The art of dying clothes has been around for centuries. In medieval times, you could assess a person’s wealth and status simply by the color of dye they could afford to use on their clothes, which is how purple became a symbol of royalty.
In more recent decades than the medieval period, tie-dying has become a popular way to bring pops of color to clothes. You probably remember tie-dying a shirt or two as a child with your teacher or parents.
For many of us, the allure of tie-dye has not gone away as we grew older. It’s a fun and creative way to express ourselves through our clothes. But if you haven’t touched a tie-dye kit since you were 8 years old, you may need a refresher on some of the basics.
So, how long to let tie-dye sit before rinsing? How long to let tie-dye sit before rinsing varies by color, but to achieve maximum saturation, we recommend at least 12 hours, ideally the full standard 24 hours. Colors such as yellow and red can sit for 3-6 hours. Colors in the blue and purple spectrum do better with 12-24 hours.
There are different factors to consider, such as where you leave it to dry, whether you cover it in plastic, how warm or cold the drying environment is, and the fabric used. In this article, we’ll explore all the variables so you can set yourself up for success with your tie-dye project.
Variables To Consider Before Tie-Dying
The way your tie-dye project comes out depends on a few different factors, not just how long you let the dye sit before washing it out. Here are a few other things to consider before you start.
The primary question regarding location is whether you’ll be inside or outside. Let’s explore your inside options first.
You want to leave it somewhere that it will be undisturbed. If you have small children, rambunctious dogs, or mischievous cats running around the house, somewhere on a higher shelf might be best. If your project gets knocked over, you run the risk of the dye spilling over into another section or one of your ties coming loose.
Some people may be inclined to leave it in a laundry room or bathroom, as it seems a more fitting place for a tie-dye project and you can clean up easily afterward. Truly, it makes no difference whether it’s left in your bathroom or your bedroom. As long as it’s out of harm’s way, the dye will set all the same.
If you leave it outside, you will want to keep it covered in a plastic bag. This is mainly to keep it safe from debris or animal interference. You wouldn’t want to go outside after waiting hours and hours for your project, only to find a bird left a little present on it!
The location doesn’t necessarily affect the time you leave it to set. Letting your project sit for 10 hours outside or inside won’t affect the color saturation. Simply pick a spot and let it rest.
In the previous section, we mentioned covering your project in a plastic bag before setting it outside. But do you always need a plastic bag? The short answer is no. Plastic bags are used to help keep your project damp as the dye sets. This ensures all the dye continues saturating into your fabric.
A plastic bag is best for a project left outside because it keeps your fabric safe from any debris that might fall or blow onto it, such as grass, leaves, bugs, dirt, etc.
However, with this in mind, plastic bags are not always necessary. Your shirt will likely not dry in the time that it will be sitting, so the need to retain moisture through a plastic bag is not important to the tie-dye process.
Additionally, if you leave it uncovered, it could help in the rinsing process. The dye will be able to saturate and cure in the fabric, and the leftover dye that is built up in the creases will be easier to rinse out.
If you have small children or energetic pets, however, covering your project is a good idea. This not only protects your dye from being tampered with but puts a barrier between the chemicals and your little loved ones. Whether you cover your project or not is up to you, but rest assured that your tie-dye will set all the same.
As a general rule of thumb, heat is better because it helps the tie-dye to set. It assists with the reaction of the dye with the fabric and can help speed up the curing process.
This doesn’t mean you need to put your tie-dye under a warming light. If you live in a warm climate, setting it outside (as mentioned above) will do just fine.
If it’s cold outside, don’t worry! Just leave your item inside your home to set. Usually, when it’s cold outside, the thermostat in your home is set at a warm enough temperature to do the trick and help the dye set.
As a final note regarding the temperature, your dye will still set, even if it’s in a cooler place. It might just take a little longer (like the full 24 hours), and you won’t get as brilliant color saturation as you would in a warmer environment.
In some experiments, it’s been discovered that the color you use can have an effect on the time you need to let your project sit before rinsing.
It’s important to note that this can vary from brand to brand, so always follow the instructions and guidance on your particular dye. The information provided in this article is just a general idea.
If you’re familiar with the color wheel, it seems that warm colors tend to reach their maximum saturation faster. This includes colors in the yellow, orange, and red color families.
Generally, cool colors take longer to reach their maximum saturation. This includes colors in the green, blue, and purple color families. With these colors, it’s best to give them at least 12 hours or up to the full 24 hours to allow them to reach their full, deep vibrancy.
Try to avoid fabrics that are 50/50 blends, as these don’t work as well. You’re looking for fabric that has at least 80% or higher of one of the natural fibers listed above.
There are certain materials that tie-dye will not work on. While it may be tempting to create fun, vibrant, tie-dyed leggings to do yoga in, unfortunately, it likely won’t work out. Tie-dye doesn’t typically work well with polyester, lycra, or spandex.
If you choose a fabric not suited to tie-dye such as lycra, it won’t matter how long you leave the tie-dye before rinsing; it just won’t work out the way you want it to.
