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How To Wash Tie Dye Shirts

Nothing is more fun than cutting the rubber bands off a freshly tie-dyed shirt and seeing the vivid starbursts of color for the first time! But dyeing your shirt is just the beginning if you want to maintain the bright tie-dye pattern you so carefully created. To keep your tie-dye pristine, you will need to learn how to wash tie-dye shirts.

The best way to wash tie-dye shirts without bleeding is to rinse the shirt immediately after the dye soak ends. Using a dye setting tool such as vinegar, synthrapol, or heat keeps tie-dye nice during washing. You can wash tie-dye shirts in your washing machine or by hand so long as you wash them only with similarly colored tie-dyed shirts.

In this article, you will learn seven methods to set and wash your new tye-dye shirt. You will find answers to key questions such as how long to let the dye rest before washing and whether or not your shirt can go in the dyer. Finally, you will get tips for removing stains from a tie-dye shirt!

How To Wash Tie Dye Shirts


How to Wash a Tie-Dye Shirt for the First Time

You can wash a tie-dye shirt for the first time without damaging its design so long as you do not rush the process and make sure to treat the shirt by itself at each stage of the process. You also need to make sure you follow appropriate steps for the type of dye and the kind of shirt fabric you used.

Most of the time, tie-dye kits come with water-soluble dyes that work best in cotton fabric. That said, you can also dye cheaper polyester t-shirts so long as you use disperse dyes and boiling water to set the color. If you used polyester, you would need to employ different dye-setting processes than if you used cotton!

For cotton tie-dye shirts:

  1. You should leave the freshly dyed shirt wrapped up in its plastic bag and rubber bands overnight. This crucial resting stage allows the not-very-durable water-soluble dye to soak into the fabric fibers more thoroughly.
  2. After that, you will need to rinse the shirt in cold running water. You will see dye stream away, which is a bit scary! Don’t panic, though–this necessary step will prevent dye from bleeding all over later on.
  3. For a really good first wash, you can also add a vinegar treatment. You can find details about this in the washing methods described later in this article.
  4. Finally, you can wash the t-shirt by itself in your washing machine, using cold water.

The key difference when working with polyester is that you will need to use disperse dyes or acrylic paint to color this type of material. It will not hold the water-soluble type of dye you often find in tie-dye kits.

To wash a polyester tie-dyed shirt for the first time:

  1. Rinse the shirt in hot water until no dye comes away.
  2. Soak the shirt in a special synthrapol solution. You can find more details about that later in this article!
  3. Finally, you want to wash the shirt by itself in your washing machine using cold water and allow the shirt to air dry.

Why can’t you just throw the tie-dye shirt in the wash with the rest of your laundry? Well, despite your careful rinsing and color-fast procedures, some dye will continue to bleed away from your shirt during the first few washes.

This happens more with cotton t-shirts than with polyester shirts, but you should take care no matter what kind of material you dye! You don’t want to spread the bright tie-dye colors to your other clothes, after all.

How Long Do You Wait to Wash a Shirt After Tie-Dye?

How Long Do You Wait to Wash a Shirt After Tie Dye

The amount of time you need to wait to wash a tie-dyed shirt after applying the dye varies depending on the type of dye you use. For water-soluble dyes, you need to allow the shirt to rest in an airtight plastic wrapping for at least eight hours or up to twenty-four hours. The process takes less time for disperse dyes used on polyester as you apply the dye through boiling water on your stove.

Why do you have to wait so long to wash a tie-dyed cotton shirt? Cotton has super absorbent fibers that thirstily suck up moisture. The fibers need time to soak up the water-soluble dye.

Polyester is basically plastic and cannot absorb water. This means you have to use a different kind of dye that adheres to the fabric using heat. Tie-dyeing polyester takes a little more work, but it does go more quickly because the dyeing takes place on top of your stove all at once!

How to Rinse Tie Dye Without It Running

Rinsing your shirt after setting the dye is essential because running water carried away any excess dye that did not adhere to the fabric. This clarifies the edges of your design and also prevents lots of dye bleeding later on.

