June 6, 2023

DIY Eco-Friendly Tie-Dye 

Have you ever wondered how ancient civilizations dyed their clothing? 

Colorful Abstract tie dyed fabric hung up to dry.

Before 1856 it was all thanks to natural dyes! Humans have been dying their fabrics for over 4000 years with the first known dye use found in Egypt. 

This at-home activity will help you understand how natural dyes work and how they are an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic dyes. Follow the instructions below to create your own natural tie-dye masterpiece. 
The dyes we will be creating and using today are derived from beets, cabbage, coffee and turmeric.

  • Beets= pink 
  • Red cabbage = purple 
  • Turmeric = yellow 
  • Coffee = Brown 

There are many more colors you can make from different plants. Dye makers of the past even made dyes from animal parts. 

Age range: All ages 
Prep time: 30 minutes then leave overnight 
Learning time: 90 minutes 


  • 1 red cabbage 
  • 1 bottle turmeric 
  • 2 beets 
  • 1lb ground dark roast coffee (the darker the roast, the darker the dye will appear) 
  • Alum (food additive) 
  • Measuring cups 
  • Tongs 
  • Gallon sealable bags  
  • Natural fabric 
  • Rubber bands 
  • 4 large cooking pots 
  • 5-gallon cooking pot with a lid 
  • 3 3-gallon bins 
  • Newspaper 
  • Gloves 

Day 1

The first thing you are going to do is wash your fabric. The best materials for natural tie dye are cotton, linen, silk or even wool. You do not have to dry your fabric since we will soak it in our next step.

Next is to make your mordant. A mordant is something used to help the dye attach to the fabric. The mordant will help the pigments look brighter and last longer.

You will first boil a large pot of water to make the mordant. Once the water is boiling, add ¼ of alum for every pound of fabric you use.

When all the alum has dissolved, take the pot off the heat and place your fabric in tongs. Cover the pot and let the material sit overnight for the best results.

Tip: You do not need to use a mordant if you plan to use turmeric dye.

Now it is time to make the dyes:

  • To make dye out of beets, start by peeling and quartering them. Next, you will bring a pot of water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, set the beets in the water and let them boil for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let the beets soak for several hours.
  • To make dye out of red cabbage, peel off the outer layers and discard them. Finely chop the cabbage. Bring a pot of water to a boil then place the shredded cabbage in the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer and then leave for several hours.
  • Mix three tablespoons of turmeric for every cup of water you use for a turmeric dye. Next, bring the mixture to a boil and let it boil for an hour.
  • To make a coffee dye, you will need to make two pots of coffee. Once they are made, transfer the coffee to a large pot.

When your dyes are done, let them cool to room temperature and transfer to the 3-gallon bins. The coffee must stay in the pot to warm it during the dying process.

Day 2
Now let’s get to tie-dying! First, rinse your fabric in cool water to prepare it for dying.

To avoid a mess, tie-dye outside or lay down newspaper. You can also use gloves to avoid dying your hands.

After rinsing your fabric, tie it up in whatever pattern you want. You could do a traditional swirl, fold it accordion style or make an abstract design.

When you have your fabric ready, set it in your dye.

Tip: Use only one color at a time for the best results. And for the most vibrant color, let the fabric soak for several hours or even overnight.

If you are dying with coffee, warm it on the stove and let the fabric soak for at least 50 minutes. For a darker dye, let it sit for longer. You can check the depth of color by pulling the fabric out with tongs.

After the fabric has had time to sit, rinse the fabric in cold water. The rinsed shade will be one to two shades lighter than the color you see straight out of the pot.

Wash the fabric in pH-neutral soap and cold water, then hang it to dry.

We hope you have fun experimenting with natural dyes. Happy tie-dying!

Science Fun Facts:

  • Most yellow natural dyes are from plants containing flavonoids.
  • The first synthetic dye, mauveine (a purple hue), was accidentally created by William Henry Perkin in 1856.
  • Synthetic dyes are made from chemical compounds such as mercury, lead, chromium, copper, sodium chloride, toluene or benzene.
  • Natural dyes are experiencing a resurgence due to people being more eco-conscious and the uniqueness of the dye patterns.