Our favorite fabric choice is 100% cotton. This ensures you’re using totally natural fibers and will help you achieve the brilliant colors of your dreams in a shorter amount of time.
It can be tempting to think that the larger the project, the more time it will take to cure. Logically, it seems that an extra-large shirt would take longer than a small hat.
The reality is that your project will cure in the same amount of time regardless of size. That’s because, proportionally, the amount of dye to the amount of fabric is the same.
Regardless of how much surface area is covered, the dye will work just as quickly (or slowly) as usual. You can even set your hat and shirt to cure side by side and rinse them out one right after the other. Your colors will set all the same.
How To Get Started
Now that we’ve discussed all the different factors for how long to let your tie-dye sit before rinsing, you’re ready to get started.
To begin, all you’ll need is:
- Your dye in all desired colors (I love using these dyes on Amazon)
- A natural fabric clothing item (whether it be a shirt, shorts, skirt, dress, hat, or something else)
- Rubber gloves
- A plastic table cloth
- A bucket of water
- Ziploc bags are optional
Don’t forget to prep your fabric! The preparation step can vary based on the brand of dye you purchase, but typically you need to do at least a quick rinse of your garment, if not a pre-wash to get it ready for dye. Twist or fold your fabric in your desired style. Remember to wear gloves as you apply the dye.
Follow the recommendations in this article to let your dye sit before rinsing, ideally for around 12 hours. Rinse in a sink or tub under warm water until the water runs clear, then properly wash your freshly dyed item to ensure maximum saturation and cleanliness.
There you have it! A perfectly tie-dyed project ready to be worn.
Can Tie-Dye Sit For Too Long?
Absolutely. While 24 hours is the maximum recommended time, you wouldn’t want to let it go any longer than that.
Leaving the dye on for too long can disrupt the look of the shirt. The dye settles into the creases too much and leaves you with harsh lines or darker stains in certain areas of the project.
Additionally, while the dye most likely won’t dry out completely in only 24 hours, it will if left for 3 days. This will hinder the rinsing process and affect the way the dye washes out as you wash your newly dyed item.
Are There Certain Colors Best Suited For Tie-Dye?
There isn’t necessarily a best color for tie-dye. After all, one of our favorite tie-dye looks is a rainbow swirl! You’d want all of the colors to achieve that design.
However, some colors just take to fabric better. It was noted in this article that cool colors take longer to cure. Typically, cool colors also tend to mottle more. This creates a warped, inconsistent coloration to the fabric.
Lighter colors, such as yellow or orange, don’t create this problem as often. It’s harder to spot mottling in a pale yellow than a deep violet.
Can I Wash All My Tie-Dye Items At The Same Time?
This is not recommended. When you throw all of your tie-dye items into the sink at the same time, all the dye from the article you are actively rinsing run onto your other projects.
To keep your tie-dye projects looking the way you want, it’s best to rinse them one at a time. You can always set them on a nearby table or surface (with a plastic tablecloth laid down first) to have them ready to rinse in quick succession.
How Do I Fold My Tie-Dye Project?
There are several different design techniques for how to fold or twist your fabric. Four of the most common techniques are listed below:
- Circles: To achieve a circle design, lay the fabric out flat. Pinch the fabric in multiple places, binding each pinch in a rubber band as you go. When you apply the dye, this will create circles all over the fabric.
- Bullseye: This is one of the most common designs. To achieve the bullseye effect, pinch the fabric at the center of where you want your bullseye to be. This could be smack dab in the center of the fabric, or in a corner. Then, pull upward, guiding the fabric through your hand to make a tube. Place rubber bands at intervals down the tube for whatever width you want each section of your dye.
- Classic Spiral: This is the typical wheel-looking fold technique. Lay the fabric out flat, pinch where you want the center to be, and secure that pinch with a clothespin. Then twist the fabric in a circle, guiding it into pleats that are the same height as the center pleat. Once the fabric is wrapped around itself in a wheel, secure with intersecting rubber bands.
- Vertical/Horizontal Stripe: This is the easiest technique. Simply fold the fabric in vertical pleats and wrap rubber bands down the fabric to create horizontal stripes. Fold the fabric in horizontal pleats and wrap rubber bands around the fabric to create vertical stripes. Diagonal stripes are also possible by simply folding it in a diagonal fashion.
If you’re more of a visual learner, we’ve found a handy tutorial video for several different folding techniques from the Handimania channel on YouTube!
After Rinsing, Can I Wash My Tie-Dye Shirt With Other Clothes?
You can eventually, but not at first. After the initial rinse, you’ll need to wash the garment separately from anything else. This will prevent any remaining excess dye from getting onto your other clothes.
It can be a good idea to wash tie-dyed items separately for the first 3 or 4 washes after dying. This will really help prevent any dye leakage onto your other clothes.
Since you have to keep it separate for the first few washes, it could be a good idea to dye several projects at once. Make yourself a shirt, plus make shirts for all your friends and family for Christmas!
After it’s been washed a few times, though, you will be fine to add it to the remainder of your laundry. There’s no reason to add yet another load to your list!
Up Next: How To Set Tie-Dye Without Vinegar