Make sure you wear rubber gloves and old clothes during this process. Otherwise, you might end up with tie-dyed hands!

You can rinse your freshly dyed shirt in several different ways.

  • If you dyed a polyester shirt, you should use tongs to hold it under hot running water in your kitchen sink. Gradually turn the faucet control to cooler water until the shirt feels cool to the touch. This rinsing method allows you to safely handle the polyester shirt after using boiling water to set the disperse dye.
  • For a cotton shirt, you can rinse the shirt under cold running water from the start. You can do this in your kitchen sink or a utility sink. You probably do not want to use a bathtub, as the dye might stain porcelain.
  • If it’s nice outside and you have a garden hose, you can also spread out the shirt on a sidewalk and spray away! This is a handy trick, as it allows you to leave all the messy extra dye outside. This method works super well if you have ten or twelve shirts to rinse at once as well.

How to Wash Tie-Dye Shirts: 5 Methods with Washing Instructions

Washing Tie Dye Shirts

You can use several different washing methods to keep your tie-dye shirt vibrant and colorful. No matter what technique you use, you should wash the tie-dye shirt by itself or with other freshly dyed shirts if you used the same colors on all of the shirts.

No matter how carefully you follow the steps described below, you will see some additional color bleeding during the first three to five washes.

Don’t worry about this! It should not harm the design. This just means that extra dye that never quite “stuck” to the fabric has broken free and is washing away.

1. Wash By Hand

Handwashing a tie-dyed shirt requires more time but keep your shirts in the best possible condition. Plus, this bypasses the whole question of whether or not your tie-dyed shirt will bleed dye onto other clothing! It also avoids wasting a lot of water by running your washing machine just for one freshly dyed shirt.

To handwash a tie-dyed shirt:

  1. If you have a washbasin or bucket, you may want to use that instead of a sink or bathtub to avoid many dye-cleanups. Either way, fill up your washing container with cool water and about a tablespoon of gentle laundry detergent.
  2. Put on rubber gloves and use your hands to swish around the soap, creating foamy suds.
  3. Gently submerge the tie-dyed shirt into the soapy water.
  4. Let the shirt soak for half an hour.
  5. Lift the wet shirt out of the basin and rinse it under cool running water until you do not see soap bubbles washing away down the drain. If you’re washing the shirt for the first time, you may also see some dye rinse away, which is just fine!
  6. Do not wring out the shirt. This could stretch or damage the fabric.
  7. When you finish rinsing, gently press the shirt between your hands to get rid of some of the water. Then lay the shirt on a clean towel, and roll up the towel with the shirt inside. (As a pro tip, you should use an old towel! Some dye may come away from the shirt).
  8. Finally, hang up the shirt to air dry.

2. Washing Machine

You can put your tie-dye in the washing machine, whether you need to wash the shirt for the first time or the fiftieth time! The first few times you wash your shirt, you probably want to use hot water to help get rid of the extra dye. Most of the time, though, you should use cold water to help the shirt maintain its vivid colors.

  1. If you have washed your tie-dye shirt many times already, you can safely mix it in with other clothing. If you have not, you should wash it by itself to avoid accidentally dyeing other clothing.
  2. Set your machine to cold water and a gentle cycle if you have that option.
  3. Add laundry detergent. For a recently dyed shirt, you may want to invest in a color-fast detergent. For older tie-dyed shirts, any old laundry soap will do!
  4. After the wash cycle ends, remove the shirt from the washing machine promptly. You do not want to let it sit in the damp, closed basin, as this could cause the colors to bleed and smudge your pretty tie-dye design.
  5. Hang the shirt up to dry. While you can use the dryer on a freshly dyed shirt, older shirts will fade faster if you put them in such high heat.

3. Vinegar

Heinz All-Natural Distilled White Vinegar, 5% Acidity, 16 Fl Ounce (1 Pint)One of the best ways to protect your cotton tie-dyed tee is to apply a vinegar solution during the first wash. You probably have a jug of vinegar stashed in your house already, and you only need two cups of this handy home remedy to keep your tie-dye looking sharp for years to come!

