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You are here: Home > All About Hand Dyeing > FAQ > General Dyeing Questions > How to Tie Dye with Kool-Aid®

Tie Dye with Kool-Aid

ice blue raspberry lemonade drink mix

Twist Blue Mountain Berry drink mix

The idea of dyeing with food coloring, either in the tiny bottles mostly used for egg dyeing, or in artificially colored drink mix, is very appealing for one very significant reason: these dyes are safe for use even by children who can't be trusted not to eat their tie-dye projects. However, there is one rule you must remember:

Do not try to dye cotton with food coloring!

Food coloring on cotton is a stain, not a dye, and will not last. You can't make it permanent. If you want to dye cotton, use fiber reactive dye with the how to dye cotton recipe, and don't let your kids eat the dye.

Artificially colored drink mixes can be used for dyeing wool and other protein (animal) fibers, and frequently also nylon. (Some nylon garments are treated with Teflon or other coatings, which prevent dyeing.) They do not attach permanently on cotton or synthetics other than nylon, unless you never, ever wash the item in question.

The answer, then, is to use wool, silk, or nylon. You must also apply heat.

Acid Dyes

Food coloring belongs to the class of dyes known as acid dye. Its attachments to protein fibers, and also to nylon (but no other synthetic), are in the form of ionic and hydrogen bonds. The acid required for the dye reaction is provided, quite conveniently, in the form of citric acid for tartness in the drink mix flavoring. If you use plain food coloring drops, you'll need to pre-soak your fabric or yarn in some plain white vinegar, instead.

No sugar, please!

The last thing you want is a gummy mess, but that's what you'll get if you cook sweetened drink mix onto your project. Be sure to use unsweetened drink mixes only! (Artificial sweetening is probably just fine, but unsweetened drink mix, to which you are supposed to add your own sugar when mixing drinks, is ideal.) Alternatively, you can use drops of concentrated liquid food coloring, or almost any form of packaged Easter egg dye.

What colors are available?

Many colorings that are legal for use in foods in one country are banned in another; conversely, those dyes allowed in the latter country may be banned in the former. In the US, the list of legal synthetic food dyes is short:
dye nameF D & C food
dye number
Colour Index
number
E or INS
number*
frequently associated flavors
(check ingredients lists)
allura red red dye #4016035E129cherry, strawberry
brilliant blue FCF blue #142090E133blue raspberry, blue moon berry
sunset yellow FCF  yellow #615985E110mango
indigotine blue #273015E132
fast green FCF green #342053INS 143
erythrosine red #345430E127
tartrazine yellow #519140E102lemonade
(*E numbers are European food additive numbers, being replaced by INS numbers, which are international but are largely the same as E numbers.)

All other food colorings in the US, aside from a few natural dyes such as annatto, turmeric (spice), beet extract, and carmine (red insects, used to color yogurt and other foods), are composed of different combinations of the above.

