How To Dye Polyester Fabric

The process of dying fabrics can be great fun when you want to breathe new life into some old clothes or create a garment in a particular color. However, some materials are notoriously more difficult to use than others. One of the worst is polyester. There are some real horror stories out there of bad reactions and I have had my fair share of disasters. So, why is polyester so difficult and how do you dye polyester at home?

What you need to remember here is that polyester is not like other materials. The properties of this synthetic material mean that it isn’t well suited to dying processes. Therefore, you have to be careful to use the right dyes, follow the instructions carefully, and prepare yourself for failed attempts. You can get some good results when all the right elements come together but, I know how frustrating it is to work with.

Can You Tie Die Polyester?

Tie-dying polyester is difficult but not impossible. Polyester is a difficult material to dye because it doesn’t absorb dye very well. The fibers are hydrophobic, so can’t take up moisture very well, and therefore can’t soak up water-based substances with the same effect. You need the right method and dyes to change the color of polyester and get the level of saturation you desire. Still, you can use common tie-dye methods on polyester and polyester blends to create the look you are after.

Tie Dying Polyester Blends

You will have a better experience with tie-dying polyester blends than 100% polyester because of the properties of those natural fibers. For example, a polyester-cotton blend has the softness and movement in the fibers that means they are more a better fit for tie-dying and other dying processes. You can also work with polyester and linen blends. The problem comes when you have a blend of polyester and spandex, such as in activewear. Spandex handles the dying process pretty badly because it requires such high temperatures.

What Dye Should You Use On Polyester?

Polyester requires disperse dyes that are suitable for synthetic materials. That is because those hydrophobic properties make water-based dyes ineffective. Disperse dyes have pigments suspended in liquid instead of dissolved. They then penetrate the polyester fibers under the influence of high heat. We need to remember that the dying process for creating polyester material is intensive at the factory level. These plants use high-end jet dying machines and soak the fabric at 280 degrees Fahrenheit for the best process. Also, it is a good idea to stick with these synthetic dyes, even if your material is a blend. It all depends on the ratio. Anything about 35% polyester needs that strong synthetic dye or else you won’t get the coverage you need.

What Is the Best Dye For Polyester?

A lot of people that work with polyester and dying processes quite often will recommend that you use Rit Dye. Rit has a lot of user-friendly products that focus on disperse dyes for synthetic fabrics. Take a look online and see what is available in disperse dyes within your budget and in a color that you love. Also, check user feedback to make sure the process isn’t too difficult and the results are good.

Why Is Polyester So Difficult To Work With?

The best results when dying material at home come with natural fibers. The structure of these materials, such as cotton and linen, means that the color takes quite well and you can get a nice uniform or mottled look depending on your process. A good cotton shirt is open to great experimentation, tie-dye effects, and more.

Polyester, on the other hand, is a synthetic material. It is created using crude oil and, as the “poly” prefix suggests, is actually a form of plastic adapted into a light, flexible material. It is why it is so durable. This also means that the fibers are hydrophobic, so they repel water. When you put 100% polyester in water to dye it, the water isn’t going to have the same effect and you won’t see the same results with the dye. That is why so many people use polyester blends rather than 100% polyester when creating garments. This brings in natural fibers like cotton or linen.

How To Dye Polyester - Dyeing Polyester Fabric

How To Dye Polyester Fabric At Home

1) Choose The Right Fabric

These issues with 100% polyester and the preference towards blends mean that you need to be careful when choosing the right material for your project. It is best to look for a polyester blend where there is a good amount of natural fibers to take the due more effectively. At the same time, that material needs to be the right size and have the right properties for your sewing project.

2) Choose The Right Dye

There are some companies that provide dyes that are specially formulated for working with synthetic materials. These should say Synthetic on the bottle and should be fine for use on materials like acrylic. This means that they are able to bond with the plastics in the polyester material as well as any natural fabrics. Therefore, you should get a more uniform look and reliable process. You can then follow the specific guidelines from the manufacture on adding the right amount of dye for the weight of the fabric.

3) Set Up Your Equipment

Next, you need to make sure that you have all the right equipment for the job. This all starts with a hotplate or stovetop surface where you can create a high, consistent heat for the process. You also need a large pot that will hold the material and enough water to submerge it. You may also want to use a thermometer to regulate the temperature and some long-handled tongs to move and retrieve the material afterward.

