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 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 shirt could fade much sooner than you’d like.

Tie-dye designs are bright and colorful additions to any wardrobe. This article lays out all the ways to wash your tie-dye shirts and keep them looking as good as new.

woman wearing tie die shirt

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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! 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.
  • 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.

Keeping Your Tie-Dyed Shirts Looking Great

  • 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.

tie dyed shirts hanging on clothes line

Treating Stains

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

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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