How to Tie-Dye with Food Coloring or Frozen Dye

A fun thing to do at home with kids is making tie-dye T-shirts. In this article, we'll show you how to tie-dye using two different dye processes. You'll learn how to make eco-friendly tie-dye with no tie dye kit needed based on DIY tie-dye with food coloring from More Boredom Busters. In addition, for a galaxy-inspired tie-dye idea without the hassle of dye powder, we'll show you a technique using frozen dye from Kid Made Modern.

Tie-dye is all the rage and popping up all over Instagram these days. Reuse a favorite cotton T-shirt or use a new one—or find any other white item you want to add a little tie-dye flair to (think: tote bags, bedding, pillowcases, towels, and sweatshirts). Wash freshly dyed tie-dye T-shirts and other items separately from other clothes in the washing machine for the first three washes, as some of the dye may run into your other clothes.

Tie-dye is the term for the dye process of twisting, knotting, and crumpling fabric, binding it with rubber bands, and applying dye to the fabric. In the 1960s many popular musicians, such as the legendary Jimi Hendrix, wore tie-dye shirts. And while it’s a favorite summer camp activity you can do at home, tie-dye clothing is popular on our Instagram feeds lately.

How to Tie-Dye Using Food Coloring

Make it in: 24 hours
Boredom Buster: One time activity (but you’ll want to make it again)
Activity Level: ♦♦

Things you need to tie-dye with food coloring:

  • Apron
  • Activity mat (or newspaper)
  • White cotton T-shirt
  • Large plastic bowl
  • ½ cup (125ml) white vinegar
  • Warm water and cold water
  • Elastic bands
  • Small squeeze bottles (you could recycle a clean shampoo bottle)
  • Food coloring in different colors
  • Rubber gloves (Optional: You don’t have to wear them, but you may get food coloring on your fingers if not)
  • Resealable plastic bag
  • ½ cup (120g) salt

Directions to tie-dye with food coloring:

Step 1: Roll up your sleeves, tie up your hair, and put on an apron (food coloring stains clothes, so you need to protect your clothing). Place your activity mat on a flat surface. Put your T-shirt into a large plastic bowl and pour over the vinegar and ½ cup (125ml) warm water—this helps prepare the fabric for the dye. Leave to soak for about 30 minutes.

Step 2: Lift the T-shirt out of the bowl and squeeze it to wring it out. Roll the T-shirt into a long sausage shape and then tie three or four elastic bands around the fabric, spacing them however you like. You could pinch it together in the middle and secure with an elastic band to create a spiral design, or tie knots in the T-shirt for yet another tie-dye design.
tie dye with food coloring step 2

Step 3: Fill the squeeze bottle with ½ cup (125ml) cold water and add eight drops of food coloring. Put the cap on the bottle and shake to mix well.
tie dye with food coloring step 3

Step 4: Place your T-shirt on your activity mat and put on a pair of rubber gloves. Squirt the food coloring mixture onto one area of the T-shirt, then turn it over and squirt the rest of the color mixture onto the other side.
tie dye with food coloring step 4

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 with your other food coloring colors, mixing up the colors in the squeeze bottle and staining a different area of the T-shirt each time.
tie dye with food coloring step 5

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Step 6: When your T-shirt is completely soaked in food coloring and cold water, place the tie dyed T-shirt roll into a resealable plastic bag and leave to rest in the bag overnight.
tie dye with food coloring step 6

Step 7: The next day, take the T-shirt out of the bag and remove the elastic bands. Pour the salt and ½ cup (125ml) of cold water into a large bowl. Plunge the T-shirt into the salt water to set the dye and then wring the T-shirt out.

Step 8: Rinse your dyed T-shirt in clean water several times until the water runs clear—take care when you rinse, as splashes of water may stain you and your clothes as the food coloring rinses off. Wring it out a final time and hang out to dry—preferably in the sun.

more boredom busters cover
Excerpted from More Boredom Busters by Caroline Fernandez ($14.95) with permission of CICO Books. All photos by Martin Norris.

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How to Tie-Dye Using Frozen Dye

Ready for a new take on tie-dye T-shirts? Enter Kid Made Modern’s galaxy-like T-shirt, which uses frozen cubes of dye that have been smashed up with a hammer. So prepare your materials and head outside for an afternoon of custom T-shirt making fun!
tie-dye t-shirt using frozen dye

Things you need to tie-dye with frozen dye:

  • Dye
  • Ice cube trays
  • Plastic sandwich bags
  • Hammer
  • Cloth for hammering
  • Washed T-shirt 

Directions to tie-dye with frozen dye:

Step 1: Prepare dye colors and freeze them in ice cube trays. Place the frozen cubes in plastic bags.
tie dye with frozen die step 1

Step 2: Place the cloth on top of the bag and lightly break the cubes apart with the hammer.
tie dye with frozen dye step 2

Step 3: This part can get messy so best to do this outside. Sprinkle the frozen dye onto the T-shirt as you like.
tie dye with frozen dye step 3

Step 4: Continue sprinkling the frozen dye until your design is complete.
tie dye with frozen dye step 4

Step 5: Watch the dye diffuse and blend and then shake the dye off when you feel the design is finished. Rinse and “set” per the dye instructions on the box.
tie dye with frozen dye step 5

kid made modern all about dye
Project and images courtesy Kid Made Modern

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