It is crucial to note at this point that you shouldn’t use a washing machine or bathtub for this process. The dyes could stain your tub or cause damage to the machine. You will also have a hard time regulating the right temperature for 30 minutes.

4) Remember To Use Boiling Water For The Best Effects

The biggest issue with this dying process is the temperature of the water. It needs to stay at a steady 180 degrees Fahrenheit for the dye to take. Bring to water to the boil and try to maintain this high temperature as best you can. Remember to always follow the instructions on the bottle when it comes to handling the dye and the material. Later on, you will need to rinse the garment again to get rid of excess dye and then wash the material. This can be done at a more normal temperature.

5) Always Follow Appropriate Safety Guidelines When Dying Polyester At Home

Because this process requires such hot water, it is important to stay safe at all times. You don’t want to get burned by the water when stirring the garment, removing it, or squeezing out the dye. It is also important to keep kids away during this process. Gloves and safety tongs help here, and they also protect from the dye. This substance could stain your clothes or your skin.

How Do You Tie Dye Polyester In General?

1) Prepare your clothing for the dying process

It is a good idea to start by cleaning and ironing your chosen item so it is in the best condition possible. You don’t want any dirt or stains ruining the uptake of the dye, nor any creases affecting the pattern created.

2) Tie up the material with rubber bands

The process of tie-dying polyester is no different from that of any other material at this point. You still want to create patterns and areas of material that the dye can’t get to. The best way to do this is to tie up bunches of material with rubber bands. The thicker the band, the broader the area left behind. You could also try for more precise rings of color with old hair elastics. Don’t be afraid to play around with different techniques and see what bloggers and YouTubers are up to in their tutorials.

3) Get the water up to the right temperature

This part can be tricky as you need a substantial pot that can hold enough water and sit over a reliable heat source. The best option is to get a strong stockpot, keep it over your stove, and keep an eye on the temperature with a thermometer.

4) Add the dye

Using the guidance above, you should be able to find a suitable dye in the right color for the best possible result. You can add the packet – or packets – of dye to the water when it reaches the required temperature and then add your material. Follow manufacturer instructions and remove the material when the dying process is complete.

5) Stay safe at all times

These high temperatures and chemicals mean that you need to work carefully and keep the room well-ventilated. This should reduce the risk of inhaling too many fumes. Use tongs to handle the material at arm’s length to avoid the risk of burns from the water. Also, make sure to wear gloves so that the water and dye don’t get on your skin.

Another important consideration here is to dye the whole piece of fabric as one if you are planning to sew a tie-dyed item of clothing from scratch. Some people will cut out the pattern pieces and then dye them individually for an easier process. But, this runs the risk of pieces shrinking and no longer matching the pattern. You may also find inconsistencies in the patterns and colors. Get a consistent look on one piece of material and then cut your pieces out for better pattern matching.

How To Dye Polyester With Food Coloring

Dying polyester with food coloring is another craft that is not exactly impossible. But, the effects do mean that you are better off either using a more traditional dye or a different material. It is appealing to try and use food coloring and other similar agents because they are both affordable and natural. You aren’t going to run into the same problem of using a chemical Rit dye, such as the high temperatures and chemical fume. Still, you may run the risk of dying your skin or staining other clothes without protection.

The problem with using food coloring and food agents as dyes is that they aren’t permanent. If you can get some color into your garment using these dyes then it won’t last very long. You may be able to get a tint of color for something like a Halloween costume, as long as the forecast isn’t for rain. Still, there is no harm in trying some food coloring and hot water on a polyester-cotton blend and seeing what happens. Just make sure it isn’t an item of clothing you are that fond of.

Can You Use Natural Dyes Instead When Learning How To Dye Polyester?

This is something that I see asked a lot online. There is a growing trend towards using natural dyes and substances on fabrics to avoid the use of chemicals. This is understandable when we want to create garments that are a little safer for the family and that don’t have such a negative impact on the environment. However, you are likely to find that most natural alternatives don’t take very well. For example, some people will try dying fabric in coffee and while this can work well for some natural fibers, you still need that boiling water and a strong reaction for polyester.

Can You Dye Polyester, Or Should You Just Use Other Fabrics?

At this point, you might wonder why you should even bother using polyester when there are such inconsistent results and the process is so hard. Personally, I would advise against using 100% polyester because of those hydrophobic properties. But, it can be worth your time working with the right polyester blend if you choose an effective dye and keep an eye on the water temperature. Weigh up the pros and cons of dying the material in question and be prepared for some experimental dying sessions.