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  • Writer's pictureMatt Suprunowicz

How to Tie-Dye Clothes with Food-Based Dye

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

How can we use food scraps and common ingredients to add color to our clothing?


This Lesson Plan is part the Crafts Module of SustainEd Farms' virtual programming.

Background: How to Tie-Dye Clothes

Before you compost your food scraps from your last meal or snack, consider holding on to them for a food-based art project: creating natural dyes that can add some soft and tasteful tones to any white clothes you may have. Though it will be best to use fresh produce to create certain colors, you can consider using a variety of food scraps if you prefer to keep your food for eating -- don’t be afraid to experiment! It is entirely possible that, even after processing the die (and depending on the ingredient and how you strain it), you may still use the fresh ingredients for a dish. Otherwise, you may compost your ingredients once they are used, thus adding to your soil amendment while also producing a work of art!

Learning Objective

Students will be able to...

  • Use food and food scraps to create natural dyes

  • Know the difference between natural dyes and synthetic dyes

  • Tie-dye a piece of clothing with their homemade dye

Academic Vocabulary

mordant /ˈmôrdnt/ noun. - a substance that facilitates the “attaching” of another substance (ex. dye) to a material

synthetic /sinˈTHedik/ adj. - description of something created by humans through chemical processes, typically within a human environment (such as a laboratory)


1. Gather your materials. You will need the following supplies:

Clean, white clothing made of cotton/silk/wool/linen (socks, shirts, hats, etc.) · 5-gallon bucket filled partially with water · soda ash or baking soda (or vinegar, for which you would have to follow a different dying procedure) · variety of vegetable scraps, spices, and foods (see list below for which ingredients you may want to consider) · blender or food processor (or a knife + cutting board to chop vegetables) · vinegar (at least 1 teaspoon for every ¼ cup of dye material) · boiling water (at least ¼ cup for every ¼ cup or dye material) · cheesecloth (or strainer) · bowls/jars/pots · rubber bands · gallon-sized, sealable, microwave-safe plastic bags · microwave · sink · washer & dryer

2. Watch the following Youtube video to see a demonstration of how to create your own natural dyes and how to apply them to clothing. Then, follow along with the remainder of the lesson by reading the steps below.

3. Before you begin creating the dye, you will want to prepare the clothing you’ll be using. After selecting your white clothing to dye, wash the clothing in the washer and dry them (avoid using fabric softeners).

4. Next, soak your clothing in water with soda ash or baking soda. Fill up a container, such as a 5-gallon bucket, with water, and add the soda ash or baking soda. You will want to use 1 cup of soda ash per 1 gallon of water, but you will only need enough water to completely submerge your fabric. Set your clothes in the water to soak for about 24 hours.

⚛💭What does the soda ash/baking soda do?... These mordants allow the dye to adhere to the clothing, binding the dye to the material of choice like glue!

5. During or after the clothes soak, select your vegetables and food scraps for the desired colors. Below are some ideas to help you get started:

Red & Pink

red foods


orange foods


yellow foods


green foods

Blue & Purple

blue and purple foods

Black & Brown

black and brown foods

6. Begin creating your die by blending your vegetables in a blender or food processor. For “highly concentrated” ingredients like spices/pastes, use about ½ tablespoon. For “less concentrated” ingredients like whole vegetables and skins, use about ¼ cup. Add 1 teaspoon of vinegar and ¼ - ½ cup of boiling water to your blender for each ingredient you blend. Create all of the dyes you wish to use!

7. Drape your cheesecloth over a jar or alternative dye container and strain your vegetable/fruit mixture. Squeeze the cheesecloth to remove as much dye as possible!

8. After your clothing has soaked in the mordant for the desired time period (1-24 hours), remove the shirts from the liquid and wring them out over a sink.

9. Next, using rubber bands, create a tie-dye design for your wet piece of clothing. To create a spiral disk, pinch the center of the clothing and twist the material in a circle, allowing the folds to rotate around the center. Then, use rubber bands to hold the clothing intact by wrapping them around the disk to create “wedges.” Plan out your color scheme!

10. Locate a place to perform the dying procedure where you won’t dye anything that can stain -- outside in some grass or rocks is alright because you’re using natural ingredients. Synthetic ingredients can be toxic to the surrounding environment if they leach out of your tie-dye setup; however, natural ingredients (your food items!) can dissipate into the surrounding environment without harming it.

11. Dye your clothes by saturating (soaking until it cannot be soaked anymore) them with your natural dyes. The more dye you use, the more likely the color will “show up” once the process is over. You can simply pour your ingredients on your clothing, or use a squirt bottle.

12. After applying your dye, place your piece of clothing in a gallon-sized, microwaveable, and sealable plastic bag. Put the fixture into the microwave for 2 minutes (the heat will allow the dye to set more fully into the fabric). After microwaving for 2 minutes, put the bag/clothing in a dark, cool place for 24 hours (such as a garage).

13. Remove the clothing from the bag and rinse it in a sink under cool water until the water runs clear. Be sure to open your bags over some paper towels. Remove the rubber bands, and wring out the excess water as you rinse.

14. Put your tie-dyed clothing through one cycle in the washing machine (cold water), and then dry them on a low heat setting in the dryer. As a precaution, know that your colors may fade over time, which can be accelerated if washing and drying with machines frequently.

Additional Resources:

Download the PDF version of this lesson plan:

How to Tie-Dye Clothes with Food-Based Dye
Download PDF • 3.14MB

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