Make It Last: How to Wash Tie-Dye Shirts

Even though it screams Summer of Love, tie-dye is totally in these days. Whether you have a favorite homemade tie-dye shirt that you’ve had forever or you just brought a brand-new one for the summer, keeping the colors vibrant is probably one of your primary concerns. The good news is that most commercial dyes tend to maintain their bright colors through repeated washings. The bad news, though, is that if you make certain washing mistakes, your favorite tie-dye project could fade much sooner than you’d like.

Tie-dye designs are bright and colorful additions to any wardrobe. Plus, the act of tie-dying itself is a great way to release your creativity and show off your artistic side using things you already have around the house, like rubber bands, warm water, white vinegar and a few old T-shirts. All you need is some dye powder or liquid — and a bit of creative vision — and you’re good to go!

Of course, you want your wearable work of art to last as long as possible, which it’s why it’s so important to follow these care and maintenance tips in addition to closely following your specific tie-dye instructions. This article lays out all the ways to wash your DIY tie-dye shirts and keep them looking as good as new.

woman wearing tie die shirt

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Getting it Right With the First Wash

 

If you’ve recently made your own tie-dye shirt, the way you wash it the first time is extremely important. If you wash your new tie-dye shirt incorrectly, it might fade significantly before you even have a chance to wear it! That very first wash is important to helping seal in the dye colors and pattern. Here’s how to do it:

  • Let the Dye Marinate — Don’t wash your shirt for at least 24 hours after dying it. The longer you wait, the more time the dye will have to set into the fabric. 
  • Wash It On Its Own — When you’re ready to wash, put it in the washing machine by itself or with other similarly colored tie-dyed shirts. Wash using the hot water setting and mild detergent. This will help prevent excess dye from staining your other clothes. When you’re done, wring it out under running water and make sure the water runs clear. This indicates that all loose dye has been rinsed.
  • Choose the Right Laundry Detergent — Using a color-safe detergent is important because it helps enhance the rinsing process and reduces the amount of excess dye in the fabric. The very first wash should be done with a high-concentration synthrapol detergent in your top-loading machine (this type of laundry detergent is not suitable for front-loading washers). 
  • Dry on High Heat — Dry in your dryer on high heat and leave it in for a full cycle. The heat helps set the color and prevents it from fading during future washes. Be sure to follow the instructions on your dye kit or tutorial, as some products may recommend avoiding the machine and air drying instead. Just make sure to hang your tie dye creations to air dry for even coloring and to avoid staining.

tie dyed shirts hanging on clothes line

How To Keep Tie-Dyed Shirts Looking Great and Avoid Fading

To preserve your tie dye garments for the long-run, you’ll have to think about ongoing maintenance in addition to the initial care period. Luckily, caring for tie-dye shirts isn’t especially difficult. You just want to make sure you take steps to preserve the fabric dye so your shirt stays vibrant for the long-term.

  • Wash with Care — The next few times you wash your tie-dye shirts, you may want to wash them separately just in case the colors continue to bleed. Turn your shirt inside out before putting it in the washer. By washing your shirt inside out, you will reduce the amount of fading outside the shirt. Wash using cold water to prevent dyes from bleeding and be sure to use a gentle detergent formulated to work in cold water.
  • Wash On the Gentle Cycle — Avoid washing your tie-dye shirt with heavy items like jeans. Heavy items will cause friction in the wash, which can make other fabrics fade. Consider using short or gentle wash cycles to minimize friction.
  • Don’t Give It the Chance to Bleed — Don’t leave your wet shirts in the washing machine for too long after the cycle has completed. If you let your wet tie-dye shirts sit, you’ll give colors time to bleed out. When possible, dry your shirts on a clothesline indoors or in the shade. Remember: Sunlight fades bright colors. Avoid drying in the dryer after the first washing, if possible.

Avoid Certain Products — Unfortunately, certain laundry products you love are not the best choice for your tie dye T-shirts. Avoid using anything that could alter the color of your garments, such  bleach, as this will remove pigment and ruin your elaborate color pattern. Fabric softener should also be on the no-fly list.

Treating Stains on Tie Dye

If you get a stain on your tie-dye shirt, you must be careful when selecting a pre-treatment product or spot remover. Using the wrong one could remove both the stain and the dye on your shirt. For best results, use a pre-treatment spray that does not contain bleach. Any product that contains even a small amount of bleach will ruin your shirt.

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When applying a pre-treater, follow the instructions carefully and do not leave it to soak any longer than recommended. Wash your shirt immediately after in cold water.

Additional Considerations

Always be mindful of the fabric content when washing tie-dye shirts. While most people use cotton shirts for tie-dyeing, different materials and blends work, too. Before washing any garment for the first time, always check the care instructions. If you accidentally damage the shirt by washing it incorrectly, it won’t matter whether the color fades or not.

Also, keep in mind that every tie-dye shirt will eventually start to fade. Rather than only making one tie-dye shirt at a time, consider dying multiple cheap bulk t-shirts at once. When you tie-dye in bulk, you’ll have plenty to go around. Still, you can prolong your shirt’s lifespan by washing it with care. If one of your shirts is already starting to fade, consider handwashing it in cool water with a mild detergent.

tie dyed shirts drying on hangers

Conclusion

Even if you wear wholesale polo shirts to work every day, tie-dye shirts are a colorful addition to any weekend wardrobe. Keep your shirts looking their best by washing and drying them with care. Give your shirts the TLC they deserve and they will look great for several years to come.

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