help with tie-dye shirts
  • My kids came home from camp with shirts they tie dyed using Procion dye. We were told to soak the shirts in vinegar over night. This morning I tried that with one of the shirts (with lots of dark blue dye) and a lot of dye came out of the shirt and ran into the white parts of the shirt.

    Can I remove the dye that ran into the white parts (as a result of the vinegar) or has the dye already set?

    Should I still soak the shirts in vinegar?

    Is it too late to use soda ash to help set the colors?

    Thanks for the help.
  • Vinegar is useless for setting Procion dye (or any tie-dye, really) on cotton. Don't ever use vinegar for tie-dyeing unless you are dyeing a protein fiber such as silk or wool. It's completely inappropriate for use in setting dyes on cotton. Unfortunately, it's often recommended by people who don't know anything about dyes.

    The question now is whether the camp instructors knew enough to follow the instructions that came with the tie-dye kit, which require presoaking the shirts in soda ash. If they did, your shirts will probably be okay, IF enough time was allowed for them to react before the vinegar was applied.

    Since vinegar is an acid, while soda ash is a base, applying vinegar stops the dye from reacting with the cotton. Vinegar neutralizes soda ash, which is the last thing you want to do. If you apply vinegar before the dye has reacted with the fiber, then the reaction will be ruined. If you apply it after the reaction between dye and fiber has completed, such as the next day, the vinegar is unlike to harm them significantly.

    However, if the camp counselors did not have your children use soda ash at the time the shirts were dyed (either by presoaking the shirts in it or by mixing soda ash into the dye just before use), then the dye will not stay in the fabric. Once you've rinsed the shirts, whether with water or vinegar, it's too late to set the dye. In that case, just let it wash out. You can save the shirts to redye later, if they are 100% cotton.

    To remove excess dye smeared by the vinegar, first rinse or wash once in cold water, then wash twice in really hot water, 140°F or higher. You can soak the shirts in the hot water for maximum efficiency. You need to wash out the unattached excess dye, and hot water is the best thing to do so. You can also use the special dyer's detergent called Synthrapol, but you don't have to. The temperature of your wash water is much more important than what detergent you use.

    If you have hard water, be sure to add a phosphate-containing water softener to your washing water. The phosphate-free liquid Calgon you can buy from the grocery store is no good for dyeing, but the powder Calgon sold by Jacquard is fine. What you want to use as a water softener is sodium hexametaphosphate.