabric. It serves to increase the pH of the solution to an ideal 10.5.

Soda ash is essential. Without it, the dye won’t work.

You need water for soaking the shirts and for making dye solutions. Having running water on the premises is preferable, but you can haul water if needed.

Rubber bands
You need 3-6 rubber bands per shirt to hold the fabric in place after folding it. Depending on the folding technique you might need as few as three or as many as six or more.

Make sure you have enough rubber bands by getting a large bag. I found that size 19 elastic bands are perfect for the job. A one pound bag containing 1200 rubber bands is more than enough.

Other tools you will need

In addition to the expendable supplies listed above, you will also need a few tools to assist you. These range from bottles to mix and apply dyes, up to safety equipment.

Squeeze bottles
You need enough squeeze bottles so that everyone can dye at relatively the same time. A common way to proceed is to have a set number of bottles that are shared between participants.

Dye powder, soda ash, and water are mixed together in squeeze bottles. A typical size for squeeze bottles is 8oz (250 ml), but you can use any size you want.

Baking pans
Dyeing inside a container is the best way to reduce spills. Aluminum baking pans are ideal for this. They are both cheap and light.

Bucket are useful for soaking the shirts prior to folding them. They can also be used to hold clean water for hand washing.

Plastic bags
Tie-dye shirts don’t strictly need to be wrapped up. But plastic bags can be useful for a large group. It takes about 8-24 hours for the dyes to react with the fabric.

Instead of rinsing the shirts on the premises, it becomes convenient to rinse the items at home. Wrap up the dyed t-shirts and send the participants home with their prize.

Portable plastic tables make for excellent work surfaces. Plastic is resistant to dyes. If you plan on using other surfaces, such as a picnic table, then you should protect it with a plastic tablecloth.

Safety mask
Handling large amounts of dye powder requires that you wear a mask to reduce your exposure to fine particulate. While the dyes are not toxic, they are light and become airborne quite easily.

Disposable waterproof gloves
Plastic, nitrile, or other waterproof gloves will protect the participant’s hands when dyeing and handling dyed fabric.

Again, the dyes are not toxic, but they can temporarily stain your skin if mishandled. Stains on skin normally go away by themselves in under a day.

How to organize a tie-dye party or event

Now you know how much supplies to get for your tie-dye event. In this section I’ll give you some tips to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Make sure to caution everyone to wear old clothes they don’t mind staining. Alternatively, provide them with aprons upon arrival.

Choose the right location

Finding the right place is essential so that all participants have a good time. It will also help alleviate the stress of organizing.

Whether you plan to setup indoors or outdoors, there are a few factors to consider. The size of your group will also determine what kind of space is needed.

The most obvious choice is to have everyone dyeing outside. This comes with many advantages. There is no fear of staining furniture or carpets and there is enough space for any number of participants.

But there are also disadvantages. You are at the mercy of the weather and access to water may be restricted.

A park can be a great space to tie-dye with a group, especially if there is access to running water. Likewise, setting up at home on the lawn or on the asphalt is perfect for a smaller group of people.

Dyeing indoors offers many comforts and advantages. First of all you are protected from the weather and are not limited to daylight hours.

On the other hands, the space can be limited inside a house and it might not accommodate a large number of people.

The most common space used for tie-dye is the kitchen, but this places limits on the space available. Other, larger areas include the garage and basement.

Public spaces
If your budget permits it, public buildings make ideals spaces to host a large group of participants. They already have all the facilities necessary and are built for the purpose of receiving many people.

Spaces such as recreation centers, school gymnasiums, or any large indoors space is perfect for the task.

Prepare your setup

Scout out the location and find a spot where drips and splashed won’t be a problem.
Place your table(s) in a large open space where there is enough room to walk around.

Cover the tables and the floor if needed. Any nearby unprotected wood or fabric is in danger of getting stained.

Prepare a dye mixing station where you will be able to prepare the bottles of dye when the time comes. You can prepare your bottles in advance, but don’t add in the soda ash until you’re ready to dye or else the dyes will spoil.

Set up all the supplies your participants will need. Place blank shirts, rubber bands and gloves on the tables. If possible, leave instruction leaflets for each guest. Place a baking pan at each station for the people to dye in.

