Chances are, if you scrolled through Instagram over the past two months, a tie-dye T-shirt, sweatshirt or something of the sort stopped you mid-scroll. Should I buy one? You probably asked yourself. Or do I just DIY it? We’re here to tell you that you should do the latter—using dye made from items you already have at home.
Yes, you can actually reach into your fridge, pantry or spice rack to create all-natural dyes that are, frankly speaking, better than the store-bought stuff. And not just because they’re devoid of chemicals or ingredients you can’t pronounce, but because they make use of items you would otherwise toss out. Like avocado pits, that produce a rose color, or pomegranate rinds, which create a golden-yellow dye.
Here, we walk you through how to use natural dyes for all of your tie-dye, dip-dye and other dyeing needs—along with some help from a pro. Cara Marie Piazza, a natural dyer who has worked with the likes of Eileen Fisher and Club Monaco, shares some of her expert advice on getting the most out of your earth-friendly dye session.
1. Pair natural with natural
“Only natural fibers work with natural dyes,” notes Piazza. She notes that any kind of cellulose fiber (think rayon, viscose or modal) will work, but also recommends silk, because it “needs less dye material to make a very vibrant dye.”
2. Prep your fabric
Before the fun begins, make sure to set up your fabric to absorb dye evenly. To do so, wash it as you normally would, but instead of throwing it in the washer, you have to fix it (aka treat it). “If you’re dyeing cotton, soaking about eight percent of the weight of your garment in aluminum sulfate ($6) will work,” Piazza recommends. One-part vinegar to four-parts warm water will work, too. You can soak your fabric for anywhere from an hour to 24 hours.
3. Pick your natural dye
Depending on the pantry or fridge staple you choose, the dyeing process might vary. Here six easy foods to start making dye with, though you can definitely go beyond our short list on your dyeing adventure.
- Avocados for Pale Pink
Collect between five to 10 avocado pits. Add pits to a pot of water and bring to a boil. Add in garment and simmer for 1-2 hours (until the water has turned a deep pink), then let sit overnight.
- Onion skins for Golden Yellow
Collect the skins from about 10 yellow onions. Add to a pot of water and boil until you’ve reached the color you like. Strain out the onion skins and add in the garment, leaving it to boil for up to an hour.
- Turmeric for Bright Yellow
Bring two tablespoons of turmeric and two cups of water to a boil (for a small piece of clothing; increase proportionally for more fabric). Lower the heat and simmer for an hour. Add in the fabric and let it sit for 15 minutes to an hour, checking every three minutes or so to check color.
- Red Cabbage for Purple
Finely dice half of a medium cabbage and add to a pot of water. Simmer for up to 30 minutes before straining the cabbage (and squeezing it to extract extra color). Submerge your fabric in the deep purple water for up to 24 hours.
- Black Beans for Blue
Place uncooked beans in a pot with water and soak overnight. Strain out the beans (making sure to get every last bit) and submerge your fabric in the inky-colored water for 24 to 48 hours.
- Spinach for Green
Roughly chop about a cup of spinach and place in a pot with water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for an hour. Strain out the spinach leaves and submerge your fabric in the green-colored water for 24 hours.
4. Make a creation with a few colors
“I love mixing cool seafoam greens, dusty rose and chamomile yellows; it's a subtler, fun version of a vibrant, Dead-Head standard tie-dye,” explains Piazza.
5. Wash carefully
You now have a beautifully dyed garment—but you have to wash it before you wear it. Per Piazza: “We always recommend washing by hand or in a delicate cycle with a pH-neutral ($35) or plant-based soap.” For the first one to two washes, keep in mind that the dye might run, so you should wash your new tie-dye with like colors.
6. And let it air dry
The first time you wash your new creation, don’t throw it in the dryer—let it air dry. Following the first wash, you might notice that your tie-dye has faded, but don’t worry. It won’t fade much further following the first rinse cycle.