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Do It Yourself: Dye Fabric the Right Way #30DaysofGOOD

Want truly one-of-a-kind clothes or fabrics for your home? Check out our quick DIY dyeing overview.

Things are easier said than done, or so the old adage goes, and we couldn't agree more. That's why we do 30 Days of GOOD (#30DaysofGOOD), a monthly attempt to live better. Our challenge for July? Do It Yourself.

A lot of people customize their stuff with a coat of paint, but the practice of fabric dyeing tends to be less common. Here's a quick overview on how to get clothes and home fabrics that are truly one-of-a-kind.

First, some important notes: Things can get very messy, and it's hard—if not impossible—to remove errant stains. When you set up to color your articles, wear old clothes and use a space that won't be ruined by splashes. And rubber gloves are a must if you want to keep your hands from looking Halloweenish for a few weeks.

Now here's how to do it:

  1. Select your dye and fabric. The most common brand of fabric dye is Rit, but others including Dylon and Tulip are available at fabric and craft supply stores. For your fabric, a cellulose material works best—cotton, rayon, linen, and so forth. Make sure it's been washed. Unfortunately, synthetics like polyester won't accept the dye, so check your material before you try to dye it.
  2. Pre-soak the fabric. A mixture of sodium carbonate (available from pool supply stores) and hot water is used to help prepare the fabric to accept the dye. Let it soak for 15-60 minutes. This is the step that I've forgotten once or twice in the past, leading to less satisfactory results.
  3. Mix the dye solution. While the fabric is soaking, follow the mixing instructions on the dye you are using. Many of the dyes can be used in a washing machine, but the potential for inadvertently coloring subsequent loads of clothes makes using a bucket preferential.
  4. Put fabric in dye. Make sure the articles aren't twisted and bunched up—that can lead to spots that are discolored or even missing dye completely. However, if you're looking to tie-dye your clothes, twist and tie the items before putting them into the mix.
  5. Stir for 10-30 minutes. You'll want to do this continuously, to let the item get a thorough and even soak. This is one of the advantages of using a washing machine. But again, the possibility of a load of pink clothes might make you regret taking the easy route.
  6. Warm rinse. Remove from the dye bucket and, with warm water, give a thorough rinse. Don't do this in your expensive porcelain sink—a utility/garage basin is preferable.
  7. Cold rinses. Continue to rinse in cooler and cooler water, helping set the dye and remove the excess. Keep rinsing until it starts to run clear.
  8. Wash and dry. Without any other clothes in the washer, put your newly-colored fabric into the machine for a warm wash, using mild detergent. Afterwards, a spin in the dryer will help set the color.
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The next few washes may still result in some leakage, so make sure to only wash it with like-colored clothes. And, it's a good idea to practice fabric dyeing a few times before trying to get your expensive new shirt from crisp white to an even, dark red. But with experience, you can get some eye-popping, unique results.

Read more of Mike Senese's DIY tips and projects at DO IT.

We're giving away $1000 for you to share your own DIY skills with others. Participate in our Host a GOOD Workshop challenge.

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