How to Darken a T-Shirt

Turn your light gray tees into rich, charcoal gray with a bit of color dye.
Turn your light gray tees into rich, charcoal gray with a bit of color dye. (Image: Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Whether your white tees have grown dingy over time or your comfy, light-colored toppers have faded, transform your old T-shirts into rich, dark colors with fabric dye. You can change the color or deepen the same hue. However, before you select a DIY dye kit, take time to read your tee's fiber content label to help you choose the corresponding fabric dye type. For instance, natural fiber tees such as cotton generally require fiber-reactive dyes to ensure that the fibers permanently absorb the dye color. Be creative and revamp your T-shirts to reintroduce these new toppers back into your wardrobe.

Things You'll Need

  • Mild liquid laundry detergent
  • Rubber gloves
  • Protective smock
  • Old clothing
  • 2 plastic mixing cups
  • Dissolving agent pellets or crystals
  • Urea
  • Fiber-reactive dye powder
  • Old spoon utensil
  • Plastic spoon
  • Plastic tub
  • Craft stick
  • Non-iodized table salt
  • Soda ash
  • Kitchen timer
  • Neutral laundry detergent
  • Fabric softener

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Wash your T-shirt according to the instructions on your care label. Pre-washing the tee removes any residue that can prevent the dye from penetrating the fibers. Generally, a mild, liquid laundry detergent is recommended. Set your damp T-shirt aside and do not dry.

Put on rubber gloves as well as a protective smock or old clothing. Fabric dye often splatters and these stains are permanent.

Pour 1 cup of warm water into a plastic mixing cup. Add 1 tablespoon of dissolving agent pellets or crystals -- urea. Stir with a plastic spoon until the pellets or crystals have completely dissolved. This mixture is especially important for dissolving dark dye powders -- purple, navy, red, charcoal gray or black -- that often leave permanent dye specks or clumps on your fabric.

Pour your brand's recommended amount of fiber-reactive dye powder -- generally 1/2 teaspoon -- into a second plastic mixing cup. Pour a few drops of warm water onto the dye powder. Press the water droplets into the powder with the back of a spoon -- old utensil or plastic -- until a pasty substance forms.

Pour the dissolving agent mixture from Step 3 into the cup with the dye paste from Step 4. Stir the mixture with the spoon until the paste dissolves into a thin, watery dye bath.

Pour the recommended amount of cold water in a plastic tub -- approximately 1 1/2 gallons.

Pour the dye bath into the cold water. Stir with a craft stick.

Pour 1 1/2 cups of non-iodized table salt to the dye bath. Stir until the salt is completely dissolved.

Submerge your damp T-shirt into the dye bath, making sure the dye completely covers the tee. Stir with your craft stick.

Measure 1/6 cup -- equivalent to 2 tablespoons with an added 2 teaspoons -- of soda ash and add it slowly to the dye bath. You can use a kitchen timer to keep track by adding the soda ash in five- to 10-minute intervals. Continue to stir, allowing the tee to swish in the dye bath so all of the fibers are penetrated with the dye.

Leave the tee soaking in the dye bath for the recommended time -- approximately 20 minutes. Certain dark colors -- brown, black and navy -- require a minimum of 30 minutes.

Remove the tee from the dye bath. Rinse in running cold water. Excess dye will release into your sink. Continue rinsing until the water runs clear.

Machine wash your dark T-shirt with a neutral laundry detergent. This helps remove any dye that did not adhere to the cotton fibers. Certain colors -- red, burgundy and black -- generally require two washes.

Add a fabric softener to the rinse cycle to relax the fibers and avoid a stiff tee. Dry according to your care label's instructions.

Tips & Warnings

  • If your tee is heavily soiled, use an enzyme laundry detergent to remove any deep stains.
  • If you're working with a liquid, fiber-reactive dye, a paste will not form when mixing.
  • Make sure you're working in a well-ventilated room since the fumes from the chemicals can be toxic.
  • If you used an old spoon utensil to mix the fabric dye, do not reuse the utensil even after washing.

References

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