4 Different Ways To Tie-Dye Denim for Amazing Results!

Jean shorts that have been tie-dyed in browns, reds, and yellows.

Tie-dyeing is a version of a traditional method of dyeing called resist dyeing that has ancient roots.

In resist dyeing, parts of the fabric are blocked off from the dye. This can create any number of intriguing patterns.

While tie-dye designs are typically found on T-shirts and tapestries, the process can work on a variety of different kinds of fabric.

Can you tie-dye denim? You can tie-dye denim, and the results can be quite impressive. Remember that most tie-dye colors will show up on light-colored denim, while darker colors are best for darker colored denim. For very dark denim, either use black dye or lighten the denim using discharge dyeing.

In the following, you’ll learn different methods for tie-dyeing denim, including dyeing denim in the washing machine with textile dye, dyeing denim in a sink with Rit dye, using natural dyes to tie-dye denim, and using discharge dyeing techniques.

You will also learn the step-by-step process for reverse tie-dyeing denim. Let’s get started.

4 Methods for Tie-Dyeing Denim

You can tie-dye denim in the washer or sink, use natural dyes, or apply tie-dye directly to lighter-colored denim. 

Dyeing Denim in the Washer

Textile dyes are permanent fabric dyes that can be found at most craft stores. They are a good choice for transforming the color of your denim to make it more suitable to tie-dyeing.

For best results, choose a textile dye that is formulated to adhere to denim, like this jet black dye

Tulip Permanent Fabric Dye- Black (26588)
  • 2-in-1 fabric dye + color boost formula for ultra-rich, even color coverage. Dye activates with hot...
  • Fabric Dyes are mixable so you can create your own custom dye colors for any and every project....

Pour the textile dye and 1.10 pounds of salt into the washing machine drum with pre-washed denim, and wash it on the normal cotton, permanent press, or whites cycle, depending on your machine. 

Wash the denim a second time, this time with detergent, then let it air dry. Once the denim is your desired color, you can tie-dye or discharge dye as normal.

Be aware that textile dye will mix with the original color of the denim. If, for instance, you’re using yellow dye on red denim, your end result will be a shade of orange.

Dyeing Denim in the Sink

If you have a smaller piece of denim or are concerned about staining your washing machine with dye, you can tie-dye your denim in a stainless steel sink.

This is a good option if you want a two-toned look with the original denim color showing up wherever you bind the fabric.

Rit makes all-purpose dyes that work great on denim. If your denim has more than 35% polyester, you will want to use Rit DyeMore, which is designed for use on synthetic fabrics.

Rit DyeMore Liquid Dye, Royal Purple 7-Ounce
  • Dye synthetic fabric and fabric blends, which include anything with 35% or more polyester, acrylic,...
  • With 250+ color recipes available on Rit’s website, it is almost certain you’ll find the right...

Pre-wash your denim before tie-dyeing, and then fill the sink with 3 gallons of very hot water.

You can add 1 cup of salt to the water to make the colors more vibrant, and add a teaspoon of detergent to reduce surface tension.

Add the dye to the bath, and then, making sure your denim is damp, tie your desired pattern into the denim, and place it in the sink. 

Stir the denim slowly with a long metal spoon for at least 10 minutes to ensure that the dye soaks into the fabric. Let the denim sit in the bath for 30 minutes to an hour. 

Remove the denim from the bath and wring it out. Then run it under first warm water, then cool water, until the water runs clear.

Take the rubber bands or string off of the denim, then wash it with warm water and detergent and dry it. 

Using Natural Dyes

Natural dyes can be made from a variety of fruits and vegetables and are a great option for anyone who wants to avoid the chemicals in dyes or bleach.

The following fruits and vegetables can be used to create natural dyes:

Red and Pink: Cranberries, beets, red cabbage, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, red onion skins
Orange: Carrots, orange peels, yellow onion skins
Yellow:  Saffron, lemon peels, yellow apple skins
Green: Green apple peels, spinach
Blue: Red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries
Purple: Raspberries, blackberries, red onion skins

Soak your denim in a pot with a solution of salt and water at a ratio of 1:16 (1 part salt to 16 parts water). Allow the denim to heat on the stove just below boiling for 1 hour. 

Wring out your denim once it is cool, and tie your desired pattern into the fabric.

Fill a pot with natural dye and water at a 1:2 ratio (1 part dye to 2 parts water), and let it simmer on the stove for 1 hour. Then strain the concoction into another pot. 

Add your denim to the pot, and make sure that it is completely submerged. Allow the denim to soak for at least 12 hours.

You will need to treat your denim with a fixative to keep the natural dyes from fading. I recommend using this one for best results.

Rit Dye RIT COLORSTAY, 8 fl oz, Clear
  • Locks in color to reduce bleeding, fading and even enhance the color of your fabric
  • Perfect for dye projects and commercially dyed fabrics

You can also soak your naturally dyed denim in a homemade fixative for a few hours. A simple natural fixative is a vinegar solution made of 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts water.

Tie-Dyeing White or Light-Washed Denim

Pre-wash your white or light-washed denim, then wring it out until it’s slightly damp. Bind the denim in your desired pattern, and apply tie-dye with a squeeze bottle.

Make sure to flip the denim over and apply dye to all sides. 

Put the denim in a plastic bag for at least 12 hours, then rinse it under cold water until the water runs clear. Wash and dry the denim, and it should be ready to wear!

How To Reverse Tie-Dye Denim

Reverse tie-dyeing is a form of discharge dyeing, which is a technique that removes color through the use of chemicals or bleach. 

  1. Pre-wash denimWash your denim to remove any finishes.
  2. Tie your patternTie the denim with rubber bands or string.
  3. Apply bleachBleach the denim with a solution of bleach and water at a 1:1 ratio. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
  4. Rinse and washRemove the rubber bands, rinse the bleach out, and then wash and dry the denim.
  5. Add color (optional)You can leave your denim as is at this point, or add color to the bleached areas by following regular tie-dyeing directions.

Related Questions: 

Can You Tie-Dye Clothes With Food Coloring?

Food coloring is an acid dye, which means that it is only suitable for use on protein fabrics, such as wool, silk, angora, or cashmere.

It can also sometimes work on nylon but not on any other synthetic fabrics. It will not work on cellulose fabrics, such as cotton.

How Long Should Tie-Dye Sit on Denim?

Tie-dye should sit on denim for at least 12 hours. The longer the dye sits, the more vibrant the colors will be. 

That’s a Wrap! 

There are many different techniques for tie-dyeing denim. Remember that most colors will show up better on lighter-colored denim, and to use darker colors on darker denim.

Last update on 2024-05-26 at 15:59 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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I am a writer and an artist taking opportunities every day to transform my dreams into reality. I love learning new things and am always creating and innovating. I worked as an Art Instructor, teaching painting and art techniques to artists of all levels and ages. I have hosted countless paint parties and taught children’s art classes both in my home as well as an art teacher at a Montessori school.