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DIY Dyed Dress: How to Dye Clothes in the Washing Machine

Today I’m sharing my newly DIY dyed dress – and showing you how to dye clothes in the washing machine!  I love dresses.  While it’s easy enough for me to find a good sleeveless dress, affordable, comfy dresses with sleeves are harder to find.  That’s why I settled for this beige 1950s-style cotton shirt dress.  Actually, I think the pockets sold me.  The cut of the dress is cute and comfy, but it was, admittedly, a touch frumpy thanks to the drab beige (which really does nothing for me).  I packed this for my trip to Hungary and literally only wore in once!

Can I dye a beige dress?

I decided to dye my dress a dark teal green.  Rit Dye has a formula guide on their website for mixing colours and I liked the look of dark green mixed with navy or teal (221 or 224 – top row).  I meant to buy dark green and navy dye but I accidentally grabbed dark green and royal blue.  I didn’t realize until I was pouring the dye into the machine!  At that point I abandoned the formula and poured both bottles in.  I read that Rit dye can be lighter than expected, so I figured doubling the amount wouldn’t hurt (instructions on their website say to use no more than two bottles at a time, so I was in the “safe zone”).

Rit Dye Formula GuideSupplies for Dyeing Clothes:

Supplies to dye clothes at home

  1. Washing machine (that isn’t brand spanking new)
  2. Rit Dye (here’s the Navy Rit Dye and Dark Green Rit Dye I intended to buy)
  3. Rubber gloves
  4. 1 cup salt (helps achieve more intense colour with cotton, rayon, ramie, or linen)
  5. 1 tbsp. laundry detergent (I buy this earth-friendly stuff at Costco)
  6. Kitchen timer (had to link to an adorable retro-looking one!)
  7. Bleach (for cleaning up)
  8. Centipede poking stick (may not apply to everyone – I encountered three during my dyeing extravaganza in the basement)

How to Dye Clothes in the Washing Machine:

  1. I washed my dress in warm water, then set it aside.
  2. I filled the machine with enough hot water for the dress to be able to move around.
  3. I added one tbsp laundry detergent and the two bottles of dye as the machine was filling.
  4. I let the machine agitate, to mix up the dye, for a minute.
  5. I smoothed out and added the dress, then closed the lid (boy, does it splatter!)
  6. At the five minute mark, I added 1 cup of salt, diluted in warm water (the delay helps the dye process).
  7. The dress was in the dye for a total of 25 minutes because it rinsed and spun before I could stop it in time (30 minutes is the minimum).
  8. I rinsed the dress in warm, then cold water, until the water ran clear.
  9. Then I washed it again on the warm cycle, before rinsing it again.

Dyeing clothes in the washing machine
At this point, the dress looked okay: dark green, not much blue, but good.  EXCEPT that from the one time I wore this dress my crazy strong antiperspirant chemically altered the fabric so there were lighter splotches under the arms.

What to do when dye won't adhere to clothes?

No worries!  I went out and bought more dye.  This time I purchased two bottles of navy.  I figured a darker colour might cover the lighter areas better.  And the green was feeling a bit military, anyway.  I repeated the process, but stopped and re-set the machine to the beginning of the agitation, so it was in the dye for about 40 minutes this time.  I rinsed and washed the dress again.  The under arm region looked better!  The colour turned out really interesting – a deep, inky hue that’s kind of navy but warmer.  (The light spots aren’t on the dress – it’s the camera).  The end formula was 2 parts navy, 1 part dark green, and 1 part royal blue – but the original colours impacts the outcome a lot.

How to dye clothes at home

I’m going to call this a success because it’s no longer blah.  Added bonus: it didn’t even shrink after being dyed in hot water!  Here’s another look at the dress before:

DIY Clothes Dyeing

The stitches didn’t take the dye and were really visible at the waist, but I always found this dress a little frumpy anyway, so I added a hand painted belt I bought in Hungary last year.

DIY Dyed Dress

Rit Dye FAQ

A fashion blogger, I am not, lol.

How to Clean a Washing Machine After Dyeing Clothes in it:

  1. I quickly wiped down any splatters with a soft cloth and soapy water.
  2. I poured in one cup bleach.
  3. Then I ran the washing machine – empty – on the hottest setting.
  4. I washed a load of dark laundry first, just in case.

Does Dye Stain a Washing Machine?

My machine tolerated the dying process well!  A few plastic areas were tinted every so slightly, even after I scrubbed them, but I knew that was a possibility and I wasn’t concerned because our machine is really old.  It is such a workhorse, but isn’t pretty.  You can also dye clothing in a basin or sink but you have to stir the dye bath for the whole time for even results.  That sounded too labour intensive for me (plus, hanging around in the basement that long really doubles my centipede-seeing risk). 

