diy projects

How to Dye Fabric – The Do’s & Don’ts

How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts - roomfortuesday.comAs I mentioned earlier this week, we spent the weekend working on a basement project which involved drapery panels from IKEA. It’s easy to use inexpensive curtains that fit the budget if you’re going for a minimalistic or neutral look, but when it comes to color- let’s be honest… IKEA doesn’t have a great range of colors to choose from. After bringing home three different options and not really loving any of them, I thought- “I should just dye them”. Yes, it sounds a little intimidating to mix a custom color and manipulate fabric or textiles to produce your envisioned outcome, but it’s really not as difficult as you might expect. Click through for an easy tutorial, and a few “do’s and don’ts”. I’ve had plenty of both over the years and it’s about time I shared! You can also catch a sneak peek of my finished drapery in the basement. 

If you’ve been following along for awhile now, you already know I have a background in textiles and used to do this sort of thing allllll the time during my time in art school. I was constantly in the dye lab experimenting. It was something I really enjoyed. It’s weird to think I used to work with fabric on a weekly basis and this is the first time I’ve dyed something in years. I will say- I was a little rusty, which led to this post. Consider this your guide for what to do and what NOT to do if you also want to change the color of your curtains or fabric.

How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts - roomfortuesday.comHere are some quick rules or facts to know before you get started (these may or may not be obvious, but just in case)

  1. You can dye fabric darker, bolder, or more saturated, but it can NOT go lighter than the current color.
  2. Dying fabric a solid, uniform color is more difficult than an organic or accidental pattern (like shibori).
  3. If your fabric turns out splotchy- don’t panic… you can “overdye” it.
  4. The larger the item or fabric is, the more difficult it will be to dye.
  5. Always test your dye lot and color before adding the fabric.
  6. There is a specific dye you should use for each material or fabric.

How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts -


How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts - roomfortuesday.comI purchased these Tibast cotton curtain panels from IKEA (pictured above) and wasn’t into the color for my space. I really needed a deep navy curtain. Obviously, that’s the reason for this post- because I decided to dye them. Here’s how I did it…

Step 1 // Choose your dye. Given my curtains were 100% cotton, I used this Rit dye- which is made for natural materials. They also make a dye for synthetic materials. Check your fabric and determine what dye is best for your project.

How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts - roomfortuesday.comStep 2 // Soak or prewash your fabric. I gave my fabric a good soak in warm water in my kitchen sink. Saturating the fabric with water will help it dye evenly.

How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts - roomfortuesday.comStep 3 // Find a dye container. While the fabric is soaking in water, prep your dye bath. Begin by finding a container large enough to fit your fabric. The larger the container- the easier this project will be! I started with a 5 gallon bucket and quickly realized that wasn’t the best option. The plastic totes gave me more room to agitate and maneuver the fabric.

How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts - roomfortuesday.comStep 4 // Mark your container. I made a fill line mark on my containers with a sharpie so I could consistently dye my fabric. Having a “fill line” helped me fill the containers without measuring the water every single time.

How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts - roomfortuesday.comStep 5 // Add the ingredients. I added hot tap water to my fill line, 1 cup of rock salt, 4 ounces of navy dye, and 2 ounces of black dye. I stirred the dye bath until everything was dissolved and evenly combined.

How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts - roomfortuesday.comStep 6 // Test the color and drop in the fabric. Next, carefully dunk a white paper towel or scrap piece of cloth into the dye bath to check your color. If everything looks good, submerge your fabric. I dyed 1 curtain panel at a time.

How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts - roomfortuesday.comStep 7 // Agitate. If you want your fabric to dye evenly, set a timer and agitate it every 5-10 minutes. I journaled each cycle so I could keep track… agitate, wait 7 minutes, agitate, wait 7 more, agitate, etc. Basically, you want to make sure the fabric is being moved around and isn’t creased or folded on itself… any resistance will come out of the dye bath lighter or splotchy. By agitating, you can ensure dye is getting to every single spot and completely covering the fabric. I left my fabric submerged in the dye bath for 30 minutes, but you can leave it up to 60 minutes, depending on how dark or saturated you want the color.

How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts - roomfortuesday.comStep 8 // Rinse. Carefully remove the fabric from the dye bath and rinse it with cold water until the water runs clear. I just used the garden hose for this, to keep the mess outside.

How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts - roomfortuesday.comStep 9 // Wash. Next, add the fabric to the washing machine with a mild or gentle detergent. I washed on warm because I was trying to get my curtain panels to shrink.

That’s it! I tumbled my fabric dry and everything looked pretty good and even. Again… it took some trial and error to learn the process and figure out how to dye evenly, so I figured sharing some “do’s and don’s” might be helpful. This is how they turned out…

How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts -

  • Use a spacious container.
  • Confirm the dye is compatible with your fabric / material.
  • Set an agitation timer.
  • Wear old clothes and rubber gloves (it gets pretty messy).
  • Journal your formula, dye time, and additional notes.
  • Test your color before adding fabric to the dye bath.
  • Use a measuring cup.
  • Forget to wet the fabric before dying
  • Forget to set your agitation timer.
  • Eyeball measurements.
  • Skip the salt or vinegar.
  • Overcrowd the dye bath.
  • Be afraid to mix different dye colors.

How to Dye Fabric - The Do's & Don'ts - roomfortuesday.comI think that’s it! Let me know if you have any questions. I dyed a BUNCH of curtains for our basement project that I’ll be sharing soon. I dyed 16 panels- whew! It was a lot of work, but the end result was well worth it and I saved a ton of money doing this myself. I also ended up with the *perfect* color. It definitely looks like high-end custom drapery and I’m hoping nobody will notice I spent less than $200.

