Using fabric dye is an excellent home hack, whether for rescuing your favourite pair of jeans, giving your old curtains a bit more oomph or doing a bit of DIY tie-dye. Many of us are becoming more conscious of our spending habits and our impact on the environment too, so fabric dye is perfect for giving your home or wardrobe a new look without costing the earth.
Brands such as Rit, Jacquard and Dylon sell dyes of all colours for every fabric from denim, linen and canvas to wool and even synthetics, but where do you begin in finding the right product? Have no fear, with the help of this step-by-step guide and ranking of the best dye kits, sprays and powders, you're guaranteed to find the perfect match no matter the project.
There are several things to consider before taking the plunge and purchasing your fabric dye. You need to find the right dye for the right fabric, otherwise, you'll end up with a right mess! Follow this guide and you'll be able to choose with confidence.
Deciphering the many different types of fabric dye can be confusing at first, but read these descriptions and you'll be on your way. Just remember this rule – the better suited your dye formula is to your fabric, the better the result! There are actually more types than are listed below, but we've included only the most light-fast, colour-fast and wash-fast examples on the market.
Fabric reactive dyes are considered amongst the home-dyeing community to be the most permanent of all the options for dyeing animal and plant-based fabrics. This means that you don't have to worry about your fresh new colour running after a couple of washes.
Fibre reactive dyes are made for cellulose and protein fibres. Cellulose fibres are usually made from plant materials. Fabrics that fall under this category include cotton, hemp, bamboo, linen, ramie and rayon. So, next time you're thinking of switching up the colour of your jeans or your sheets, this is the way to go!
Many DIY-ers love all-purpose dyes because they are suitable for many fabric types, so it saves you from having to buy different dyes for different projects. All-purpose dyes work well on fabrics with a blend of fibres and are perfect for cellulose and protein fibre.
Although they are very popular and economical, it is usually more effective to opt for a dye type that is specifically catered to your fabric as the results tend to be more vibrant and longer-lasting. One other thing to note is that all-purpose dyes cannot be used to dye synthetic materials like polyester or acrylic.
When choosing between all-purpose and fibre reactive dyes, find out whether the item you're dyeing has a blend of fibres (more than one type of cellulose and/or protein fibre). If it is a blend, then go for all-purpose, if not, then fibre reactive dye is your best bet.
Disperse dyes are your ideal fit if you're looking to dye nylon, acrylic, polyester or acetate fabrics. If your fibre is not protein or cellulose, it's likely to be one of these popular synthetic fibres or a blend.
Synthetic fibres are notoriously difficult to dye, but do not be disheartened – it is not impossible. Disperse dye should definitely be your first choice when dyeing polyester as it tends to respond to the fabric well. Top tip: if you are dyeing polyester, hike up the heat! This'll produce a better result.
It is also tricky to get the colour to be as vibrant as desired and dyed synthetics tend to run in the wash, so make sure to wash them separately. A final piece of advice is that, while spandex is a synthetic, it is best to use acid dye for this fabric, which we'll introduce below.
Do you have a wool jumper that you love but there's a massive stain on it that you just can't shift? Read on! Acid dyes are perfect for protein fibres such as wool, silk, cashmere, angora, mohair, alpaca and fur. This term might sound weird, but it's just a technical way of saying any fabrics made from animal hair, which happen to be high in protein.
When choosing between an acid dye and a fibre reactive dye for colouring protein fibres, your best bet is to go for acid dye as it tends to give you the best, brightest and most durable results.
Don't let the term 'acid' put you off, either – many different brands have non-toxic acid dyes, though you should always be sure to read the label as some can be carcinogenic.
Lastly, it's important to explain what colour fastness is, as this is an important term when deciphering which fabric dye is best for your needs. Colour fastness means your new colour's ability to resist fading and running in the wash – so the better the colour fastness, the less likely your new garment is to harm your other clothes.
You may also want to check the dye for other kinds of fastness. Light fastness refers to your newly-dyed fabric's susceptibility to fading due to exposure to visible light and UV, which might be worth considering if you're dyeing curtains or fabrics that will be used outside a lot.
Wash fastness refers to how adequately it stands up against repeated washing, so this would be a good one to look for when dyeing well-loved clothing. Finally, rub fastness refers to a resistance to, well, rubbing!