Project

This project is designed for use with children; it is not optimized for art use, as food coloring is not the most lightfast of dyes (that is, you may find that it fades badly after a year or so).
  1. What to dye.
    First you need to select an appropriate dyeable - wool yarn, nylon fabric, silk scarf. You can buy silk scarves for two to eight dollars each, depending on size, by mail order from companies such as Rupert Gibbon & Spider and Dharma Trading Company; see Sources for Dyeing Supplies, or see MisterArt's Jacquard white silk scarf.) Do not choose anything containing a cellulose fiber such as cotton, rayon, or linen, nor any synthetics other than nylon, such as polyester or acetate.
  2. Choose your dyes. ice blue raspberry lemonade drink mix Select your favorite colors of unsweetened artificially colored drink mix. Plan on about one packet of drink mix per ounce of fiber, if you like intense colors. (Blue drink mixes are becoming difficult to find in some areas, but can still be purchased online; see, for example, Twist Blue Mountain Berry Kool-Aid at Amazon.)
  3. Pre-soak your fiber. If you are using a drink mix that contains an acid, such as citric or malic acid, for tartness, dampen your fabric or yarn with water, or you can use water with some added vinegar, just to be sure. If you are using pure food coloring or egg dye, dampen with plain white vinegar, instead, mixed half-and-half with water. Squeeze out excess water and vinegar, leaving your fiber wet.
  4. Tie. (Optional.) For a true tie-dye project, you may use rubber bands to tighten the fabric where you want it to remain white. Many people prefer dyeing with no ties at all, however. Since you are applying your colors directly, you can get quite nice designs with no need for the ties.
  5. Select a dish. Here's where this form of dyeing becomes especially convenient. There is no need to devote a dish solely to dye use, since these dyes are food-safe; you can use any kitchen container that is suitable for microwaving. Choose one as wide as will fit in your microwave oven conveniently. Arrange your damp material in the dish.
  6. Add dye. Sprinkle on your drink mix or food coloring in a pleasing rainbow pattern. You can use the drink mix either dry (it will dissolve on the wet fabric) or dissolved in a very small amount of water. Remember that you don't want to put opposite colors next to each other, such as red next to green, orange next to blue, or yellow next to purple, as you will end up with a muddy brown if you do. Place colors in rainbow order. After covering the top layer, use gloved hands, or tongs or other kitchen implements, to turn the fabric or yarn over in the dish, to do the same to the other side(s).
  7. Cover the dish. Use a lid, plate or microwavable plastic wrap to seal the dish tightly. This will trap steam to ensure that all parts of the fabric get treated, and prevent one region from drying out and burning before the rest is even hot.
  8. Heat in the microwave. (Obviously, this part is to be done only by adults or teens, though young children can do the dye application.) Watching closely the entire time, heat for anywhere from fifteen seconds to a minute or two, until the material is hot. You will see the steam start to inflate the plastic wrap, and condense inside the plastic wrap; that is when you must press "STOP". Let it rest for a minute, then heat again. Alternatively, heat for five minutes on reduced power (20%), but be sure to watch constantly . The danger is that overheated fiber can actually catch on fire in the microwave, if it is allowed to get too dry. It must get quite hot in order for the dye to attach permanently to the fiber, however. If you do not have access to a microwave oven, you can use a vegetable steamer and steam for half an hour, instead.
  9. Allow to cool. The time spent gradually cooling will allow more bonding to occur.
  10. Rinse. Using cool water, rinse until the water that runs off no longer contains dye.
  11. Laundering. When laundering becomes necessary, wash in cool water on the delicate cycle, or hand wash; be sure to follow any care instructions for wool.

Safety warnings

How can there be any safety hazards, with food-safe dye?

First, never breathe the drink mix powder. Breathing dye is unhealthy; breathing almost any powder is unhealthy.

Second, don't let your children learn, from this food-safe experiment, that it is okay to taste your dyes! You may think that this is silly, but my young son developed the appalling idea, from our early chemistry experiments together, such as growing crystals from salt and sugar, that it was okay to taste chemicals. Fortunately I was watching closely the time he decided to taste a non-food-safe experiment!



See answers to more questions about dyes and dyeing


Overview Fiber Reactive Dyes Direct Dyes All-Purpose Dyes Acid Dyes      Food Coloring      Lanaset Dye      Acid Levelling (Kiton) Natural Dyes Vat Dyes Disperse Dyes Basic Dyes Naphthol Dyes Fabric Paints
Index How to Dye with
    Fiber Reactive Dye
How to Tie Dye How to Batik Low Water
    Immersion
Dip Dyeing Washing Machine
    Dyeing
How to Tie Dye
    with Kool-Aid®
How to Tie Dye with
     All Purpose Dye
How to Dye and
    Paint Fabric
    with Light
cellulose fibers:     cotton     rayon and
     bamboo
protein fibers:     silk     wool synthetic fibers:     acrylic     nylon     polyester     spandex other materials...
acetic acid alginate ammonium sulfate baking soda citric acid ludigol mordants salt soda ash sodium silicate temperature synthrapol urea vinegar water softener
Index Batik Mandalas &
    Peace Signs
LWI dyeing Watercolor Rainbow
    Drip-dyes
Tie Dyeing Spray Dyeing Fabric Paints and Markers
The Dye Forum Book Reviews Find A Custom Dyer Old Q&A Blog Blog of Questions
     & Answers (new)
Search Contact me Link here About This Site
Where to Buy
    Dye & Supplies
Mailing Lists Other Galleries Other Informative
    Sites
Additional Links
Index General Dye
    Questions
Fixing Dye Synthetic Fibers Color Choice Dye Auxiliaries Bleaching and
    Discharging
Safety Procion Dyes Acid Dyes Problems Tying Miscellaneous
Facebook: All About
    Hand Dyeing
Twitter @HandDyeing Google+
Procion MX Dyes Jacquard Acid Dyes Other Dyeing
    Supplies
Fabric Paints, Dyes,
    Books, and DVDs


Kool-Aid® is a registered trademark of Kraft Foods Holdings, Inc.

Page created: August 11, 2002
Last updated: May 17, 2003
Downloaded: Thursday, August 24, 2017