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You are here: Home > All About Hand Dyeing > FAQ > Fixing Dyes > Fixing Tie-dyes Made with All-Purpose Dye

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How can I fix the shirts I just tie-dyed with Rit® brand all-purpose dye so that they'll quit bleeding in the wash and stay bright?

This is one of the saddest and yet one of the most common questions I get. You must not try to use all-purpose dye, such as Rit® brand dye, at room temperature. It simply does not work. As many heartbroken would-be tie-dyers have observed to me, the dye just washes out.

Things that won't set dye: vinegar, salt, Synthrapol

Don't just try soaking or washing with vinegar or salt; it won't help. Neither will washing with the special dye detergent Synthrapol, which is formulated to remove excess dye. Synthrapol is not a dye fixative.

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A good product for removing dye is Rit® Color Remover.

Procion MX is the best dye for cotton or rayon.

Procion MX Fiber Reactive Cold Water Dye

Procion MX
Fiber Reactive
Cold Water Dye

Remove the dye and start over?

Some dyers would advise you that the most effective solution is to 1, use Rit® brand color remover (an excellent product) to get rid of the all-purpose dye, and then 2, buy a better quality type of dye, fiber reactive dye, such as Procion MX, and start over. This advice is too draconian for most people! However, if you used the wrong recipe for the all-purpose dye - if you used the cold-water squirt bottle technique that works only with fiber reactive dyes - there's not much you can do. You MUST follow the all-purpose dye instructions in order to tie-dye with Rit® brand all-purpose dye. This means you must use extremely hot water, and extended periods of soaking your fabric in the scalding hot dye baths, for best results. (See How Can I Tie Dye With All Purpose Dye? for a recipe that does work.)

Heat-setting all-purpose dye by steaming

If you have not yet rinsed out the items you dyed at room temperature with all-purpose dye, you may be able to salvage them by heat-setting. Wrap each item individually in plastic wrap and steam in a lidded pot over boiling water, just like cooking vegetables, for at least thirty minutes. Allow the items to cool gradually to room temperature before rinsing out. Even properly steam-set all-purpose dye will still bleed in the laundry, though. Prevent this by setting the dye with a commercial dye fixative such as Retayne. Nothing else will work - except for using a better type of dye.

What's wrong with all-purpose dye?

All-purpose dye is a mixture of two kinds of dyes - an acid dye, which will just wash out of cotton, since acid dyes work only on animal fibers such as wool, or on nylon (but not on other synthetics) - and a direct dye, which is duller in color and bleeds a bit with every single washing, forever. (This is quite unlike fiber reactive dye, such as Procion MX dye; fiber reactive dye will stay bright on cotton for a hundred washings, if applied correctly, with no need at all for Retayne or a similar product.)

Get a good fixative to set the dye

Retayne is a cationic dye fixative.
Retayne and other commercial dye fixatives are the only real solution to the bleeding of direct dye (which is part of all-purpose dye).
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Although nothing can be done about having the brighter acid dyes wash out of cotton, the direct dye can still be saved. You need to mail-order (unless your local quiltmaking shop carries it) one of the dye fixatives sold to "set" non-washfast dye. This product is an ionic bulking agent that essentially glues the dye molecules into the fiber, to prevent the unattached dye from washing out of the fabric.

The best fixative for direct dye is a commercial dye fixative such as Retayne®. This product is sold by many dyeing and quilting supply houses, such as PRO Chemical & Dye and Dharma Trading Company (see Sources for Supplies). Dharma and Aljo each sell their own brands of this sort of product, and recently, in 2008, the manufacturers of Rit dye have finally begun to sell their version, Rit Dye Fixative, as well.

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Last updated: August 24, 2008
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