Now you've found out what fabric you're wanting to dye and which type of dye works best with it, you're ready to go ahead and purchase your fabric dye! Make sure to take note of what type of dyes these are, as although one may be in our top ten, it might not be the best for your chosen fabric.
|Fabric Suitability||Suitable for all fabrics, best for natural fabrics|
|Washfast||No, but can wash at 40° or hand wash|
|Usage||Spray on, set with heat|
|Fabric Suitability||Cellulose and protein fibres|
|Fabric Suitability||Cellulose fibres|
|Usage||Tie-dye, bucket, machine wash (soda ash and salt required)|
|Fabric Suitability||Best for cellulose and protein fibres|
|Usage||Hand wash (salt required)|
|Fabric Suitability||Cotton, linen and viscose|
|Fabric Suitability||Synthetics, cellulose and protein fibres|
|Usage||Heat on stove|
|Fabric Suitability||Silk, wool, feathers, nylon|
|Usage||Machine, heat on stove|
|Fabric Suitability||Fabrics with 35% or more polyester, acrylic, acetate or nylon|
|Usage||Heat on stove|
|Fabric Suitability||Cellulose and protein fibres, nylon|
|Usage||Sink or bucket (salt or vinegar depending on fabric) or machine|
|Fabric Suitability||Cellulose fibres|
TBC The Best Crafts
Intensive Fabric Dye
DyeMore for Synthetics
iDye Poly Fabric Dye
All-in-1 Fabric Dye Pod
Fabric Hand Dye
Procion MX Dye
Tie Dye Kit
Fabric Textile Spray
Best Fabric Dye for All-Over Colour and Vibrancy
A Fantastically Versatile, All-Purpose Solution
Breathes New Life Into Synthetic Materials
Vibrant Dye That Resists Washing and Colour Running
The Holy Grail of Polyester Dyes
Easy-Peasy All-Purpose Machine Dye
A Great Choice for Natural Fabric Delicates
The Ideal Fibre Reactive Dye for Creative Projects
For a Tie-Dye Party Extravaganza
Quirky Fabric Spray to Liven Up Your Upholstery
|Type||Fibre reactive||All-purpose||Disperse||Acid||Disperse||All-purpose||All-purpose||Fibre reactive||All-purpose||All-purpose|
|Fabric Suitability||Cellulose fibres||Cellulose and protein fibres, nylon||Fabrics with 35% or more polyester, acrylic, acetate or nylon||Silk, wool, feathers, nylon||Synthetics, cellulose and protein fibres||Cotton, linen and viscose||Best for cellulose and protein fibres||Cellulose fibres||Cellulose and protein fibres||Suitable for all fabrics, best for natural fabrics|
|Washfast||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No||Yes||No, but can wash at 40° or hand wash|
|Usage||Machine||Sink or bucket (salt or vinegar depending on fabric) or machine||Heat on stove||Machine, heat on stove||Heat on stove||Machine dye||Hand wash (salt required)||Tie-dye, bucket, machine wash (soda ash and salt required)||Tie-dye, bucket||Spray on, set with heat|
Finally, don't forget to read and follow the instructions, even if you've dyed fabric before. The method will vary depending on the product, whether that's popping it in your machine or tie-dyeing it. All dyes come with directions on how to use that specific product to the best of its ability and many have lots of advice on their websites too.
Fabric dyes can also contain chemicals that are harmful. Make sure to always read the label of your chosen fabric dye and to use safety equipment (goggles and gloves, for example) if advised to. Some fabric dyes can burn or stain your skin so be careful and keep them out of the way of children.
There are tie-dye kits on the market that are suitable for use with children, but only when supervised by an adult. We would also recommend that you do your dyeing either outside or somewhere with wipeable surfaces because even if it's not harmful to the skin, it is messy!
Feeling inspired to get creative and act more sustainably when it comes to your fashion and homeware items? With help from the guides below, you could tie-dye some faded T-shirts or bedding, braid a macrame bag or even start making your own clothes!
We hope this article and ranking of the best fabric dyes on the market helped you in your quest for fabric dyeing wisdom. Whether you're looking to achieve that hippy chic look this summer with tie-dye or to infuse some much-needed colour into your living room, we've got you covered.
Author: Lara Delmage
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