These days it's fairly common to have a high efficiency front loading washing machine (some are top loading now!), they save water and do a great job getting the clothes clean. However, it is a bit more of a process to use them for tub dyeing, but not impossible. Thanks to some of our support folks and customers that were willing to give it a go we have hacked this technique to give the best results possible. Keep in mind that every HE Front Load machine is a little different and it is important to know your machines settings, if you haven’t read the manual it is a good idea to do so. Also, give our traditional tub dyeing instructions a read so at least you know the theory behind what we are trying to do.
Disclaimer: Dyeing in a front load washer is not our first recommendation! HE machines can make the process more complicated, and the machines can be more 'delicate' than regular washing machines. Please be cautious and learn how to properly operate your machine. The responsibility of not damaging your machine is yours.
Prewash the item you’re going to dye with Professional Textile Detergent. This will remove any coatings on the fabric by the manufacturer. Do this even if the manufacturer says there is no coating, as it will also remove any and all dirt and grease that may be present from handling, preparing the fabric to be dyed.
Note- Front load washers use 8-12 gallons of water for a load, the amount of salt you will need is based on that number. The amount of dye used should be based on the fabric weight, we have a handy calculator to help you figure this out.
Dissolve 8 cups of Dyer's salt or non-iodized salt in water. Make sure you use enough water to dissolve all the salt. Make separate batches if you need to (If you don’t let all the salt dissolve before adding it, it could damage your machine). Let the salt water cool before adding it to the washer drum. Make sure the washer is off when you do this. (If you don’t do this, the washer may seize up and not let you unlock the door, causing much frustration.) Using the normal wash setting, let the machine start to fill and agitate for a couple minutes. (The sequence to unlock the door with liquid still inside that seems to work is [Power off mid cycle, wait for unlock, add next ingredient, power on, set wash, start] If this doesn’t work, unplug the machine and try again. As long as it unlocks, you should be able to continue.)
Pro-Tip: Invest in a set of dyeing/general crafting tools, such as a pot, spoons, and measuring implements. You do not want to use the same tools for preparing food.
Add 8 tsp of calsolene oil (a cup and just under half again) and ½ cup of water softener (dissolved in hot water) to the washer and let it agitate for a few minutes to get everything mixed together. Make sure it doesn’t go long enough to start the drain cycle.
While the machine is agitating, mix the dye together. ½ oz dye for each lb of fabric. (Unless you are doing red, in which case it’s 1 oz of dye for each lb of fabric, or black, in which case it’s 2 oz of dye for each lb of fabric.) If you want the color to be a little darker than what the dye would normally come out as, add ¼ to ½ again as much dye, depending on how dark you want it to come out. Using hot water, mix the dye into a paste. Once it’s thoroughly mixed, add more hot water until you get a slurry. (If you are doing red, or any color containing red (purple, brown, black, etc.) use 1 Tbsp of urea dissolved in warm water to make your slurry. This will aid in dissolving the dye.)
Add dye mixture to the washer. Reset to wash and let the machine agitate for a few minutes to mix the dye into the water. This really only takes a couple minutes. Don’t let it run so long that it starts the drain cycle or you’ll lose all your dye very quickly.
Add the item to be dyed to the washer. Reset machine to wash. Set a timer for about 8-10 minutes, depending on your machine’s cycle length. It’s a good idea to test this by putting in a very small load and seeing how long it takes for the first drain cycle to start. This will come immediately before the first rinse cycle, and is typically loud enough to hear. Continue resetting the machine to wash every 8-10 minutes until about 20 total minutes has elapsed.
While the last timer for the previous step is running, dissolve 8 oz of soda ash fixative in hot water. This can take a long time to dissolve, so be sure to get it ready to go before the end of the last timer.
When the timer goes off, reset the machine to wash, and slowly add the soda ash fixative to the washer in 5 minute intervals, letting the machine agitate in between additions, until a total of 10-15 minutes has passed. Do not pour the soda ash fixative directly on the fabric if it can be avoided as this may result in streaking. (If you are going for any kind of aged, weathered, or worn look, spread the fabric out a bit in the washer, and add the soda ash fixative all at once, pouring it directly on the fabric. This will help cause streaking, which will give you that kind of look.)
Reset the machine to wash and let it run for 30 minutes (light color) or 60 minutes (dark color) stopping every 8-10 minutes to reset the machine to wash.
After the required amount of time has elapsed, reset the machine one last time, with all temperatures set to cold, (not tap cold, if you machine has that option) and let the machine run a full cycle. You may want to add an extra rinse if you dyed either a lot of fabric, or something with a very heavy weight to make sure all the excess dye gets washed out. You may also want to do this anyway just to make sure. Do not add any detergent at this stage. If you need to use an additional dye fixative, add it now with hot water, and set the machine to wash again, running it for 30 minutes, pausing every 8-10 minutes to reset the machine to wash.
Wash the dyed item in hot water with Professional Textile Detergent. Optionally use Milsoft or other fabric softener in the rinse cycle. Dry as appropriate for the fabric and enjoy your newly dyed item!!
Clean Up- When you are done dyeing be sure to use washing machine cleaner or bleach and detergent, and run a complete cycle, maybe with old or shop towels that you don’t care what color they are, to clean residual dye out of the washing machine tub and piping. Leftover dye may bleed into clothing or other dyeing projects and end up with all your next batch of laundry getting dyed some soft version of the last color you dyed with.
Thank you to customers Ryn Edwards and Maureen for contributing your experiences to help us provide this information.