How to Dye Linens

Things You'll Need

  • Up to 8 lbs. household linens
  • 20 cups of salt (10 lbs.)
  • 2 1/2 cups soda ash (or substitute 4 cups washing soda)
  • 1/2 cup powdered Procion fiber-reactive dye
  • Textile detergent such as Synthrapol (dish detergent may be substituted)
  • Dust mask (optional, but recommended)
  • Washing machine
  • Gallon bucket or large mixing bowl
  • Warm water

Although household "linens" are no longer always made of linen fiber, there is a good reason that natural fibers such as linen are often used in towels, tablecloths and sheets--these fibers are durable and soft, and they hold up well under high heat and repeated washing. These days, cotton is more commonly used, but luckily for dyers, any light-colored fabric made of plant fibers can easily be dyed.

Choose a dye color. If you are attempting to match an existing color scheme, choose carefully and measure dye amounts carefully. To ensure a specific color, it's best to do a test batch in advance. You can do a small swatch and adjust all quantities down, or dye a full load of old towels and T-shirts.

Check your fiber content. All plant fibers--cotton, linen, hemp, rayon, ramie, viscose, etc.--will dye well in this recipe. Silk will also take the dye, but may produce varying color results.

Wash all linens to be dyed. Use textile detergent or dish detergent and turn the washing machine to its hottest setting. This will ensure that any oils or stain-resistant coatings are removed. Linens do not need to be dried before dyeing; you can leave the wet load out and dye it immediately.

Mix powdered dye into salt. Wear a dust mask if possible, work in a well-ventilated area and try not to inhale any dye. While Procion dye is non-toxic, the fine powder can irritate your lungs.

Begin filling the washing machine on the hottest possible setting. While machine is filling, pour the salt and dye mixture slowly into the water. When the washing machine is about half full, stop filling it and let it agitate for a few minutes to mix the dye.

Add your linens to the washing machine, then agitate again to distribute the dye among the linens. Fill the washing machine to its fullest setting and set it on the longest possible cycle.

Let the linens agitate for at least 10 minutes before adding the soda ash. You may have to reset the washing machine cycle a few times to ensure that the linens stay in the dye long enough, but it's important to continue to agitate them instead of turning the washer off and letting them sit in stagnant water, as this may result in uneven dyeing.

Dissolve soda ash in at least 2 quarts of warm water. Soda ash dissolves best if added to water (rather than putting the soda ash on the bottom of the container and then adding water to it). Stir thoroughly to ensure it is dissolved before adding it to the washing machine. If possible, add soda ash while washer is agitating, for even distribution.

Agitate linens in washer for at least another 20 minutes, longer for darker colors, then spin out the dye water. Add dish detergent to washer and run a normal washing cycle (again, on hot).

Run load through two rinse cycles, or more as needed, until water runs clear.


  • These instructions will dye 8 pounds of linens to the shade indicated by the manufacturer; a smaller amount of cloth will be dyed to a deeper shade, and a larger amount will be paler.

    Synthetic fibers will not take dye, so blended fabrics will come out a paler shade (for instance, a 50 percent polyester, 50 percent cotton tablecloth will be dyed to a shade that is 50 percent of the intensity of the original color).

    Although the fiber-reactive dyes called for in these instructions can usually only be bought online, it is worth it to use them instead of cheaper craft store dyes, as they are much more colorfast and vivid.

    For best color results, it's important to actually weigh your linens. Items such as towels don't appear much bigger than tablecloths, but they can really soak up a lot of dye.

    If you substitute washing soda for soda ash, be sure to use pure sodium carbonate rather than a washing soda with added scents or cleaning agents. Products intended to raise the pH of swimming pools may also be substituted; the purpose of the soda ash is simply to raise the pH of the dye bath.

    After all steps are completed, the dye is set and the linens should not bleed significantly, but it's still best to be careful when washing them with light colors, as some loose dye may still remain and can stain other items. After dyed items have been washed a few times, they will be safe in white loads.


  • Even though you are using a washing machine in these instructions instead of applying dye directly, your clothing can still be stained by splashed dye. Wear old clothing and remove all other laundry from the laundry room before dyeing.