Dyeing Fabric in a Front-Loading Washing Machine

Yes, Virginia, you can dye fabric in a front loader. I do it all the time. This post documents my method. Please keep in mind that your results may vary.

Equipment and supplies:
Maytag Neptune front-loading washer. The model I have dates from 2001.
A water heater that is set dangerously high
Dharma acid dye
boiling water
vinegar
synthrapol
fabric (mine is silk double georgette)

Just FYI, this is the project that I was working on when I took these photos.

Also FYI, this also works with Procion dyes (with soda ash in place of the vinegar; also with Procion dyes you need to add salt through the detergent port right at the beginning before the adding the dye slurry.)

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This is the dye I used. It’s acid dye from Dharma Trading

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Take 3 tsp of dye, add boiling water in a disposable cup.

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Stir to make your dye slurry

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Have some vinegar handy

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Wet the fabric

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Set the machine to cotton/sturdy; hot wash/cold rinse; extra rinse

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Put wet fabric in machine. Close door to machine. Open detergent port while the machine is filling.

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Pour in dye slurry. Let machine finish filling. Let it toss for a couple of minutes.

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Press the “Start/Pause” button. Wait 5 minutes or so. Press the “Start/Pause” button again to allow the fabric to toss for a couple of minutes. Repeat for 30 minutes.

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Measure out the right amount of vinegar

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While the machine is tossing the fabric, slowly pour the vinegar into the detergent port. Then pour 3-4 cups of hot water into the detergent port to flush all of the vinegar into the machine.

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Press the “Start/Pause” button. Wait 5 minutes or so. Press the “Start/Pause” button again to allow the fabric to toss for a couple of minutes. Repeat for 1 hour.

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Wipe the detergent port clean with a wet cloth

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Allow the machine to finish the cycle. The dye will come out into your slop sink.

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Observe the final rinse. Since it’s boring to watch the washing machine go, you can show up before the final rinse and put a bucket there to be sure that most of the dye comes out in this rinse.

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Keep the dyed fabric in the washer, run another cycle using Synthrapol detergent.

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Hang to dry.

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9 Comments

  1. Posted July 30, 2014 at 4:22 am | Permalink | Reply

    I do this a lot, though with procion dyes and cellulose fabrics. I’ve yet to try it with silk, but the overall technique works very well.

    The only thing I do differently is that I observed my machine doing the longest wash cycle one day, and it will do the agitation for over 30mins, so I set a timer for 25 mins and then reset it, rather than every 5 mins.

    I’ve tried putting the dye slurry in the drum, and covering it with salt, then the wet fabric, (how the dylon machine dyes tell you to do it). Sometimes it works just fine, but others it will make the colour a bit blotchy. Through the detergent drawer is better.

    Also when it’s all finished, when you pull the fabric out, the colour can look horribly uneven, but dries perfectly evenly. It’s that the spin cycle makes it some parts of the fabric less wet than others. It’s given me a heart attack a couple of times though!

    I honestly think the most difficult bit of it all is making the dye slurry :-)

    • Posted July 30, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink | Reply

      I love those Dylon machine dyes! I used them when I lived in the UK, but was disappointed to find that they are not available in the US. We have the Dylon brand here, but not that formulation.

      • Posted July 30, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        Yeah I’ve had fantastic results with them. I got the impression from somewhere they were actually procion dyes themselves? But you can’t beat Dharma Trading for sheer wealth of gorgeous dye colours (and if you know somewhere that does, please let me know!)

        For the record Dylon machine dyes are available fairly easily in Australia :-) Actually I’m pretty sure you can buy them from Dharma Trading too. I do think they would be good for someone with less experience and confidence to ease their way in to machine dying. Similar process, but simplified.

  2. Posted July 30, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thank-you so much for this tutorial.

    • Posted July 30, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Permalink | Reply

      You’re welcome! I meant to email you to make sure you saw it, but then I saw something shiny and got all distracted. I’m glad you came across it on your own.

  3. Posted July 30, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Wow. Thanks for this post. I have been experimenting with less than stellar results. So.glad to have your guidelines.

  4. indigotiger
    Posted July 30, 2014 at 11:22 pm | Permalink | Reply

    thank you so much for posting this tutorial, I had no idea that this was possible… bookmarking for future reference

  5. Shams
    Posted August 19, 2014 at 3:58 am | Permalink | Reply

    Interesting, Claudine. I don’t have a front loader yet and have been afraid of them because of the dyeing. I’m curious, though, how did you manage to keep the dye clear of the fabric borders?

    • Posted August 19, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink | Reply

      It’s called “capping”. Basically, I bunched up the fabric at the border, put a plastic grocery bag around it, and tied it with several rubber bands. Then I took another plastic bag and did the same for a safety.

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