How to Tie-Dye with Food Coloring

How to Tie-Dye with Food Coloring

Nothing evokes summer quite like tie-dyeing T-shirts with your kids. Here are directions for an eco-friendly tie-dye option—tie-dye with food coloring—from More Boredom Busters.

Get outside to make these tie-dye T-shirts! Reuse a favorite cotton T-shirt or use a new one. Wash Food Coloring Tie-dye T-shirts separately from other clothes for the first three washes, as some of the dye may run into your other clothes.


MAKE IT IN: 24 hours

BOREDOM BUSTER: One time activity (but you’ll want to make it again)


RELATED: Find after-school art classes near you.

Things you need to tie-dye with food coloring:

  • Apron
  • Activity mat (or newspaper)
  • White cotton T-shirt
  • Large plastic bowl
  • 1⁄2 cup (125ml) white vinegar
  • Water
  • Elastic bands
  • Small squirt bottle (you could recycle a clean shampoo bottle)
  • Food coloring in different colors
  • Rubber gloves (Optional: You don’t have to wear them, but you may get food coloring on your fingers if not)
  • Resealable plastic bag
  • 1⁄2 cup (120g) salt

RELATED: Get the top local activities with our weekly newsletter. 


1. Roll up your sleeves, tie up your hair, and put on an apron (food coloring stains clothes, so you need to protect your clothing). Place your activity mat on a flat surface. Put your T-shirt into a large plastic bowl and pour over the vinegar and 1⁄2 cup (125ml) water—this helps prepare the fabric for the dye.

Leave to soak for about 30 minutes.


food coloring tie-dye step 2

2. Lift the T-shirt out of the bowl and squeeze it to wring it out. Roll the T-shirt into a long sausage shape and then tie three or four elastic bands around the fabric, spacing them however you like. You could pinch it together in the middle and secure with an elastic band to create a spiral design, or tie knots in the T-shirt for yet another tie-dye design.


food coloring tie-dye step 3
3. Fill the squirt bottle with 1⁄2 cup (125ml) water and add eight drops of food coloring. Put the cap on the bottle and shake to mix well.


food coloring tie-dye step 4
4. Place your T-shirt on your activity mat and put on a pair of rubber gloves. Squirt the food coloring mixture onto one area of the T-shirt, then turn it over and squirt the rest of the color mixture onto the other side.


food coloring tie-dye step 5
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with your other food coloring colors, mixing up the colors in the squirt bottle and staining a different area of the T-shirt each time.


food coloring tie-dye step 6
6. When your T-shirt is completely soaked in food coloring and water, place the T-shirt roll into a resealable plastic bag and leave to rest in the bag overnight.


7. The next day, take the T-shirt out of the bag and remove the elastic bands. Pour the salt and 1⁄2 cup (125ml) of water into a large bowl. Plunge the T-shirt into the salt water to set the dye and then wring the T-shirt out.


8. Rinse your dyed T-shirt in clean water several times until the water runs clear—take care when you rinse, as splashes of water may stain you and your clothes as the food coloring rinses off. Wring it out a final time and hang out to dry—preferably in the sun.


Guess What...

Tie-dye is the term for the process of twisting, knotting, and crumpling fabric, binding it with string or elastics, and applying dye to the fabric. In the 1960s many popular musicians, such as the legendary Jimi Hendrix, wore tie-dye shirts.

RELATED: Get our FREE Indoor Activities ebook. 

more boredom busters cover Excerpted from More Boredom Busters by Caroline Fernandez ($14.95) with permission of CICO Books.

All photos by Martin Norris