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Tie-dye Troubleshooting

Folks love to tie-dye but sometimes they don't come out as expected, and even seasoned tie-dyers can have an issue out of the blue. So to help you figure out what might be going on, we have made a list of everything we could think of to double check, as well as all the helpful hints we can think of from our decades of talking to folks. Dyeing is as much an art form as it is a science. There are many variables, most can be controlled, some not so much, depending on your situation. So check this out, and you'll be on your way to bright beautiful colors!

  • First, make sure you are using our Soda Soak Tie-Dye Method instructions, also on pg. 9 in our catalog, if you want to do tie-dye with multiple colors like the pros. The Tub Dye Instructions could only be used if you want to tie-dye with only one color. The Cold Batch Method instructions are for using thickened dye like a paint. We know it can be confusing for beginners, but there are just SO many ways to use this dye!
  • Fabric is very important! If you did not buy your dyeables from us, do make sure they are 100% cotton! (or Rayon, linen, hemp, or other NATURAL fibers) Polyester blends abound out there, and are often cheap, but bright tie-dyes they do not make!
  • Pre-Wash your items - with HOT water and Synthrapol or Professional Textile Detergent to make sure there isn't any fabric softener or other finishing products in the fabric that can cause pale colors or spots- even though clothing we carry is ready to dye, sometimes there is a softener used at the manufacturing level to prevent the fabric from getting needle holes as it is sewn - it makes the needle slide through the fabric better. Greasy fingerprints can even cause problems, and garments are handled by many folks. There is no way to tell until you dye it. More difficult fabrics like duck, hemp or others with more residues can be "scoured" cleaner by adding Soda Ash to your pre-wash along with the above detergent. Pre washing is one of our #1 recommendations!
  • Fresh Dye is important:
    • Use freshly mixed dye - Mix up your dye right before you are going to use it (the night before is ok too) - the longer it sits in the water, especially in warm or hot weather, the quicker it gets weak. It gets weaker and weaker the more time that passes. Storing in the refrigerator can extend the life of mixed dye liquid, but make sure it is properly labeled and sealed so no one will drink it!
    • Age and storage of dye powder - Make sure your dye powder is not older than 1 to 2 years and has been stored in a cool dry place, tightly closed. Make sure your measuring spoons are dry before dipping into the dye powder. Older dyes get duller very gradually, some colors faster than others. Mixes can shift a lot too as they get older. Also, don't leave dye powder lids open while you are doing other things. Dyes exposed to humidity go bad FAST! Dyes exposed to high storage temperatures also age much more rapidly. Dyes bought from retail art or craft stores can be really old from sitting in warehouses, and then on shelves, for long periods of time. Dharma Fiber Reactive Dye is fresh, strong and vibrant when you buy it direct from us!
    • Pro Tip - Most dyers don't throw away old colors - they test them and then use them when they need that color that the dye is at that time. Also, older Fiber Reactive Dyes can be still be used like an Acid Dye with vinegar on silk to yield some very nice colors.
  • Ph of the fabric you are putting the dye on is very important:
    • Make sure your are using the right fixative (We truly don't want to insult anyone, but don't forget the fixative either!) - the Dense formula of Soda Ash if you got it locally - if it is not, test your ph as below to make sure you are using enough.
    • Make sure you haven't accidently bought Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda) instead of Sodium Carbonate (Soda Ash) if you got it locally as a pH raiser.
    • If you have employees (for you professional dyers), make sure they didn't accidentally pre-soak the shirts in Urea water (or something else) instead of Soda Ash water - yes, it's happened!
    • Do a pH test if your colors are coming out pale - the soda soak water needs to be 10.5 or higher. Soda ash that is very old or has been stored improperly may lose its alkaline properties.
    • Pro Tip - if you are soaking LOTS of stuff in the soda ash solution, the pH can gradually go down from the slightly acidic fabric - you can check the pH and add a bit more soda ash if necessary.
    • Pro Tip - if using the washing machine to spin out extra soda ash solution check to make sure water is not released during the spin cycle or it will rinse out at least some of the soda ash and make spots. Test your machine by putting a dry shirt in the spin cycle, if it gets wet you shouldn't use it
    • Pro Tip - Don't over soak in the soda ash - 20 mins tops 5-10 mins is fine and fully squeeze or wring out the excess before applying the dye solution. If the fabric is too wet, it leaves less room in the fabric for the dye.
