How to Make Tie Dye Shirts With Food Coloring

Food coloring is a great way for kids to tie dye. Although it doesn't necessarily hold as well as other sorts of dyes, it is kid-safe and requires little supervision. Soaking the shirts in salt water after tie dying and washing them in cool water will make the dye set a little better, giving it a cool faded look.

Things You'll Need

  • Shirt
  • Food coloring
  • Bowls
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Condiment bottles
  • Rubber bands
  • Vinegar
The look of tie dye
The look of tie dye (Image: Michele Andersen)

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Step 1

Soak the shirt in a mixture of half white vinegar and half water. After it's soaked through, wring the shirt out.

Soak shirt in water and vinegar
Soak shirt in water and vinegar (Image: Michele Andersen)

Step 2

Tie knots in the shirt, or twist up parts of it and hold them with rubber bands. This will create bands and spiral patterns in the shirt.

Tie knots in the shirt
Tie knots in the shirt (Image: Michele Andersen)

Step 3

Mix food coloring and water in bowls or condiment bottles. If you use bowls, dip the shirt in it. If you use condiment bottles, squirt the coloring on the shirt. (Kids love using the bottles!)

Add the dye
Add the dye (Image: Michele Andersen)

Step 4

Wrap the shirt in plastic and place it somewhere and let it sit undisturbed for about eight hours.

Wrap the newly dyed shirt in plastic
Wrap the newly dyed shirt in plastic (Image: Michele Andersen)

Step 5

Fill a tub with cool water and add salt, stirring until you can't get any more to dissolve.

Fill a tub with water and salt
Fill a tub with water and salt (Image: Michele Andersen)

Step 6

Wash the shirt in the cool salt water to set the dye.

Set dye in cool water
Set dye in cool water (Image: Michele Andersen)

Step 7

Wash and dry the shirt as you normally would. It is now ready to wear.

Ready to wear!
Ready to wear! (Image: Michele Andersen)

Tips & Warnings

  • Consider using actual clothing dye. Food coloring works well for food, but it can bleed and fade quickly in clothing, and it can only be used with certain fabrics. Follow the link below for how to tie dye with actual clothing dye.
  • Get a wool or silk shirt. Both of these textiles work fairly well with food coloring. Nylon also usually works well, but it sometimes has a synthetic coating on it that stops it from absorbing the ink. Cotton will not hold food coloring as well.


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