If you are like most people there are items in your home that are in decent physical condition but seem to have faded over time. This happens to our clothing but also to drapery, throw rugs, bath towels and a variety of other items that can be somewhat expensive to replace just because they look faded.
The best results will be with 100% cotton fabrics and the next would be a polyester blend with cotton. The higher the plastic material in the fabric the less of a chance of success and some materials like Nylon may not hold dyes at all. There are some dyes that are specifically for Polyester Fabrics and you might have some better success if you use them.
There are a number of different manufactures of fabric dye but the most common is Rit Dye. This is not an endorsement of their product but you are likely to find it at your local supermarket or super center and most people report decent results with it. The other options you might have are dies targeted at the artist market. I can’t say if they are better or worse so before you pick a dye you should do some googling and read consumer feedback on shopping sites as to how different products give different results.
When preparing your items the first thing you want to do is wash them to make sure they are clean. They should be free of oils and dirt and they should be moist but not dripping wet before you place them in the dye mixture so that they absorb the dye evenly. If you need to use bleach or strong detergent to remove stains before dying then you must make sure to wash in warm water to remove all of the chemicals before you dye the items.
If the fabric is dry or folded / creased then you probably will have blotchy areas so prepare the fabric before you dye it.
The next thing you want to do is pick the colors that are right for your material. You can actually remove color from fabric and start over but a better bet is trying to restore its previous color.
Rit Dye has an online color matching and formula helper site that will tell you what bottles of concentrate you need to get a specific color and how many table spoons of dye you need to mix up a batch. It is a good resource if you are trying to get close to an original color however remember that you probably will never get an exact match.
Be careful about your proportion of water to die because as you add more water the dye will get weaker. The dye solution you use will be extremely darker and richer than the clothes that come out of it. A heavy dark maroon color dye solution mixed with water may result in a pinkish color item. If you are dying something black expect to get a gray color not a deep pitch black. You can compensate for blacks by allowing the item to set longer in the dye and by using very hot water in your mix. This might help initially but it could fade quickly after washing. It is just how it is for Black and the darkest colors.
Some people including manufacturers suggest that you should add a cup of salt for cotton fabrics and use vinegar for polyester blends. The reason to use Vinegar is that it is an acid that will open up the poly slightly and allow better absorption. Again doing this for either cotton or polyester or mixed fabrics is pretty hit or miss but dyes themselves normally contain salt already especially if they are liquid and not powder.
This is another choice whether to use a liquid or a powder dye. It seems that liquids are a better choice because of the mixing required. Powder needs to be dissolved completely in solution and for most people liquid results in a better finished product.
At the minimum you should use very hot tap water but for best results you should boil water on your stove. Some people also dye right on the stove and bring the water to just below simmering. The hotter the solution is probably best with the exception of causing damage to your fabric or accessories like buttons.
If you feel the need you might also want to remove accessories such as buttons and replace them after the piece is dyed. The reason is not only to prevent damage but also because some plastics will be effected by the dye. If you had white pearl type buttons on a black top you would not want them to get discolored so it is probably best to remove them and reattach them after dying if possible.
Although bleach will work well for cleanup you should protect the areas you are working in. If the weather is good then you are best off doing this outside. Wear rubber gloves to protect hands from getting stained. Do not dye your clothes in a bathtub as it will stain it.
Some manufacturers do suggest that you use a washing machine for dying but I would never do this as the dye will remain in the tub long after you try to clean it. You will end up ruining your whites and other clothes if you do not remove all of the dye with bleach. Never dye in a public laundry.
If possible a Stainless Steel Pot will work well I suggest if you want to make this a normal part of your home that you pickup a dedicated stainless steel pot for about $20 at a discount Super Center which can easily hold a pair of jeans or a throw rug.
Your other options are Plastic Bins or 5 gallon buckets which are completely clean.
If you want your fabric to be dyed evenly then you need to agitate it during the dying process. Always use something much larger than you would expect like a piece of wood broomstick and not a fork.
Many people say that the most you will get out of dying a piece will be obtained in about an hour. Your dye should be mixed so that the full time can be used to obtain that color you don’t want to dunk things in and out and expect good results. Other people say that if you are dying very dark colors like black or deep blues you should allow the dye to set overnight but remember you should still agitate so it might be better to start in the morning and end by the time you go to sleep.
After the dying process you need to wash all of the dye out of the clothes that has not been absorbed. Start with warm and then to cold water and then once all of the free dye is removed you want to set the dye by placing it in a dryer until it is bone dry and the item has got very hot.
Your home dyed fabric will not hold dye like original fabric but it will extend the life of your items for many months or maybe years.
Dying Fabrics and especially 100% cotton is a great way to renew Jeans and many other items around your home. The final result won’t be like new however because dyes normally are forgiving to stitching that has a higher poly blend then you could end up with very good results.
Since dye is relatively cheap you should test dying on some items that you would normally discard and see what results you get. Damaged fabric might not hold dye as well so expect slightly better results on something you would like to keep.
Personally I would not try bleaching your items to remove all the color before dying unless you are trying to change the color and you have no other choice. I have found that extended bleach times will cause cotton to break down and the garment or object will have a very short lifetime after extended bleaching.
Good Luck and stay clean.. remember to wear your old clothes unless you are dying them and always wear safety glasses.