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The Rit Studio: How to Tie-Dye Using the Squirt Bottle Method

How to Tie-Dye Using the Squirt Bottle Method

This method of tie-dyeing enables you to use multiple dye colors and apply the dye colors precisely where you want them to be. The dyes are mixed with very hot water in a concentrated amount, poured into squirt bottles and then applied to the tied fabric to create colorful designs. No two are ever alike and everyone can do it differently. To finish the dyeing process, the dyed fabric is wrapped and sealed in plastic wrap and heated in the microwave. Rit loves hot water and finishing in the microwave creates a heat chamber which helps the dye move onto the fabric and intensify the color. Refer to our Tie-Dye projects for Folding and Shibori stitching techniques for more ideas and specific directions on how to achieve different tie-dye patterns.


Prep, dye and rinse time: 1 hour

You’ll Need

  • White 100% cotton item(s) to dye
  • Rit Dye, liquid or powder
  • Hot water
  • 2 -3 Plastic squirt bottles
  • Rubber bands
  • Disposable spoons
  • 4-Cup measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Plastic wrap
  • Paper towels
  • Newspapers
  • Baking rack (optional)
  • Old tray (optional)
  • Salt
  • Scissors
  • Rubber gloves
  • Plastic table cover

Step by Step

  1. Cover work surface with a plastic table cover.

  2. For best results, prewash item to be dyed to remove any finishes that may interfere with dye absorption.

  3. Lay shirt or item out on a flat surface.

  4. Pinch, pleat or fold fabric to make a design. Wrap rubber bands tightly around fabric at various points. The rubber bands act as a resist and create white spaces. The more rubber bands you use and the tighter they are wrapped, the more white space there will be.

  5. Design Suggestions:

    For Side circle or Sunburst, pinch a section of the shirt or fabric where you want the center of the circle to be. Pull it up toward you to make a tee-pee shape. Then pull up more of the fabric for a larger circle. Close one hand around the point of the tee-pee and tie it off with a rubber band; then add rubber bands down the length of it.

    For stripes, fold shirt vertically or diagonally, like an accordion or fan, in 2” to 3” wide folds. Then wrap with rubber bands every 2” – 3” or as desired.

    For checks, accordion pleat fabric in 2” to 3” wide folds. To achieve a sharp line, press folds with an iron. Then accordion pleat strip into a square. Wrap a rubber band loosely around square fabric in both directions.

    For spirals, decide where to place the center of the spiral. Then position your fingers around the center point and slowly begin to twist fabric in a spiral direction. Loosely wrap rubber bands around fabric to hold spiral together.

    Click here for more Folding and Stitching ideas and inspiration.

  6. Dip shirt or fabric in water; squeeze out excess water. Set aside.

  7. Dye Preparation: Wear rubber gloves and shake dye bottles before pouring. Measure and mix 1 package of powdered dye or ½ cup liquid dye with 2 cups hot tap water. Add 1 Tablespoon salt; stir well. Pour as much as will fit into a squirt bottle. Repeat for each color. Save the extra for later use. Just remember to heat leftover dye before using it. Bottles will be hot so wear rubber gloves when handling them.

  8. Overlap sheets of plastic wrap so they are slightly larger than the shirt or item to be dyed.

  9. Place shirt on plastic wrap. Squirt each dye color on shirt as desired. (Tip: Plan to put adjacent primary colors (red, yellow, blue) or secondary colors (orange, green, purple) next to each other. In the areas where they run together, they will blend together and create a third color.) Keep paper towels handy so dye doesn’t puddle or seep into an area where you plan to place another color. (Tip: Shirt could be placed on a baking rack when applying dye so it runs through. Just be sure to place an old tray or newspapers under it.) Refer to Tie-Dye project sheets for specific color examples. (Side Circle, Pleated, Accordion)

  10. Cover wrapped shirt or item with plastic wrap; seal edges. Fold to fit in the microwave.

  11. Line bottom of microwave with paper towels. Place wrapped shirt in microwave and set on High for 2 minutes. Plastic will puff up, creating a heat chamber that helps the dye move onto the fabric. WATCH carefully to be sure plastic does not melt.

  12. Wear rubber gloves or use pot holders to remove shirt from microwave. It will be very hot. Open plastic and let cool. Carefully cut away rubber bands. Rinse shirt in cool water until water runs clear. Then launder in warm water with a mild detergent; rinse and dry.