  • Temperatures are very important:
    • Temperature of water when pasting up and mixing dyes should be 98-105ºF, like a baby bottle; warm, NEVER hot (unless using #250-Jet Black or #275-Hot Black); Hot water kills cold water dyes, some colors more than others - the dyes bond with the hot water and don't want to let go and bond with the fabric. Just like when the dyes have been mixed up too long.
    • Cover tie-dyes and keep somewhat warm when curing - if in a cooler environment, leave for 2 days instead of 1 - you will get the best, brightest colors when curing in an ambient temperature of more than 70ºF - the warmer the brighter. This is why some folks get faded colors when tie-dyeing in the winter or in an air conditioned area in the summer.
    • Pro Tip - covering all your tie-dyes with a thin black plastic tarp for curing out in the sun can really cut down the curing times. Pros have been known to apply electric blankets over the plastic in the winter. All kinds of solutions to this one.
  • Water quality can make a difference:
    • Check if you have hard water - this can really dull colors! "Well" water is often very hard. If your water is hard, you should use water softener or get distilled water to dissolve your dyes.
    • Chlorine and other chemicals in your water supply can affect colors - we've had folks who travel all over selling their tie-dyes say that some colors come out different from city to city depending on the water! Heavy chlorination can even kill some of the blues.
  • Dye powder can be hard to dissolve - Paste up your dye before adding the bulk of the water. A glass measuring cup with a spout works good - paste it up with some lukewarm water in which you have already dissolved Urea, a dissolving agent - with a spoon, working it into a paste like you would flour if you want lump free gravy. Then gradually add the rest of the Urea water while stirring until you have the full amount for the squeeze bottle. Use a funnel to fill the squeeze bottles. This way there are not lumps of undissolved dye that might plug up your squeeze bottles, and you are far less likely to get "freckles" of undissolved dye on your tie-dyes.
  • Urea is good stuff! If you weren't using Urea then try adding that to your process per our tie-dye instructions - it helps dissolve the dye better, and helps keep the fabric wet during the curing process.
  • Don't let your tie-dyes dry out while curing (it causes the chemical reaction, that makes the dyes permanent, to stop!) - keep them covered with plastic, or in zip type plastic bags, and try Urea in your dye mixtures, especially in hot and/or dry climates.
  • If your tie-dyes are coming out with too much white, make sure you are getting the tips of the squeeze bottles into the folds, and that the items are not tied too tightly. Make sure you are applying enough dye.
  • If your tie dyes are having too many colors running together where you don't want them to, or sitting in big puddles of muddy mixed colors, make sure you are not applying too much dye, and make sure your ties are tight enough. If rubber bands aren't working for you, try our waxed sinew, which is what a lot of the professionals use, or try our new reusable zip ties. You can also suspend your tie-dyes up on cookie cooling racks or other types of racks so they don't sit in puddles.
  • Rinse and washout is one of the most important parts of the instructions! If after washing, the white background that is left on the tie-dye looks pink or light blue or "muddy", or your light colors (like yellow) are muddy looking, the rinsing and washing technique is usually the problem. While still tied, rinse off soda ash and excess dye under cold running water, then keep rinsing while you untie, until the cold water runs fairly clear. Keep each item separate, don't stack them onto each other. In fact, add the rinsed items right after rinsing to a pre-filled washing machine that contains HOT water and Synthrapol or Professional Textile Detergent. Don't wash too many items per load, as the hot water is going to remove a lot more excess dye, and if you have too many items, even the Synthrapol won't be able to handle it. (hint - if the water starts looking really muddy, drain and refill with fresh HOT water and Synthrapol or Professional Textile Detergent before starting the wash cycle.)
  • We apologize if that was more than you wanted to know! But if you are still having trouble, or confusion, give us a call or send us an email! We have live persons here at Dharma who answer the phones and emails M-F, 8-5 Pacific Time and we are happy to help!!! (800) 542-5227, or service@dharmatrading.com

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You can combine cotton and rayon clothing & accessories to get the greatest discounts. Your discount is figured on the total number of cotton and rayon items we ship, not how many of each type, style or size. Mix and match them to get the best discount.

Example; adding 1 each of 12 different T-shirts in size Large should give you the 12+ price on all 12 shirts.

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