Dyeing clothes is probably the easiest way to breathe new life into old fabric. It doesn’t require any sewing skills and you can achieve a new look in just a few hours.
However, clothes dyeing can be a bit intimidating if you have never done it. Not every dye type is created equal, and you have to work with the fabric type and choose the right dyeing method to get the best result.
So what are the best dyes for clothes? This depends on a multitude of factors, including the type of fabric you are dyeing and whether it’s natural or synthetic, what kind of effect you’re looking for, and which method you are planning on using.
If you have some old clothes with faded colors or stains, why not try dyeing them to get “brand new” items for your closet? In this guide, let’s take a look at some popular types of fabric dyes and how to work with them to transform your old clothes into wearable works of art!
How To Choose Fabric Dye
The first thing that most people think about when they want to dye their clothes is the color. While that is totally important, choosing the color is often the last consideration when it comes to choosing fabric dye.
The more important question that you should be thinking about is the type of fiber that they want to dye and how to choose the fabric dye that works well with that type of fiber.
Natural, synthetic, and semi-synthetic fibers all have different ways of reacting with dyes, and if you don’t look at the clothing label, you may end up choosing the wrong type of dye that will ruin your clothes altogether.
Let’s take a look at different types of fibers and how they will react to different types of dyes.
Types Of Fibers
As mentioned, the type of fiber will probably be the key factor that determines what type of fabric dye to use. Matching the fiber with the correct type of dye will always help you achieve the optimal colorfastness and fade-resistance of the finished product.
While there are many types of fabric fibers, they can be grouped into three large categories: cellulose (plant-based) fibers, protein (animal-based) fibers, and synthetic or synthetic-blend fibers. You can check the fiber content in the clothing label or the fabric label when you buy from a craft store.
1. Cellulose Fibers
Cellulose fibers are natural fibers that are derived from plants, such as cotton, linen, bamboo, or hemp. Cellulose fibers work best with fiber-reactive dyes, although they can also work with all-purpose dyes or direct dyes as well.
2. Protein Fibers
On the other hand, protein fibers are often derived from animals. Fabrics such as wool, mohair, cashmere, or silk are all protein fibers that will react poorly to the wrong type of dye. Dyes that have a higher pH level, such as fiber-reactive dyes, can destroy protein fibers.
Protein fibers will need to be dyed with acid dyes or natural dyes to preserve the fabric’s quality, although all-purpose dyes can work as well.
3. Synthetic Or Synthetic Blend Fibers
There are many types of synthetic fibers that are very common in apparel, like polyester, nylon, or spandex. Synthetic fabrics usually do not dye well because they have a difficult time holding onto the color pigments in the dyes. However, there are some fabric dyes that are specifically designed to work with synthetic fibers, such as acid dyes or disperse dyes.
If you have a synthetic blend fabric, the matter becomes a bit more complicated, as you will need to look at the fiber composition. If the fabric has more than 70% synthetic components, you can use dyes that work well with that type of synthetic fiber.
However, if the fabric has less than 70% synthetic fibers (which means more than 30% natural fibers), it’s probably safer to work with a fabric dye that won’t destroy the natural component in the fabric.
Types Of Fabric Dyes
Having investigated the type of fiber of your fabric, let’s take a look at some common types of fabric dyes and how well they will work with your fabric.
1. Fiber Reactive Dyes
One of the most widely used and highly effective types of dye is fiber reactive dye. Its name tells you how it works – it gives fabric colors by forming a covalent bond with a cellulose or protein molecule, which gives the fabric a permanent, fade-resistant color.
Since this bond is essentially a chemical reaction, fiber reactive dye will give your fabric a wash-safe color that won’t bleed or fade in the wash. As we have mentioned above, this type of dye works well with both cellulose and protein fibers, such as cotton, linen, or silk.
There are several formulations for fiber-reactive dyes that can work well with either hot or cold water. You will need to carefully read the instructions before dyeing your clothes to get the best result.
