How to Dye Fabrics Using the Washing Machine
Creating colorful textiles is as easy as running a load of laundry.
Dyes can be used to imbue fabrics with a happy, welcoming spirit. Using just fabric dye, hot water, and salt, experiment with the practice of creating your own hues. Give plain white cotton dish towels a colorful upgrade, making them pretty enough to use as napkins. Former Martha Stewart Living crafts editor Silke Stoddard uses iDye pellets to dye batches of them in a washing machine, then tosses them in the dryer: "The whole process is as easy as running a load of laundry," she explains
If you've never used dye in a washing machine, we understand why you would have some reservations. After all, who wants an indigo washing machine that stains every load of laundry? Nonetheless, household dyes like Rit won't permanently stain any metal component on your machine. In fact, Rit has been used in washing machines for decades, dating back to a time when big appliances were popularized in American households during the 1950s. (They even coined the phrase "Push Button Color!" in the early '60s to demonstrate the use of Rit in washing machines.) A washing machine is the go-to method for coloring oversized items such as window drapes, bedspreads, and rugs. And it's actually the most convenient dyeing method, period. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and let your machine do all of the work.
To determine how much dye is needed, refer to the package instructions. Pictured here, Stoddard used iDye pellets and she used them to color a batch of these Tekla dish towels from IKEA. Before dyeing, treat any visible stains on the item. This will help achieve uniform color results when dyeing. Pre-wash item in warm, soapy water. This helps to remove any finishes that may interfere with dye absorption. It's worth noting that, as in most dyeing projects, natural materials work best. That's because the fibers—whether cotton, linen, silk, or wool—will absorb the color more thoroughly. Again, check the care label if you're unsure.
To start, wet and place the item in the washing machine. Set your washer to the hottest possible setting and a wash cycle of at least 30 minutes or longer. The longer the item is in the dye, the more saturated the color will be. Drain, then spin. Wearing rubber gloves, mix the powder or well-shaken liquid dye with very hot water; stir well.
To enhance the color and reduce color bleeding, you can dissolve one cup of salt in four cups of very hot water if dyeing natural fibers like cotton or linen. If dyeing silk or nylon, mix one cup of white vinegar with two to four cups of hot tap water. Add one teaspoon of dish detergent to the solution in order to promote uniform dyeing. Start the cycle, pouring the dye solution into the dispenser. Then, pour the salt or vinegar solution. Flush the dispenser thoroughly with four more cups of hot tap water; use a fixative immediately after dyeing and before washing. Lastly, rewash the item in warm water with mild detergent.
To clean the washing machine: Wipe around the inside of the lid and pour a little bleach through the internal dispenser (if there is one) as dyes can get into these areas. Then, fill washer to the highest water level there is and select the hottest water temperature setting. Add detergent with two cups of chlorine bleach and run a full wash cycle with a few old towels.