Please note that this method helps set water-soluble dye in cotton shirts. For polyester shirts, skip down to the next section and use synthrapol to help set the dye.

You should use this washing method immediately after rinsing the freshly dyed shirt. You do not need to wash a tie-dye shirt in vinegar more than once, so this is a one-time colorfast method!

  1. First, get a cheap bucket or plastic bowl large enough to fit several gallons of water and the t-shirt. Fill this container most of the way up with cold water.
  2. If you can, place the bucket outside. The vinegar will smell a bit strong, and you have to let it sit for a while!
  3. Measure in two cups of white vinegar.
  4. Lower your shirt into this solution.
  5. Let the shirt soak for half an hour.
  6. Remove the wet shirt and place it in the washing machine by itself. Set the machine to cold water and a delicate cycle. Add a gentle detergent.
  7. When the washing machine finishes, hang up the shirt to air dry!

4. Synthrapol

Jacquard Synthrapol Prewash and After Wash Liquid detergent for Dyed or Painted Fabrics, Industrial Strength, pH Neutral, 8 fl ozSynthrapol is a special kind of fabric cleaner that can help dye set. While you can use this on cotton tees, it works well on polyester. You only need to use a synthrapol wash method once, right after you first dye a polyester tie-dye shirt!
  1. First, let your polyester shirt air dry after the initial dyeing and rinsing.
  2. Next, get a large pot at a thrift store. You don’t want to use a pot you plan to use around food later!
  3. Fill up the pot two-thirds full with water.
  4. Heat the water to 140℉.
  5. Measure in about one teaspoon of synthrapol for every gallon of water in the pot.
  6. Put the dry tie-dyed tee into the pot.
  7. Use a long stick or an old wooden spoon to stir the shirt in hot water and synthrapol for ten minutes.
  8. Finally, use the wooden spoon to transfer the shirt to your kitchen sink, and rinse the tee under warm water until you do not see any dye or soap suds washing away.

5. Tulip Tie-Dye Method

Tulip sells some of the most popular tie-dye materials on the market today and offers easy-to-understand instructions on how to dye and wash your shirt.

This is the washing process Tulip recommends if you use Tulip dyes on your shirt:

  1. Let the shirt rest wrapped in plastic wrap for 8-12 hours.
  2. Rinse out excess dye under cold running water. This may take a little while, as you should keep rinsing until the water runs clear. Don’t wring out the shirt; just move it gently back and forth beneath the tap.
  3. Wash the shirt separately several times before including it with another laundry.
  4. Make sure you do not let the wet shirt touch other fabric, as it may transfer dye to those items!

These steps work great on cotton shirts. Tulip dyes do not work on polyester shirts. You will need to use disperse dyes such as the Rit brand DyeMore for synthetic material.

How to Dry Tie Dye Shirts

How to Dry Tie Dye Shirts

The best way to dry tie-dye shirts is to hang them up to air dry. This helps prevent fading over time, as the heat and friction in the tumble dryer can damage and fade the fabric. Hanging up the shirt also helps prevent wet dye from bleeding onto any other surfaces or garments!

That said, some dyeing experts recommend placing your tie-dye shirt in the dryer the very first time you wash the shirt. This can help certain dyes set and help prevent any color bleeding later on.

Should you risk the dryer? Read the instructions on your dye packet. Some brands of dye do suggest heating the dyed material. Others do not.

How to Keep Tie Dye From Bleeding

Using a dye-setting soak and a thorough rinse after first dyeing a shirt will minimize bleeding later on. That said, some dye will leak away from the shirt the first few times you wash it, no matter how carefully you follow the guidelines explained in this article.

Using either a vinegar wash or a synthrapol wash for cotton or polyester shirts, respectively, will help keep your shirt colorfast to some extent. But no method is perfect!

To keep the edges of your tie-dye design crisp, consider these tips:

  • Always use cold water. Hot water is a thousand times more likely to cause clothing to bleed in the wash!
  • Wash the shirt by itself the first few times. You especially do not want to wash freshly dyed shirts that contain different colors of dye together. The dyes will likely bleed from one shirt to another, spoiling your design.
  • Consider handwashing your shirt. You may want to commit to this process if you’re worried about color bleeding into the white spots on your tie-dyed shirt. Handwashing offers a gentle alternative to the washing machine and can help protect your tie-dye design.

