Make It New: How to Dye Clothes


Sometimes when I’m no longer in love with an article of clothing, it takes a simple color change to make it feel new and interesting again. Or sometimes I just have 2 things that are too similar and a color change fixes that problem easy-peezy. I was afraid to try dying my clothes for a while, and I’m no expert, let’s experiment, shall we?

What you need:

  • Article(s) of clothing to dye - see notes below on what to pick.

  • Dye - I went with Dylon because it had the color I wanted and came in smaller amounts. I have used Rit with about as much success. There are also natural dyes out there, but I haven’t had much success.

  • Bucket or stainless steel sink with drain stop.

  • Rubber gloves and long stainless steel utensil for stirring.

  • Hot water

  • Plastic bags (optional)

  • Vinegar (optional)

  • Salt (optional)


I grabbed 2 items to dye with this olive green color. I wasn’t wearing these items anyway, and they will show some of the aspects of how dye acts. And I love a good experiment.



Other good options to try: dye your favorite jeans back to their dark color, or dye them a new color. Refresh a fading shirt with the same color. Find a white shirt at a thrift store, and make it the color you actually want. Have fun!


When choosing items to dye, you’ll want to note a few things:

  • Choose cotton or linen. Silk and wool do accept some color, but not as much. Polyester is a no go, it doesn’t really change at all.

  • Choose a lighter color. (White is obviously best and easiest). Also, realize that unless you are bleaching your item first, the color that it is will affect the final outcome. Lemon Yellow shirt with Olive dye turns out a little more Pea Green.

  • If you choose a pattern, it will still be visible after the dye job, just more subtle.

  • Often thread is polyester, so it will remain the original color. Also note any visible zipper or other ties that may be polyester, as they will stand out on the dye job.


Item #1: tropical dress

Halters aren’t my most flattering neckline, and I don’t wear a lot of bold patterns right now, but the body of the dress looks oh so good on me, I couldn’t just get rid of it. I wanted to make the color a little more subtle and uniform, and I plan on altering the neckline into a slight sweetheart by bunching up along the center. It was originally thrifted and has no tag, so I wasn’t 100% that the outer layer was cotton, but I was fairly confident. I was also fairly certain that the under layers are NOT cotton, and would not dye. If I didn’t like the final look I planned to remove part of the under layer. But, keep it on until you know!


 Item#2: lemon yellow tee

(Also thrifted, Mossimo is not so much an ethical brand...) I ended up with two similarly colored tee-shirts. I liked the other one slightly better, so this one stopped getting warn. I pulled it from my “clothing swap” pile, and am going to give it a little more life now before handing it off! Tag info is still in tact (though hard to read on the yellow) and is 100% cotton. We’ll find out later whether or not the thread is…


Let’s go:

First, find a bucket or stainless steel sink that will hold your items and allow them to “move freely.” You want them to be fairly roomy so that the dye reaches all parts of the fabric. I used this bucket for my 2 items. While dry, they look a little tight, but once there is water in it they move oh so freely.

Fill up your bucket/sink with hot water. The hotter the better. I usually fill it with all the boiling water in my electric kettle, and top it off with the hottest water coming from the tap. If your tap doesn’t get very hot, it’s worth boiling multiple rounds to keep the temp up.


This is where you need to follow the instructions on the type of dye you buy. The dye I used was a powder, so I needed to dissolve it in water first. Liquid dyes probably don’t need this step. This is also where my dye called for a couple tablespoons of salt in the mix. Follow the directions. Also, I recommend you protect your work space with some plastic.

Put the dye in the hot water and stir for a while. Again, just follow the directions on your package, and you’ll be fine.

 You can see the cotton starting to take the color, and the non-cotton non-taking the color.


Put a movie on and let it sit a while. (Or do something else productive, like write a blog post.) I left mine in for a few hours, which was longer than the package said you needed to, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.

Once it’s been sitting for at least the appropriate amount of time, admire the how bold/dark the colors are! But don’t get used to it, the final won’t look quite like that.

Dump the water somewhere it won’t stain (again, stainless steel sink is a good option).


Rinse with COLD water this time. Rinse it til you don’t see any color coming off.

Check out your stuff! Turns out that the thread on the tee was, in fact, not cotton. But it looks kinda cool, I think! And as I suspected, the underside of the dress was polyester.


At this point, you can let your items sit in the bucket with half cold water and half vinegar. According to some people, this helps the color stay. I did this for another hour or so.

If you have a washing machine, place the items in it. You’ll be during a short “wash” with just cold water, and then a rinse and spin. This helps clean out all of the extra dye so it doesn’t end up on your other clothes when you wear it or wash it the first time. If you don’t have a washer, rinse the heck out of ‘em.


Once rinsed, either hang dry or put in the dryer, and await the final product. Tadaa!


From far away the pattern is subtle, but up close, you can still see it for sure. The formerly white parts are pretty close to what the color should have been.

LBF intro

Alright, now it’s your time to play! What brilliant ideas do you have to update some of your clothes with dye?



DIYJacqui3 Comments