You’ve crossed the ultimate quarantine rite of passage, turning every dull white tee, jacket and pair of socks you own into a rainbow-hued masterpiece. Congrats! Now, though, a whole new challenge awaits: How do you clean all this tie-dye without having your beautiful creations fade…or worse, having the dye bleed onto the rest of your wardrobe, turning everything you own a murky shade of griege? We’ve got you. Here’s how to wash tie-dye, whether you’ve got a washer and dryer on hand—or you plan on using your bare hands.
What to Know Before You Wash
If you’ve just tie-dyed your clothes, step away from the washing machine. You’ll want to wait about 24 hours before washing, so the dye has plenty of time to set, according to The Adair Group, an Atlanta-based clothing company. Then, when it’s time to give your garments their inaugural scrub, wear gloves and give them a good rinse under running water to get rid of any excess dye. The water may look dark brownish gray, and the fabric itself may look a little dingy, but fear not—this is totally normal at this stage.
Ready for the First Wash? Just a Few More Things…
From there, you can throw all of the tie-dyed goods—and only the tie-dyed goods—into the washing machine. (However, if you’d prefer to hand-wash your clothes, scroll directly to the “How to Hand-Wash Tie-Dye” section.) Try to separate the loads based on the colors you’ve used: All the blues, greens and purples together, for example; then the oranges, reds and pinks.
If you have a top-loading washer, the team at grateful-dyes.com recommends using a Synthrapol SP detergent, which is more concentrated and tends to get out loose dye better than other detergents. You can often find it at arts and crafts stores, like JOANN or Blick. If you have a low-water or front-loading machine, hold off on the Synthrapol: It gets really sudsy, and it can overwhelm those types of machines. Instead, opt for traditional detergent; just be sure to use it sparingly.
While you can throw your rainbow creations in the dryer together, you’ll get the best results by drying each item you’ve tie-dyed individually, sans dryer sheet, or hanging to dry.
How to Machine-Wash Tie-Dye
After the initial wash, most tie-dye can be washed as usual. But, if the colors are very saturated and you’re worried about them bleeding (what, you don’t want all of your white tees to turn salmon pink?), you can do your tie-dyed clothes as their own separate load for the next one to two washes. You shouldn’t have to worry about the colors bleeding past that point. Your new goal becomes keeping the shirt (or shorts, or very late ‘90s Seth Green-inspired bucket hat) from fading. Here’s how to achieve that:
For the first few washes, hot water will help remove excess dye. After that, switch to cold water to prevent your clothes from fading.
Twist the dial on your washing machine to the appropriate settings for the load’s size and the type of fabric you’re washing, and let the appliance take care of business.
Skip the dryer and hang clothes to dry, per the crafting gurus at The Neon Tea Party.
Pro tip: Don’t wait to flip your laundry. The longer your clothes sit damp in the washing machine before being dried, the higher the chance you have of the colors bleeding, particularly in those first few washes.
How to Hand-Wash Tie-Dye
While it’s a bit more tedious, hand-washing is a great way to preserve your tie-dye creations for years to come (your pink-and-orange take on your old high school band shirt is destined to become an heirloom, right?).
If you’re washing your clothes for the very first time after tie-dying, wait 24 hours after your craft session. Then, thoroughly rinse each item under running water, just like we discussed in the “Before your first wash” section above.
Fill the tub or sink with room temperature water.
Submerge the clothes, using your hands to agitate the water. Let them soak for up to 30 minutes before thoroughly rinsing off the soapy water from each item.
Press each piece of clothing against the sink or tub basin to remove excess water, rather than wringing it out (which is rougher on the fabric). You can also try laying the item flat on top of a towel and rolling them up tightly to gently remove excess water.
Hang them up to dry.
How to Get Dye Off of Your Hands
Even if you wore gloves to rinse out the dye and to wash your new clothes, it’s easy to get some splashes of color on your skin. Try this tip from Dat Dye: Mix baking soda with a splash of water to form a paste. Use that to wash your hands, then rinse them clean. The dye should come right off.