2. Direct Dyes
Direct dyes work with hot water to add colors to cellulose fibers such as cotton or linen. Direct dyes are common because they are often very affordable and easy to use, but there are certainly some weaknesses. The colors achieved by direct dyes are often duller than you want, and this type of dye has a weak bond that can cause the colors to bleed in the wash.
To minimize these weaknesses, direct dyes are often combined with a fixative. If you are a beginner dyeing your clothes for the first time, you may have a difficult time achieving the desired result with direct dyes.
3. Acid Dyes
The name acid dye may sound intimidating, but this is a type of non-toxic dye that works very well with protein fibers such as wool or silk. There are several grades of acid dyes, including strong, weak, or neutral acid dyes.
Acid dyes can produce lovely, vibrant colors, but depending on the grade of acid dye that you use, the color can bleed in the wash. This type of dye is highly recommended for protein fibers as well as some synthetic fibers like nylon or spandex.
4. All-Purpose Dyes
It can be difficult to mix and match the type of dye with the type of fiber (especially with all the kinds of fiber blends). All-purpose dyes were created to work with a variety of different fabrics, which takes out the guessing work while still creating fairly decent results.
All-purpose dyes are often a blend of direct dye and acid dye that works best with hot water. This type of dye can work with cellulose fibers and protein fibers, although the result is often mixed.
Since the dye is not formulated to suit any kind of fiber in particular, the bond can be weak, and the colors may sometimes bleed in the wash. Due to the weak bond, this type of dye is also not suitable for synthetic or synthetic blend fibers.
5. Natural Dyes
Natural dyes don’t always mean that the dye itself is natural – some natural dyes can be toxic and harmful to the environment. The name simply means that it is formulated to work with natural fibers (both cellulose fibers and protein fibers), although you can certainly buy natural dyes that are non-toxic and environmentally friendly.
Compared to other types of dyes, natural dyes often perform worse in terms of color fastness and wash fastness. When buying natural dyes, it is best to read the labels and follow the instructions carefully to achieve the best results.
6. Disperse Dyes
Disperse dyes are water-soluble dyes that often come in the form of a paste or a powder. This type of dye works best with hot water to form a bond with synthetic fibers such as polyester or acrylic. The high temperature of the water is often the key factor that decides how well the dye bonds to the fabric.
There are types of dye that can work with multiple types of fabric, and there are fabrics that can work with multiple types of dye. If you are a complete beginner, you will need to consider other factors that may decide how the colors will look and whether the colors will stay long after you dye the clothes.
1. Ease Of Use
If this is your first time dyeing fabric, how easy it is to use the dye will probably be one of the key factors that help decide how well the result turns out. Each type of dye comes with a different set of instructions that you will need to carefully follow to achieve the desired colors.
However, easy-to-use doesn’t always mean the best colors. There are types of dye that can be popped in the washing machine with the clothes, but the results may not always be great, especially with tricky colors. You will want something that is both easy to use and can achieve the colors that you intended.
You’ll often hear about colorfastness when buying dyes. This indicator not only decides how the color will look but also whether it will bleed in the wash or fade after a few wears. Lightfastness and wash fastness are all indicators of colorfastness.
If the bond of the dye is very strong, the fastness will be higher, meaning it is better at staying on your clothes without bleeding or fading.
Dyes can sometimes contain harmful chemicals that are toxic, and you should pay attention to this factor, especially if you have pets or young children in the house. It is advised that you always follow the safety instructions provided by the manufacturer to avoid burning your skin or inhaling toxic fumes.
If you are still unsure of what to buy for your project, let’s take a look at some popular dye options on the market.
Rit Dye For Clothes
Rit is probably the most popular brand of fabric dye, with different formulas for different types of fabrics.
1. Rit All-Purpose Liquid Dye
When in doubt, always go with an all-purpose dye since it can work with most types of cellulose and protein fibers and even some synthetic blends.
The Rit line comes in a wide range of colors for you to revive stained or faded clothing, and this is a non-toxic dye that is very safe to use at home.
This dye is quite easy to use, and it works best with hot water. This all-purpose dye works well with semi-synthetic fabric that has less than 35% synthetic fibers, so if you want to dye synthetic fabric, you can opt for a different formula that works better with this fiber.
