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How to Dye Faded Clothes

Do not throw away that favorite, but faded yellow cotton T-shirt just because it's lost its brightness; bring it back to life with a fresh shot of color.

It doesn't matter whether you use the powdered or liquid dyes available at grocery, arts and crafts or sewing stores, as long as you mix the ingredients correctly and only dye fabrics that take the dye. The fabrics that accept dye include:

  • 100 percent natural silks, linens, ramie and wool
  • synthetic nylon and rayon 
  • fabrics that contain 60 percent natural fibers.

Fabrics that include a blend of 60 percent natural fibers and a polyester, for example, will take dye, but result in a lighter tint of the original color.

Fabrics that do not accept dye well or at all include:

  • 100 percent man-made acrylic, acetate, spandex, polyester and metallic fibers
  • rugs with rubber backings
  • clothing with labels that say dry clean only
  • fabrics with bleach stains
  • heavily stained fabrics or
  • fabrics with water-repellent coatings.

Gather the ingredients together and prepare your area to dye clothes. Set up in a laundry room or in a place that has enough space to lay a plastic sheet over the work area.

Things You'll Need:

  • Plastic sheeting
  • Rubber gloves
  • Apron
  • 4-gallon plastic container or bucket
  • 4-cup measuring cup
  • 1-cup measuring cup
  • Large stainless steel or metal spoon
  • Salt or white distilled vinegar
  • Paper towels of fabric scrap

Garment Prep

Wash the item to be dyed first to remove any stains or finishes that could affect how well the material accepts the color. If the fabric has blotches, you can apply a fabric color remover to even out the color or make the garment more accepting of the dye.


  • Do not use bleach to strip fabrics of color. Once the fabric is bleached, it won't accept the dye.

Mix the Dye

Cover the work area with a plastic sheet.

Put on the rubber work gloves and the apron.

Set the plastic container on the covered work surface. Add, at most, 3 gallons of very hot water per 1 pound of fabric.

Mix 1 box of powdered dye in 2 cups of boiling hot water in the large measuring cup. Thoroughly dissolve the powdered dye in the water using a spoon. If using liquid dye, shake the bottle to mix its ingredients before dispersing it in 2 cups of hot water. Mix the dye in the 4-cup measuring cup, not the plastic container.


The weight of the clothes also affects how the fabric accepts dye. One box of powdered dye or 1/2 bottle of liquid dye can change the color in about 1 pound of fabric.

Wait 5 minutes before adding the salt or vinegar to the dye bath. Pour in 1 cup of salt -- if you are planning to dye cotton materials -- into the 2-cup dye mixture in the large measuring cup For wool, silk or nylon add 1 cup of white distilled vinegar to the liquid dye and hot water.

Verify the salt or the vinegar is dispersed completely throughout the dye bath before adding the dye to the hot water in the large container. Mix the dye bath with the hot water completely.

Test the color of the dye on a paper towel or piece of scrap fabric similar to the fabric you want to dye. If the color is fine, proceed. If not, add more dye to darken it or more hot water to lighten it. When satisfied with the color, add the dye mixture to the plastic container swirling, with the spoon until dispersed.

Wet the clothing item in warm water and wring out before adding to the dye bath. Move the garment in the dye bath continuously to ensure there are no folds and the entire garment is soaked with the dye.

Let the fabric sit in the dye bath for 10 to 30 minutes, mixing continuously. You can let it sit in the dye longer if you want the fabric to soak up more dye. The longer it sits the darker it gets, but when dry, the color may appear lighter than when wet.

Rinse the garment in warm tap water until the water runs clear. Run the garment through a warm water wash cycle or wash by hand, as you cannot put anything else into the cycle with it because of the dye that bleeds off during washing.

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