Tips for Dyeing Clothes:

  • Read the dye instructions carefully – instructions vary from brand to brand.
  • Double up the dye if you are using a dark dye, to get desired results.
  • Be flexible about the results & don’t dye anything precious.
  • Be sure to wash items before dyeing – twice if you still feel sizing on the material.
  • Be wary of dying clothing that may have come in contact with chemicals like perfume, antiperspirant, etc.
  • Use the hottest water you can because it helps the dye take
  • For the first few washings of a dyed item, wash it by itself in cool water with small amount of detergent that does not contain bleach.
  • Always wash a dyed item with items of a similar colour.
  • Be prepared for an item to fade over time.
  • Note that thread, zippers, and other parts may not take the dye

Will Rit Dye Colour Thread?

P.S. Don’t Forget to Pin for Later!

More DIY Dye Projects!

Dye Vintage Doilies a Bold New Color:

Since dyeing my dress, I’ve dyed some vintage doilies (with napkins to match).  I love using these to make a seasonal runner and the new colors freshen up the vintage vibe.

Dyed Lace Doilies / Lace DIY

Dye Jeans Darker:

I also routinely dye light wash jeans scored for cheap a darker indigo shade to save money on clothes. This post has TONS of additional tips and FAQ about wear and transfer.

How to dye jeans darker

Dip Dyed Fabrics for a Watery Vibe:

I have a tutorial with tips for dip dyeing – there’s one simple tip you need to know for getting a softer gradient.  I love the watery vibe of this DIY dye project – picture the bottom of a skirt or tablecloth dip dyed!  So much potential with this easy idea.

How to dip dye

Ice Dyed Fabrics:

For something really fun, take a look at all of my ice dyeing tutorials.  Ice dyeing creates really organic, one of a kind designs with minimal effort.

How to ice dye fabric

Dyed Bottle Brush Trees:

I even dyed some bottle brush trees!  This is a great way to create custom holiday decor in any color you want.

How to dye bottle brush trees



  1. CaseyinTO
    February 27, 2013 / 2:42 pm

    I was just going to say that this dress needed a belt but BAM! you beat me to it!The after colour looks amazing on you! Love it

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 27, 2013 / 3:36 pm

      Thanks! I'm pretty happy with the colour. And it 100% needs a belt – it's a bit too sack-y. But it is unbelievably comfy as a result, lol.

  2. Annabel Vita
    February 27, 2013 / 2:49 pm

    Lovely! I dyed a blah but so-soft cashmere cardigan a muddy pale blue a few years ago, it looked so good! (I eventually passed it on to my mum and she still wears it a lot.)When dying wools you do it by hand and have to be careful that the transitions from warm to cold and back again are really gradual.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 27, 2013 / 3:37 pm

      Oooo, yes, I can imagine dying wool would be tricky because shocking wool fibers with hot and cold water (plus agitation) is how to felt something! I'm so impressed you successfully dyed a cashmere sweater, and it's sweet your mom still wears it 🙂

  3. Chris Loves Julia
    February 27, 2013 / 3:14 pm

    Strut your stuff, Tanya! 😉

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 27, 2013 / 3:38 pm

      Haha! Don't know if I'd share another DIY clothing project because it involves a little awkward modeling in front of the tripod.

  4. Karen
    February 27, 2013 / 4:08 pm

    This came out so pretty! Great job!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 27, 2013 / 4:56 pm

      Thanks Karen!

  5. Whitney
    February 27, 2013 / 4:26 pm

    Yowza, this looks great! I have never tried to dye material before, and this really makes me want to attempt it! The transformation of that dress is like night and day. Thank you for stopping by my blog, I can't wait to read more of yours! I love the Pinterest Challenge because you can "meet" so many new bloggers!~Whitney

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 27, 2013 / 4:56 pm

      Thanks Whitney! I am going to admit: dyeing stuff is addictive. Even with my troubles, I am hunting for the next thing to make over!

  6. midcentuymadam
    February 27, 2013 / 5:54 pm

    Adorable! Nicely done. I probably would have given up the first time around…you stuck with it and it certainly paid off. I love the belt with it. Very classy.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 27, 2013 / 7:10 pm

      Haha! I was almost tempted to quit . . . I was torn because you're supposed to wash the machine right away but I needed time to boot it to the craft store. But the dress was $50.00 (which is not cheap in my books) so I really, really wanted it to work. I'm happy I persevered because I know this dress will get a lot of wear now – I feel good in it!

  7. DecorandtheDog
    February 27, 2013 / 6:14 pm

    I'm so scared of dye but this turned out awesome!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 27, 2013 / 7:12 pm

      Tnanks! I think DIY dye jobs can go horribly wrong, so there's a reason to be nervous. Every tutorial I read said "don't dye something irreplaceable!" I did a lot of research, especially on the Rit Dye website, and I think that preparedness helped, even though I still had a little whoopsie. But even still, I would definitely dye something again.

  8. Caitlin @ Desert Domicile
    February 27, 2013 / 6:24 pm

    Wow, how awesome! The added belt kicks the entire dress up a notch. You're so stylish 🙂

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 27, 2013 / 7:13 pm

      Thanks Caitlin! You're so sweet 🙂 It's funny because I love that belt but have nothing really to pair it with (other than boring white blouses). I've worn in three time since I bought it in August 2011. If I had dyed the dress green, it wouldn't have really gone well. This happy little accident now means I have something to wear that darn belt with!