2. Rit DyeMore Liquid Dye
This Rit DyeMore Liquid Dye is specially formulated to grab onto synthetic fabric, so it will work well with polyester, nylon, and acrylic fabrics.
This is another non-toxic and easy-to-use formula that you can easily use at home to achieve the colors you want in just a few hours.
This specific dye is peacock green, but they have a whole range of colors available to purchase on Amazon.
3. Rit Dye Kit, Back to Black
The Rit brand also sells quite a few dye kits that are designed for different purposes, such as restoration or tie-dyeing. This back-to-black kit is designed to help you restore faded clothing items.
It comes with an all-purpose black dye, a fixative that helps improve the colorfastness, and a pair of plastic gloves that can assist you during the process.
As mentioned, the all-purpose dye is a non-toxic dye that can work well with both natural and semi-synthetic fibers like cotton, linen, or rayon.
If you want a different color, you can simply buy a fixative and an all-purpose dye in the color of your choice to achieve the same result.
Black Dye For Clothes
1. Procion Mx Dye
This is a fiber-reactive dye that can form a very strong bond with your fibers to produce colorfast and permanent results. This dye comes in powder form, and a little bit goes a long way, so you will have to carefully follow the recipe in order to achieve the desired result without wasting the dye.
Since this is a fiber-reactive dye, it works best with natural fibers, including protein fibers such as silk. This is also a cold water dye, which can make the process easier for beginners.
2. Dritz Permanent Fabric Dye
This is another all-purpose black dye that works well with most types of natural fabrics and semi-synthetic fibers.
This fabric dye is activated by mixing with warm water and salt, and you can safely use it at home to add refreshing colors to your old clothing.
The manufacturer provides careful guides on the amount of dye to use with certain garments and fabric weights, so you simply have to follow the instructions to get the best results.
3. Dylon Machine Dye Pod
This machine dye pod is probably the easiest application there is. It will work with a front-loading washing machine and you simply have to toss the pod in with your laundry for the dye to be activated.
Keep in mind that you have to match the weight of your clothes with the amount of dye in the pod to achieve the best result.
This color may also stain your washing machine, so you will have to bleach your washing machine afterward so that the color won’t bleed onto subsequent loads.
Brown Dye For Clothes
Jacquard iDye Natural Fabric
This is a natural fabric dye that works well with cellulose fibers and protein fibers alike. The dye comes in powder form that, when mixed with hot water, can dye up to 3 lbs of fabric.
This is also an easy-to-use formula that is safe to use at home. Because the dye is formulated to work well with natural fabric, it won’t damage your fabric while producing a colorfast result that can stay for a long time.
White Dye For Clothes
Rit Dye Powdered Fabric Dye, White Wash
White dye is often used to work with white clothes that have been yellowed over time. Most white dyes are not strong enough to completely dye color clothes – you will need to use bleach first to get the pure white effect.
If you want to brighten stained or yellowed white items, you can use this White Wash Dye from Rit, which can instantly refresh the color. Similar to other types of fabric dyes, it works best with hot water and can produce impressive results if you follow the instructions carefully.
Red Dye For Clothes
Rit Color Perfect Fabric Dye
This fabric dye from Rit comes pre-mixed, meaning you don’t have to mix it with water or boil it to activate the colors. The bottle comes with three different applicators: spray, pour, or paint, which is suitable for a variety of purposes.
This product is amazing if you want to tie-dye your clothes with a colorfast formula that is also really to use. In addition to red, this line also comes with several other colors to help you achieve the classic tie-dye look.
Natural Dye For Clothes
Indigo Dye kit with Tie Dye Powder
This natural dye is formulated with natural and sustainable ingredients that can work well with natural fabrics. Since this is a tie-dye kit, it comes with three vibrant colors that can transform cotton, linen, or other types of natural fibers.
Since the colors are natural, it will take a while to dye the fabric to its desired effects. However, if sustainability is something you want, then this natural fabric dye is definitely the one for you.
Up Next: Can You Tie-Dye Polyester?