How to Use the Washer to Dye Fabric

Fabric dye can be a fun and easy way to alter the appearance of textiles.

Escape from drab colors with a simple dye job.
Whether it's used to liven up faded fabric or to change the color of an item completely, dye can breathe new life into washed-out materials. Vat dyeing is a method of dyeing fabrics a single, solid color. While vat dyeing can be done in a large bucket or tub, you can take some of the work out of the process by using your washing machine. .

Purchase cold-water dye. Most washing machines, even when set on hot, cannot make the water warm enough to properly utilize the chemical compounds of standard all-purpose dye.

Prepare the fabric. The material should be freshly laundered, dry and free of stains prior to dyeing.

Turn the temperature setting on the washing machine to "warm" or "hot", even though you have selected a cold-water dye. The heat will increase the rate of the chemical reaction.

Adjust the water level or load size on the machine, adding just enough water to the washer to totally submerge the fabric. Too much water will dilute the dye and make it less effective; however, there must be enough water in the machine to allow the fabric to move freely throughout the dyeing process. If you are unable to adjust the quantity of water in your particular washer, add extra dye to compensate for the additional water. If you are using a front-loading washing machine, place the fabric into the machine, close the door and then add the water.

Determine how much dye to add to the water. This may vary somewhat depending on brand; however, in general, dark shades require one bottle of liquid or two boxes of powder for every pound of dry fabric. For lighter shades, reduce the amount of dye by half.

Add the dye to the water. If you chose a powdered dye rather than a liquid, dissolve the granules in hot water, using 2 cups of water for every box of powder, and then pour the solution into the machine. If you are using a front-loading washing machine, dilute the dye by mixing it with 4 cups of hot water and then add it to the machine via the soap dispenser. The machine will automatically dispense the dye into the water.

Pour non-iodized salt into the water. This will help to work the dye into the fibers of the fabric. The more salt you add, the deeper the color will be. Add salt 1/2 cup at a time. Close the lid between additions and wait 5 minutes to allow the agitation of the machine to distribute the salt throughout the dye solution. You can add up to 20 cups of salt per dye job. For a front-loading machine, mix the salt with hot water and add it to the soap dispenser once the dye has been dispersed.

Add the fabric. If you have a front-loading machine, skip this step as the fabric is already being processed. Use a wooden spoon to push the material beneath the surface of the water, completely submerging it. Stop the washing machine and allow the fabric to soak for 30 minutes to 1 hour, stirring the water and material gently at least once every 5 minutes. Alternatively, set the machine to wash and allow the fabric to agitate for 30 minutes but do not allow the dye solution to drain out. Stay close to the machine, resetting it as needed.

Add soda ash to the water. For every box or bottle of dye, use 1/4 cup soda ash. Mix the soda ash with 1 cup warm water and stir well. Pour the solution either directly into the water or into the soap dispenser of a front-loader machine. This will help to "fix" the color and keep it from washing back out of the fabric. After the soda ash has been added, reset the wash cycle so the fabric will be exposed to the solution for at least 10 minutes.

Allow the washer to run through a complete cycle, rinsing and spinning the dyed fabric. Leave the fabric in the machine. Add detergent and launder the fabric to remove any loose dye. Add an extra rinse cycle, if possible, to ensure the material is thoroughly cleansed.

Remove the fabric and clean the washing machine. Fill the tub with hot water and then add 1 scoop of laundry detergent and 1 cup of standard chlorine bleach. Let the cycle run as normal; this will remove any dye from the equipment.

Things You Will Need

  • Cold-water fabric dye
  • Non-iodized salt
  • Wooden spoon
  • Soda ash
  • Laundry detergent
  • Chlorine bleach


  • If your material's current color needs to be removed in order to achieve the desired color results, color remover is available commercially. It is generally found in the same section of the store as the fabric dyes.

About the Author

Lisa Parris is a writer and former features editor of "The Caldwell County News." Her work has also appeared in the "Journal of Comparative Parasitology," "The Monterey County Herald" and "The Richmond Daily News." In 2012, Parris was honored with awards from the Missouri Press Association for best feature story, best feature series and best humor series.