  9. Dana@Mid2Mod
    February 27, 2013 / 10:50 pm

    I really like the new color! The only dying I've ever done was in 1967 when I had to dye all my husband's underwear Army green before he went to Viet Nam. From what I've heard, the charts are about as accurate as the ones on boxes of hair color. What you end up with depends on what color you start with and what type of fabric you're dying, so it usually turns out to be a bit of a surprise.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 28, 2013 / 1:19 am

      Thanks Dana! I had no idea undies had to be Army green too! I learned something new today 🙂

  10. emily @ go haus go
    February 27, 2013 / 11:17 pm

    So amazing! The navy color is absolutely gorgeous! And love the belt. Great choice. Dyeing is so tricky (and for whatever reason… a bit scary!) but you've got it down to a perfect T!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 28, 2013 / 4:56 am

      Thanks Emily!! Dyeing is so scary because there are horror stories floating around the web! I think the key is to be prepared, even if that means prepared to run out frantically to buy more dye 😉

  11. Al@PolkaDotsandPaisley
    February 27, 2013 / 11:46 pm

    The blue looks fantastic and I actually like the different colour stitching.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 28, 2013 / 4:57 am

      Thanks!! I was pretty sure the stitching wouldn't take the dye so I wasn't disappointed. It did reveal some wonkiness in the stitching, though, but the belt hides that!

  12. Rachelle
    February 28, 2013 / 12:19 am

    Love it! Definetly changes the dress from blah to beautiful!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 28, 2013 / 4:57 am

      Thanks!! That's so sweet. I definitely think it looks much prettier now 🙂

  13. Lets just build a house!
    February 28, 2013 / 12:57 am

    Tanya it's perfect now!! and the belt really makes it too. I love it a lottttI dyed a scarf with my sister (I will share the project someday…) and the dye sprinkles from the dry packet of dye got everywhere…what a mess. but the scarf is pretty sooo…

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 28, 2013 / 4:58 am

      Oooo, powder dye looks messy. I have some I bought ages ago but was too scared to use it (does it go bad?). I loved the liquid for ease of use, even if it does cost a bit more. You definitely should share the scarf, I'm DYEing to see it (couldn't help myself).

  14. Ashley@AttemptsAtDomestication
    February 28, 2013 / 1:54 am

    Great job! I definitely think the dress turned out fabulous!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 28, 2013 / 4:59 am


  15. youresomartha
    February 28, 2013 / 3:03 am

    Wow, what some dye can do! And that belt looks so great with it.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 28, 2013 / 4:59 am

      I'm so glad to have something to wear the belt with!! Happy I'm not crazy, thinking it works!

  16. anu
    March 1, 2013 / 2:09 am

    The dress looks so much better! I have done some dying as well when I made my flower girls' dresses – the fabric was silk and it worked pretty well. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm so glad to have found yours. 🙂

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      March 2, 2013 / 12:07 am

      Thanks so much! I love the Pinterest Challenge because it's an easy way to find great blogs!

  17. Anonymous
    March 1, 2013 / 7:37 pm

    Hi T,Love the new colour. You look great but Camilla liked the original better! She said "I just like it light". No accounting for a 4 year old's taste!Kim

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      March 2, 2013 / 12:10 am

      Thanks Kim! Hmmmm, maybe I looked a little good witch/bad witch in the light to dark switch? Aren't the evil characters always in dark clothes in kid's books? Haha. I think I look a little skinnier in the dark (woot)! Must be nice to be a kid and have that not matter, lol.

  18. Katie
    March 11, 2013 / 8:23 pm

    Love the navy & the belt really complements it. Going to have to try that on a lighter color dress that I haven't been wearing. An Ultra Fine Point Sharpie will fix any threads that refuse to be dyed. I dyed white jeans into a maroon and tested a few Sharpies on threads inside the jeans until I found the match. Have worn them for months and the Sharpie ink stays is fixed just as well as the iDye.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      June 23, 2014 / 4:03 am

      Thanks, Katie, that's a great tip!!

  19. Anonymous
    November 5, 2013 / 11:10 am

    how strange is is that the top of the pleating is not on the inside of the dress but on the outside?

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      June 23, 2014 / 4:04 am

      I guess designers need to try something different? Who knows? Wish it was easier to find nice dressed with sleeves…

  20. Anonymous
    June 22, 2014 / 4:36 pm

    Thanks for the process, I'm currently re-dying a couple of polo shirts that have, ahem stains on the front, well, cuz I'm a guy who cooks. I liked the what the heck didn't have the right colors dump it in anyway method which if this response had audible you would hear spinning in the background.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      June 23, 2014 / 4:05 am

      Haha, hope your method works!! I wonder if the stains will take the dye differently? If it doesn't work out, try a really dark dye – like navy or black – that should cover even areas that don't want to take the dye. Good luck – hope they turn out perfectly!! It's worth a few polo shirts for an excellent home cooked meal.

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