How To Tie-Dye in the Classroom (And Keep Your Sanity!)

A group of young students sitting on the floor of their classroom.

Teaching kids to tie-dye is a fun way to incorporate both art and science that gives students a tangible representation of the lesson.

The tie-dyeing process is perfect for teaching the basics of color theory, as well as how the chemicals in the fiber-reactive dye react with the fabric molecules to create a permanent bond with the fabric.

Supplies Needed:

  • Small and medium sized plastic gloves
  • Disposable tablecloths or drop cloths
  • Disposable aprons
  • Plastic squeeze bottles
  • White 100% cotton shirts
  • Large plastic Ziplock bags
  • Soda ash
  • Tie-dye (fiber-reactive dye, also known as Procion MX dye)
  • Rubber bands
  • Permanent marker
  • Paper towels
  • Tables and chairs 
  • Water
  • Buckets for soaking the shirts in soda ash
  • A white demo shirt

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1. Gather Materials

Each child should either bring money to cover the cost of their shirt or should bring their own shirt to school.

Make sure if they bring their own shirt that they bring it before the day that you are planning to tie-dye. 

Write down each child’s shirt size and double check with them before ordering.

It’s a good idea to write each child’s name on the shirt tag so that there is no confusion or battles over whose shirts are whose.

Tie-dyeing with kids can get messy and is an activity that is best done outside. Be sure to cover the tables with disposable tablecloths or drop cloths before the kids arrive. 

You can also recommend to parents that they dress their children in clothes that they don’t mind getting dirty or stained for tie-dyeing day.

Supplying disposable gloves and aprons can help to mitigate the mess, but it’s pretty surprising how good kids are at getting dye in places that you were trying to keep clean. 

2. Make Arrangement for Classroom Helpers in Advance

It is possible to teach an entire classroom of kids how to tie-dye by yourself, but it’s so much easier if you have some help! Ask for parent volunteers prior to tie-dyeing day. 

Helpers can assist in organizing the kids into manageable groups, reminding students how to mix colors, and demonstrating different tying techniques.

3. Demonstrate Different Tying Methods the Day Before

You can show the kids different tying methods the day before you tie-dye, but you may need to remind them of the techniques the day of the class.

4. Wash, Dry & Label Shirts

Before you tie-dye the shirts, it’s important to wash them to remove any factory sizings or finishes.

Wash the shirts with warm water and detergent, and dry in the dryer. Make sure each kid’s name is on the labels of the shirts.

You can fold the shirts and organize them with names in alphabetical order to make divvying them out more streamlined.

5. Prepare Workstations Before Class

If you are working outside, you will want to put something heavy on the ends of the tables to keep the wind from disturbing the table cloths or drop cloths.

Put the dye in the plastic squeeze bottles and arrange them at intervals along the tables, so that at least four children can reach each set.

Put a box of rubber bands of different sizes next to each set of squeeze bottles. 

Fill buckets with water and soda ash at a ratio of ½ cup of soda ash to a gallon of water to create the soda ash solution.

Pre-soak the shirt you will be using to demonstrate the tie-dyeing process about 30 minutes before the class. 

Put the buckets off to the side where they will not be accidentally bumped into or tipped over. If you’re doing a seating chart, put each child’s shirt on their chair.

6. Demonstrate the Tie-Dye Process

A white shirt tied and ready for the tie-dyeing process waiting on a wood table.

Once all the kids are seated, you can demonstrate the tie-dye process. Remove your demo shirt from the soda ash solution, being sure to wear gloves while explaining that soda ash can be irritating to the skin. 

Wring the shirt out until it is still damp but not dripping wet, letting the class know that if the shirt is too wet, it can make the tie-dye run. 

Show the kids a simple tying technique, and remind them that the helpers can show them how to do different techniques if they forget. 

Show the kids how to apply the tie-dye, holding the bottles at an angle rather than straight up and down to control the flow of the dye.

Ask the kids how to mix colors to create new colors as you dye, perhaps asking what color they will get if they mix red and blue, for example. 

You should also explain how to make brown, and tell them how to avoid making brown by keeping orange and blue away from each other on the shirts.

You can incorporate a science lesson as you work. Tell them that they need to soak their shirts in the soda ash before dyeing because it changes the pH levels (pH stands for “potential or power of hydrogen” and is a scale that shows the alkalinity or acidity of a solution) of the tie-dye and fabric. 

The tie-dye is a fiber-reactive dye, and the soda ash makes it so that it reacts to the cellulose fiber that cotton fabric is made of and actually creates a permanent bond between the two so that the dye becomes a part of the fabric itself. 

7. Divide Class Into Small Groups If Possible

Dividing the class into smaller groups based on the design they choose to tie is one good way to help the lesson go smoothly.

You can then send helpers to each group to help them with their specific patterns. Smaller groups can also easily share the tie-dye bottles.

8. Soak Shirts in Soda Ash Solution

The shirts should soak for about 20 minutes in the soda ash solution. Make sure the kids wear gloves when they put their shirts in the solution as soda ash can be a skin irritant.

It can also sometimes irritate the lungs, so any kids with asthma or other respiratory issues should take extra precautions. 

While the shirts are soaking, the kids can play a game to get their energy out. It’s good to give them a break so that they are more calm during the dyeing process.

Charades is a fun game to play. You can write the names of several animals on slips of paper and have the kids take turns acting out the animal while the other kids guess. 

If you have a chalkboard, Pictionary is another fun game to play.

Give each kid a subject to draw on the chalkboard while the other kids guess what it is. It’s a good idea to have a time limit when playing Pictionary. 

Once the time is up, have the kids take their shirts out of the soda ash solution, making sure they are wearing gloves. Have them wring the shirts out and take them back to their seats. 

9. Tie-Dye the Shirts & Leave Overnight

Apply the tie-dye to the shirts, then have the kids put their shirts in Ziplock bags and leave them overnight.

If there is a lot of dye on the shirts, you can have the children crumple up paper towels and put them in the bags with the shirts to soak up the excess dye.

10. Group Cleanup Time

You can turn cleanup time into a game by having each group form a team and challenging them to see who can clean up the fastest and to the highest of standards. 

11. Have a “Shirt Reveal” Session

A freshly dyed shirt with a tie-dye pattern lying on a wood table with a few stains surrounding the shirt.

The following day, have each kid put on a pair of gloves when opening their shirts and taking the rubber bands off.

They can then hold up their shirt and tell the class how they chose their design and colors.

12. Rinse Shirts Thoroughly

Rinse the shirts in cold water until the water runs clear.

There is a common misconception that soaking tie-dye in a solution of vinegar and water will help the colors to set, but this is not the case when it comes to tie-dyeing cotton shirts with fiber-reactive dye. 

Acid dye is the only type of dye that calls for the use of an acid, such as vinegar, and it is not used with cellulose fibers like cotton. 

13. Have Parent Volunteers Take Shirts Home To Launder

Have the parent volunteers wash the tie-dyed shirts in hot water with a little bit of regular detergent, then dry the shirts on high heat.

Tie-dyed items should be washed alone or with other tie-dyed garments. 


Depending on the number of kids in your classroom, having parent volunteers can be a lifesaver.

Kids may need extra help when tying their designs as well as assistance with applying their dye to keep their colors from mixing. 

Setting up stations in advance and organizing your shirts by size or name are other ways to help save time and keep things coordinated.

Last update on 2024-05-26 at 14:18 / 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.