A tie-dye shirt is wearable art, and art always deserves to be protected. Washing tie-dye for the first time is not like washing other new clothes. The dye that gives your shirt its vibrant uniqueness could bleed, changing the way the shirt looks and staining other garments in the process, which is not a good look. Before you display your new piece of art to the world, wash it with care.
Preparing for the First Wash
What you will do first depends on where you are in the tie-dying process. If you just finished dipping the tie-dye, it is best to give the shirt 24 hours to allow the dye to really soak in and set. From this point, you can pull on a pair of gloves, carefully remove any rubber bands and rinse the shirt under cold running water. Rinse until the water runs clear and you no longer see dye bleeding from the fabric.
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Washing Tie-Dye for the First Time
It is critical that when you are washing tie-dye for the first time, you wash it alone. (One exception is if you have tie-dyed multiple pieces; it is fine to throw several in the washing machine together as long as they are all similarly colored.) There will likely still be some dye bleeding from the fabric that would stain other items in the same load. So, at least for the very first wash, put just the shirt and some gentle detergent in the washer.
Wash the shirt with hot water, which will help to lock the dye into the fabric. A gentle setting is best, but your washer's normal setting is OK too. Remove the shirt from the washer soon after the cycle is finished. Allowing the wet fabric to sit for too long could also contribute to bleeding.
Finally, put the tie-dye shirt in the dryer on high heat. Again, alone is best for this first washing. If you don't have access to a dryer, it is fine to line dry the shirt as long as your setup is away from direct sunlight.
Caring for Tie-Dye
Wash tie-dye alone the first few times, as dye could continue to bleed even after the first washing. Though it is advisable to use hot water for the first wash, it is best to use cold water for subsequent washings. Opt for the gentle cycle because the longer the shirt spends being agitated in the washer, the more its colors will fade. Always turn tie-dye garments inside out before putting them in the wash to minimize bleeding.
Whenever you are drying your tie-dye shirt, don't put it on an outdoor clothesline or any clothesline that gets a lot of sun exposure. Sunlight is one of the key factors that contributes to tie-dye fading.
Note that mass-produced tie-dye clothing shouldn't bleed the way freshly dyed items will, so these pieces can be washed in accordance with their individual care labels. However, because all tie-dye fabrics are subject to fading, even store-bought tie-dye should be washed carefully every time.