How to Wash a Tie-Dye Shirt Without It Fading

The best way to wash a tie-dye shirt without fading is to use cold water and a gentle wash cycle. If you have the time, handwashing gives your clothes the gentlest possible treatment and will keep them nice even longer!

That said, you can safely machine wash your tie-dye shirt. Follow these tips to avoid any unnecessary fading:

  1. Turn the shirt inside out before putting it in the machine. That way, most of the friction will rub on the inside of the shirt and will not cause fading on the outside.
  2. Always use cold water and hang up your shirt to air dry. Heat can make the dye fade away more quickly.
  3. Do not use bleach in a load of laundry that contains a tie-dye shirt. It will mess up your shirt and could even cause the dye to transfer to other garments!
  4. You also do not want to use fabric softeners when you have a tie-dye shirt in the wash.
  5. Finally, while air drying is great, you should not hang up your shirt outside in bright sunlight. This could also cause the colors to fade.

Can You Wash Tie-Dye Shirts Together?

You can wash tie-dye shirts together if they all contain the same colors of dye. If they do not, you risk bleeding smudges of color from one shirt to another and ruining the integrity of your tie-dye pattern.

However, once you have individually washed your shirts three to fives times each, you can start mixing them up with each other. At this point, all the excess dye will hopefully have washed away. Your shirts should not bleed onto each other any longer.

You will want to keep a careful eye on what laundry you place in the wash with a DIY-dyed shirt. Jeans may leak blue dye onto your shirt, ruining it. On the other hand, you also do not want to place bright white clothes in with a dyed tee, as your homemade dye may leak onto the white clothes!

How to Wash a Store-Bought Tie Dye Shirt

You can wash a store-bought tie-dyed shirt just as you would any other laundry. That said, keeping these tips in mind will keep the shirt looking bright and fresh for a long time!

  • Use cold water. Hot water will eventually damage the fabric and fade the color. Plus, cold water will help save on your electric bills!
  • Along a similar vein, find a place to air-dry your shirt. You can put it on a hanger and hook it over your shower curtain rod, spread it out on a sweater drying rack, or take it outside to a clothesline if you have one!
  • Use a gentle or delicate cycle, as extra friction will rub at the shirt, wearing out the fibers more quickly.
  • If possible, try not to put tough items in the wash with your shirt. Things like jeans, jackets with zippers, or bulky hoodies will also apply lots of friction to the tie-dyed shirt during the wash cycle.
  • Air-dry the shirt. You probably don’t want to keep hearing this, but hanging your clothes up to dry does prolong the life of the fabric!

How to Get a Stain Out of a Tie-Dye Shirt

Getting a stain out of a tie-dye shirt without damaging the dye may prove challenging. You will want to avoid many commercial stain removers, which could remove dye along with the stain!

Instead, try soaking the stained area of the shirt in a bucket of cold water. Then add a dab of dish detergent and gently agitate this area. Rinse out the soap, and check to see if you got the stain out!

If you want to remove the dye from a tie-dye shirt, add ½ cup ammonia and ¼ cup dish soap to a bucket of hot water. Soak the shirt in that solution for an hour, and then rinse in cold water.

As a pro tip, if you got dye on your hands at any point during the process, you can easily remove it with baking soda. Just mix a spoonful of baking soda with a few drops of water, and scrub this on your hands!


The key to successfully washing tie-dye shirts is to handwash them or place them in the washing machine alone. Using cold water and airdrying, the shirt will keep its colors crisp and vivid for a long time. Applying a colorfast dye-setting technique will also help prevent bleeding in your tie-dye design.

The best way to keep your tie-dye shirt looking nice long-term is to wash it in cold water and avoid placing it in the dryer. You could also consider handwashing the tee to give it the gentlest possible treatment.

Have you ever tie-dyed a shirt before? What kind of dye did you use? Leave a comment below to let us know!