Place a half-filled bucket of clean water for every 3-4 participant. Finally, ready some paper towels or washcloths to clean up any spill.

How to Tie-dye with a Group

Tie-dye process

Instruct the participants to wet, then wring out the shirts. The fabric need to be damp so it folds and dyes easier. They will use the buckets of water one at a time.

Tell the group to fold and tie the shirts with rubber bands. Instruct them to do crumples, spirals, or pleats, which are the easiest techniques. Once folded and tied, the shirt is placed inside a baking pan to contain the dye.

Hand out dye bottles to the participants. Let them pour dye over their folded shirts, giving them directions if needed.

Hand a plastic bag to those who finish their dyed garment. Tell them to wait 8-24 hours before rinsing out and opening up their tie-dye shirts.

Clean up

Once the fun is over, there might be a little cleaning up to do. Start by clearing away any soiled paper towels and used gloves. Put these in a garbage can.

Carefully collect any container that still has dye in it. Empty out the containers in the sink. Rinse out the containers with cold water until clean.

Wipe down work surfaces with a washcloth or paper towels. Clean up any spill on the floor.

What to do with leftover dye

Leftover dye can be saved for later, assuming it hasn’t been mixed with soda ash. Mixed dyes need to be used quickly as they start to lose strength in a few hours.

How long does dye last before spoiling

PreparationRoom Temperature 68° F (20° C)Refrigerated 40° F (4° C)
Dye powder2-5 years5 years+
Dye mixed with water1 week1-2 months
Dye mixed with water + soda ash8 hours24 hours

Estimated Supplies for Adult Sized Shirts

Use these charts to estimate the amount of supplies you need.

Keep in mind that this is only an estimate as the values will change depending on the size and weight of your particular garments.

My calculations assume that:
The person is using 100% heavy cotton t-shirts, size large, which are the most common tie-dye blanks to use. You can buy these cheaply in bulk.

It takes about two full 8oz (250ml) bottles of dye solution to completely cover a large adult sized t-shirt.

Each bottle needs one to two teaspoons (4 g to 8 g) of dye powder according to the desired color strength. Each bottle also needs one teaspoon (5 g) of soda ash to catalyze the reaction and is filled with one cup (250 ml) of water.

Finally, we need about 10oz (300ml) of water per shirt in order to soak them. Each shirt is wrung out and excess water recollected.

How much tie-dye supplies for adults (Metric)

# T-shirtsDye powderSoda ashWater for bottlesWater for soaking
18g to 16g10g0.5L0.3L
540g to 80g50g2.5L1.5L
1080g to 160g100g5L3L
25200g to 400g250g12.5L7.5L
50400g to 800g500g25L15L
100800g to 1600g1000g50L30L

How much tie-dye supplies for adults (Imperial)

# T-shirtsDye powderSoda ashWater for bottlesWater for soaking
11/4oz - 1/2oz1/3oz16oz10oz
51 1/2oz - 3oz2oz2 1/2 quarts1 1/2 quarts
103oz - 6oz4oz1 gallon3 quarts
257 1/2oz - 15oz10oz2 1/2 gallons1 1/2 gallons
5015oz - 30oz20oz5 gallons3 gallons
10030oz - 60oz40oz10 gallons6 gallons

Estimated Supplies for Kid Sized Shirts

Kids shirts are much smaller, so they require less supplies per unit. The same calculations are made, but with the required supplies cut in half.

How much tie-dye supplies for kids (Metric)

# T-shirtsDye powderSoda ashWater for bottlesWater for soaking
14g to 8g5g0.25L0.15L
520g to 40g25g1.25L0.75L
1040g to 80g50g2.5L1.5L
25100g to 200g125g6.25L3.75L
50200g to 400g250g12.5L7.5L
100400 to 800g500g25L15L

How much tie-dye supplies for kids (Metric)

# T-shirtsDye powderSoda ashWater for bottlesWater for soaking
11/8oz - 1/4oz1/6oz8oz5oz
53/4oz - 1 1/2oz1oz5 cups3 cups
101 1/2oz - 3oz2oz2 quarts6 cups
253 3/4oz - 7 1/2oz5oz5 quarts3 quarts
507 1/2oz - 15oz10oz2 1/2 gallons1 1/2 gallons
10015oz - 30oz20oz5 gallons3 gallons