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  • Reply
    September 6, 2019 at 5:03 am

    On my monitor, that color does look perfect! I always liked the magical surprise of dye projects as a kid. Of course, tie dye was an annual summer camp staple, but I especially loved the batik process. I’m intrigued to hear about some of your dye lab experiments!
    Happy Friday!!

    • Reply
      September 10, 2019 at 9:35 pm

      Me too! I used to do 4-H projects with dye every year as a kid. It was super fun! Hope you had a great weekend :) I’ve been MIA since we had house guests.

  • Reply
    September 6, 2019 at 5:33 am

    Lovely, even result! Did you consider using the packs of dye that you can use in the washing machine, I’ve always had great results with those and it is virtually effortless?

    • Reply
      September 10, 2019 at 9:36 pm

      Thank you Sally! I’ve honestly never tried the packets or dying in the washing machine… if you give it a go- please let me know how it turns out! :)

  • Reply
    September 6, 2019 at 8:55 am

    Gorgeous! I can’t wait to see these in situ!

    • Reply
      September 10, 2019 at 9:36 pm

      Yes!! Can’t wait to share. The project reveal is happening a couple weeks- stay tuned :)

  • Reply
    September 6, 2019 at 10:24 am

    Looks like they came out perfect. Did you have any dye transfer in your dryer? Ive had it happen with new jeans or does the salt vinegar help set it?

    • Reply
      September 10, 2019 at 9:37 pm

      Thanks Liz! No dye transfer in the dryer, but I washed them by themselves and cleaned out the dryer afterwards. I was either brave or stupid and washed white towels afterwards and nothing happened. The lint catcher did have a bunch of blue though. Ha!

  • Reply
    September 7, 2019 at 9:20 am

    My grandmother used to dye stuff when I was little and up until now have not heard or seen anyone else do this. Thank you for the process. Taking a dying class would be fascinating! Can’t wait to see them…16 panels…wow!

    • Reply
      September 10, 2019 at 9:39 pm

      My grandma is actually the one who taught me how to dye :) I love the entire process and I think it’s because of her!

  • Reply
    Cathy | the Grit and Polish
    September 9, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    I’ve totally tried and failed at dying IKEA curtains before. PINing this post for next time! Thanks for sharing your expertise with us!

    • Reply
      September 10, 2019 at 9:42 pm

      It was more difficult than I expected. Haha! It took a time or two to get it right. haha!!

  • Reply
    September 23, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    Sarah! These are fantastic!! Is it possible to dye a comforter? I have one that I would love to
    Dye, but am I certain if it will work. Any thoughts or tips?

    • Reply
      September 24, 2019 at 9:44 am

      Thanks Mary! You could definitely dye a comforter. It’s important to read what type of material it is first- so you can purchase the correct dye. I’d also recommend getting the largest tote / vessel possible because it makes dying bulky items SO much easier. Hope this helps :)

  • Reply
    October 25, 2019 at 10:41 am

    Hi Sarah. Beautiful color choice for your curtains! I have chair slip covers I’d like to dye. However, I don’t want to risk shrinkage. Any tips for cold water dying? Thank you.

  • Reply
    November 23, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    You mentioned you rinsed the curtains with the garden hose. Did the dye stain your patio or decking?

    • Reply
      November 23, 2019 at 2:43 pm

      I did this project in the grass… you definitely wouldn’t want to try this on a patio because the dye would most certainly stain your decking or patio.

  • Reply
    December 29, 2019 at 4:10 pm

    I have a pair of pants that I want to dye. They are 75% cotton, 23% polyester and 2% spandex. What would be the best dye to use if I want them to turn out black?

    • Reply
      December 31, 2019 at 9:11 am

      Your best bet is to follow the instructions on the bottom and test some sample pieces, Lexie!

  • Reply
    April 20, 2020 at 10:14 pm

    Hi Sarah. I just love what you did and that’s a perfect colour for me. I want to dye my patio cushions as well but don’t want them to shrink. I see you put hot tap water in the buckets. If I do that but wash in cold will that work? Any thoughts? Also how much rock salt did you use? Is that better than vinegar. If I use vinegar, how much?
    Thank you.

    • Reply
      April 21, 2020 at 9:10 am

      Thank you Nancy! I’ve had better luck with salt… I typically use one cup per dye lot. Vinegar also works though (probably 3/4 cup). There should be instructions on your dye package as well. You can definitely wash them in cold after the fact… it might take a couple washes to make sure the dye doesn’t transfer to anything else. Hope this helps! xo

  • Reply
    May 23, 2020 at 4:08 pm

    That’s great thanks. I read on the back of the Rit bottle to add 1tsp of liquid dish detergent to the water. I see you didn’t. Do you know the purpose of this? How much hot tap water did you use in each of the totes? (The ratio)
    I’ll be trying it in the next few weeks. I’ll let you know how it turned out.
    Thanks again

  • Reply
    May 31, 2020 at 5:50 am

    Hi Sarah,
    I want to dye my patio cushions. They are currently red. What is realistic for changing them? I’d like to get a dark green black but maybe blue black. Would they end up purple? I don’t know what to do with the red. They are synthetic material. Have you ever worked with red before? Thanks for any advice!

    • Reply
      May 31, 2020 at 10:49 am

      Hi Liz, it might take a couple different dye sessions (overdue) to achieve a dark blue / black, but it can definitely be done. I’d recommend testing an area or similar red fabric before committing to your actual cushions. Hope this helps!

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