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How to Tie-Dye With Food Coloring

How to Tie-Dye With Food Coloring - Threadsy

Nicole Rollender |

If you bake a lot or if one of your kids does science projects, you probably have food coloring right in your kitchen cabinet. Here’s another cool use for food coloring: creating one-of-a-kind, tie-dye designs using food coloring as dye on your favorite blank t-shirt. Tie dyeing with food coloring is a great way to refresh those old t-shirts sitting in your drawer or to uplevel a brand-new blank white t-shirt.

If you’ve been wondering how to tie dye a white t-shirt with food coloring—without the dye washing right out—you’re in the right place. We break down everything you need to know about tie dyeing your favorite t-shirt, and you can do it in seven easy steps.

How to Tie Dye with Food Coloring

Get excited about tie dyeing with food coloring! Working with food coloring, rather than a dye kit you’ve purchased at the store, gives you lots of benefits. First, it’s inexpensive, since you most likely have the supplies (like food coloring, white vinegar and salt) you need right at home. It’s also totally safe, in case you’re doing this fun project with young children.

It’s super easy to create a wonderful tie-dye design on your favorite blank t-shirt or tank top using simple ingredients you’ve got right in your kitchen pantry. Right here, you’ll learn what supplies you need and how to create your one-of-a-kind tie-dye looks in seven easy-to-follow steps.

Materials You Need to Tie Dye with Food Coloring

If you’re ready to tie dye your favorite blank t-shirt or other garment with food coloring, it’s time to gather your supplies. Here’s what you need:

  • Blank t-shirt
  • Floor coloring
  • White Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Measuring cup
  • Rubber bands or string
  • Ziplock bags
  • Plastic squeeze bottles
  • Large bowls, bins or buckets
  • Rubber or plastic gloves
  • Plastic sheet to cover your workspace.

Tie-Dye Recipe with Food Coloring

Before we dive into our step-by-step tutorial to tie dye your favorite blank t-shirt with food coloring, let’s talk about your perfect tie-dye recipe using food coloring and water. You’ll need squeeze bottles (or even old condiment bottles) for each color you plan to use. 

The recipe is simple! Mix 16 drops of food coloring with half a cup of water in your squeeze bottle. Then, making sure the hole is capped, shake up the mixture for a vibrant dye color. Repeat this for each color you plan to use.

Seven Steps to Tie-Dye Your Favorite T-Shirt

Ready to tie dye your t-shirt with food coloring? It’s go time. After you’ve covered your workspace with your plastic sheet and pulled on your gloves, follow these seven easy steps to create a look that’s totally unique to you.

Step One: Soak Your T-Shirt in Vinegar

To get the most vibrant colors possible, we recommend priming your t-shirt with vinegar. In one of your large bowls, mix one part water with one part vinegar. There should be enough solution to cover your t-shirt completely. Submerge your t-shirt in the water-and-vinegar mixture and let it soak for one hour.

Step Two: Decide on Your T-Shirt Design

Remove your t-shirt from the vinegar solution and wring out the excess solution. Then, get creative! Use your rubber bands or string to rubber band your t-shirt, whether it’s random or you watch an online tutorial to see exactly how to achieve a spiral, heart or other specific t-shirt design.

Step Three: Mix Your Food Coloring Solution

Mix half a cup of water and 16 drops of your food coloring together in a squeeze bottle to get your desired color. Use a separate squeeze bottle for each color you want to use.

Step Four: Start Tie Dyeing

First, shake your squeeze bottles to prep the food coloring mixture. Then, lay your t-shirt flat on your work surface, and start applying the dye to each rubber-banded area. Remember, there’s no wrong way to do this! If you overlap or mix colors, that only adds to the uniqueness of your tie-dye design. However, be sure to saturate each area so that you get the best results. You can turn the shirt over to continue your design on the back, if you wish.

Step Five: Wrap Your Tie-Dye Design

Now, place your t-shirt in a sealed, airtight ziplock bag or plastic bag secured with a rubber band so the dye can set. We recommend letting your t-shirt  sit at least eight hours or overnight to get the best results. Some experts suggest letting your t-shirt sit for 24 hours to get the most vibrant color results.

Step Six: Set Your Tie-Dye Design With Salt

Remember that we prepped your t-shirt with vinegar to get the best canvas for your food coloring tie dye? We can get even better results by now soaking your t-shirt in a salt water mixture.

It’s easy! Add enough cold water to a bowl to cover your t-shirt and mix in half a cup of salt. Remove the rubber bands, and submerge your t-shirt and let it soak for 15 to 30 minutes.

Step Seven: Wash (and Wear) Your Awesome New Tie-Dyed T-Shirt!

Remove your t-shirt from the salt water solution and rinse it under cold water. We recommend washing and drying your shirt before you wear it. For the best results, use a mild detergent and cold water. Warm or hot water may cause the dye to fade or wash away.

It’s a good idea to wash the shirt separately from other garments at first so the dye doesn’t stain your other clothing. You can also hand wash your shirt two or three times before running it through your washer and dryer as normal.

Tips for Tie Dyeing With Food Coloring

Check out these two insider tips for tie dyeing with food coloring for the best possible results, so you look cool coming or going.

Tip One: Choose the Right T-Shirt

Choose a 100% cotton t-shirt to get the most vibrant design from tie dyeing with food coloring.

You can also achieve the same effect with other t-shirts made of natural fibers, like hemp or linen. Natural fibers are hydrophilic, so they absorb your food coloring dye mixture easily. However, synthetic fabrics like polyester, are hydrophobic (they repel liquid), so we wouldn’t suggest using a t-shirt made with a high percentage of polyester for this project.

Tip Two: Prep Your T-Shirt.

It’s a smart idea to wash and dry brand-new cotton t-shirts before you dye them with food coloring. Here’s a little more information: Washing and drying the t-shirts according to the care label will also preshrink them, so they fit properly. Plus, just use a mild detergent, and don’t use any fabric softener or dryer sheets.

While you don’t need to pre-soak your t-shirts in vinegar or post-soak them in a salt water solution, we highly recommend these steps so that your design adheres better and lasts longer. Remember, food coloring isn’t a permanent dye and will fade over time for that cherished retro look and feel, but using your vinegar and salt mixes will keep your design brighter and more vibrant for longer.

Find Your Next Piece to Tie Dye From Threadsy!

With our affordable collection of t-shirts, sweatshirts and more, you can add a lot of personality to your wardrobe or the pieces you’re decorating to sell. After all, your new cotton garment is your blank canvas for your creativity and self-expression.