Try our FAQs, or Ask The Dye Doctor

  • April

    We are doing a school-wide tie dying in two days. I see that you recommend we microwave the shirts after we dye them. Is there any alternative to using microwaves, such as letting the dye sit for a few days? We are unfortunately tie-dying 50-50 cotton poly blend shirts, as we ordered the shirts prior to discovering that poly blends don’t dye as well. We are using the pour method. Thanks for your help.

    • http://ritstudio.com RitDye

      Hi April, We want to provide a little more information about polyester. Polyester is a plastic fiber derived from oil and then washed in a permanent finish to create easy wash and wear. This process creates a moisture barrier which prevents Rit dye from penetrating. If the fabric is a cotton blend, the fabric will be tinted a light or pastel color, the higher the cotton content, the deeper the resulting color will be. When dyed, polyester tints on the surface only. Thus the resulting light or off color. When tie-dyeing, we strongly recommend using the microwave to help heat set the dye. Letting the dye sit or placing items in the sun, etc., do not help set the dye. Sorry about that.

  • Sydney

    I would like to use the pour method on bed sheets which are 100% cotton but they wont fit into the microwave. Can I use an iron or chemicals (eg. soda ash) instead?
    How should I dilute the dye from the 1 1/8 oz powder box for this method? according to packet instructions or differently?
    Thanks for your help!

  • http://ritstudio.com RitDye

    Hi Sydney, You can try to heat set with the iron if the material is unable to fit into the microwave. Soda ash is not needed when using Rit. You would pre-dissolve one box or 1/2 cup of liquid dye into 2 cups of hot water. Be sure to follow the directions here closely: https://www.ritdye.com/techniques/creative-techniques/how-to-tie-dye-using-the-pour-method/#comment-1610169380 The directions on the back of the bottle are for dyeing the item a solid color. Let us know if you have any other questions!

  • Mia

    We will be dying 180 shirts at school in one afternoon. We will be using two colors (Wine and Gold) on each shirt. Most of our shirts are child size but we do have about 30 that are adult. I cannot find how many shirts each bottle will dye. For that number of shirts, what is your recommendation?

    • http://ritstudio.com RitDye

      Hi Mia, We would recommend using 1 bottle for every 5-10 shirts. You would get closer to 10 for the child size shirts and more closer to 5 for the adult sized shirts. Hope this helps!

  • CJ

    I am looking at buying a wool cloak that I want to tie-die in the scrunch/mottled pattern using the pour-on method described here (and seen on numerous Youtube videos). I am not sure that it would fit in the microwave so would putting it in the oven for a few minutes work as well? (I have seen this suggested on other websites).

    • http://ritstudio.com RitDye

      Hello CJ, We would not recommend putting your dyed item in the oven. We would recommend using a product called Rit Color Stay Dye Fixative that helps an item retain the dye longer. Information about the product can be found at: https://www.ritdye.com/techniques/the-basics/dye-fixative/ We would recommend checking the garment tag to make sure it can be washed in hot water. Hope this information is helpful.

  • Victoria

    If I don’t want to put the shirts in the microwave for 2 minutes can I just leave them outside overnight or do is it necessary for me to put the shirts in the microwave for 2 minutes??

    • http://ritstudio.com RitDye

      Hi Victoria, For the best results in the fabric retaining the dye when tie-dyeing, we do recommend heat setting the dye by placing the item in the microwave. Rit Color Stay Dye Fixative is a product also recommended for use after tie-dyeing. Information on this product can be found by going to: https://www.ritdye.com/techniques/the-basics/dye-fixative/ Hope this information is helpful.

  • http://ritstudio.com RitDye

    Hi Margie, For dark or vibrant colors, you can double up on the dye. We would also recommend adding in some salt. Be sure the onesies are 100% cotton for best results. You also want to ensure the water is at least 140-160 degrees in the pour bottles. The Rit Color Stay Dye Fixative can also help to keep the colors bright. Hope this helps!

  • Sam

    I do not own a microwave and I want to tie dye a shirt for school spirit week. I see that I need to heat set the dye. I was wondering if I could place in the dryer for a few minutes to help set the dye??

    • http://ritstudio.com RitDye

      Hi Sam,
      We would recommend using a hair dryer or an iron to heat-set the dye. If you were to use the dryer, the dye may stain the inside of the dryer. Hope this information is helpful.

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