HOW TO MAKE NATURAL DYE USING FOOD FROM YOUR KITCHEN

If you’ve ever wondered how to make diy natural dyes with food from your kitchen, you’ve come to the right place.

cloth swatches dyed with natural dye made from kitchen ingredients on a table
The natural material used to dye each of these muslin swatches, from left to right, is turmeric powder, blueberries, coffee grounds, black beans, and red cabbage.

Making your own natural dyes is a simple process. And you can use them to impart the most amazing color to natural fibers. Even first-time dyers can complete this easy dyeing process in as little as an hour of hands on time.

Hands off time is considerably longer than that. A dye bath created using natural ingredients can take up to 24 hours to acheive the best results in your fabric. Often, the longer you soak your homemade dye the more vibrant the color becomes.

The key to successful natural dyeing is to relax into the process; don’t rush it. Delight in the fact that each different fabric and each different dye material will bring their own natural colors to the table.

Every time that you work with an all natural dye project it is like opening a gift. You cannot be sure what you will find inside until you remove the wrapping paper. With natural dyes you cannot be sure what color your fabric will be until it is finished and dried.

So, enjoy the smorgasboard of beautiful colors that you can create when you make plant-based dyes using food from your kitchen.

What can I dye with my natural food dyes?

When working with dyes made from plant-based materials it is best to avoid using them to dye synthetic fabrics. These fabrics will not absorb enough color from the dye to make it worth the time it takes to complete the process.

mason jars of natural dye made using food from the kitchen with pieces of cloth in them

Go with natural fabric made from natural plant-based fibers for your dyeing project. Use materials like; pure cotton, wool, silk, hemp, muslin, or linen to get optimal results. The fibers in these fabrics are more open, and therefore they are able to absorb color better than their synthetic counterparts.

What color dye can I make using food scraps from my pantry, fridge, and spice rack?

A wide range of colors can be produced from items found in the average kitchen. You can make lovely oranges, pinks, reds, blues, purples, yellows, and greens. You can even combine more than one plant material in your dye pot to create a broader range of colors and shades than a singular plant provides.

naturally dyed cloth swatches arranged on a plate sitting on a table
The swatch in the center of this plate was dyed with black beans. The swatch at the 12 o’clock position was dyed with dried hibiscus petals. And from there going clockwise the dyes used for each swatch are turmeric powder, blueberries, red cabbage, coffee grounds, and red beet juice.

Because the list of plant materials that you can use to create natural dyes is seemingly endless, the potential to create unique colors goes on into infinity!

Can I trust the information I find on the internet about making natural dye using food from my kitchen?

I would think that most of the information that you find on the internet about making natural dye from natural sources is like any other information out there on the big ‘ol worldwide web.

Much of it is probably reliable. And much of it is likely just bloggers copying information from other bloggers/sources in order to get the post out there on their blog.

Point being, the information in this post is accurate. Or at least it is how each specific dye, in the following list, behaved in my own kitchen.

  • Beets = reddish pink color
  • Avocado skins/avocado pits = peach to light pink color
  • Yellow onion skins = yellow orange color (I have no personal experience with this material)
  • Red onion skins = pale orange color with pink undertones (I have no personal experience with this material)
  • Spinach = soft celery to deep green color (This material did not produce a desirable result for me, pic toward bottom of post)
  • Blueberries = light blue or purplish color
  • Red cabbage = deep purple color (This material did not produce a deep color, it was pretty but very light, I have gotten deeper colors from it in the past)
  • Orange peels = citron yellow color (This material did not produce a desirable result for me, pic toward bottom of post)
  • Coffee beans = tan, biege, or taupe color
  • Hibiscus flower petals = soft pink to dusty rose color
  • Black beans = chalky blue color
  • Ground turmeric = golden yellow color (It is my understanding that fresh turmeric works just as well as ground. I have not tried it yet.)
  • Pomegranate rinds = golden yellow color (I have no personal experience with this material)
  • Red clover = lavender color (I have never used red clover to make fabric dye. I have infused red clover flowers in white vinegar and it turns the vinegar a beautfiul lavender color. I suspect it would work the same as a natural fabric dye. Or it would at least impart a pretty pastel pink to natural fabric.)
  • Black tea bags = tan or beige color
  • Black walnut = dark brown color (I have never used black walnuts to make fabric dye. I have used black walnut powder mixed with water to make ink for a stamp pad. I used that stamp pad to put an image on muslin bags. It worked well.)

How to make diy natural dyes with food from your kitchen

It is always best to use organic plants when creating natural dye materials, as the chemicals that can leach into your dye from plants treated or fed with non-organic materials will potentially interfere with the colors they produce.

natural dye and cloth in mason jars on a table

You’ll want to have at least 1 cup of whatever plant material you choose to use for your dye project for every two cups of water it will take to completely immerse the fabric you want to color.

This gives you a 1 part to 2 part ratio, which is a reliable general rule for creating natural dye. If the plant material is not already in small pieces, chop it well. Then place it in a stainless steel pot and cover it with water.

Place a lid on the pot and simmer your plant and water solution very lightly for approximately 1 hour. If the liquid produced by this process is not as dark as you would like it to be, you can simmer it a bit longer. Keep in mind that the color that it will produce in the fabric you dye with it will be lighter than the color of the dye itself.

If it is still not as dark as you would like, after you’ve simmered it a second time, go ahead and add more plant material to the solution and simmer it even longer. Throughout this process you may need to add more water as well. Add as little as possible so you don’t dilute the color of the dye.

Remember that experimentation is key here. There is no way to know for certain what color a plant material will produce, because there are too many variables involved when working with natural materials. The variety of the plant used and the growing conditions it was raised in are just two of the things that play a big part in the end results.

Over time you will develop an internal gauge that helps you determine when the solution you are creating is just right.

Once you have reached a color that you are happy with, turn the heat off and allow the solution to cool down to room temperature.Then strain the plant material from the solution, and you are ready to use it to dye your fabric.

While you’re waiting for the dye solution to cool you can begin to make the mordant to treat your fabric before you dye it. It goes without saying that natural mordants are the best way to go here. So, let’s talk about how to make them.

What is a mordant? And do I need one?

A mordant, also known as a fixative, is used to prepare fabric to receive and hold on to dye. By using a mordant, you will significantly reduce the amount of color that washes out of your fabric during the final rinse.

muslin cloth swacthes dyed with red beets and hibiscus
The cloth swatch on the left of this picture was dyed with red beet juice from a can. It would be interesting to see if using fresh beets would improve the color. Unfortunately, fresh beets in northern Maine in April is not a feasible thing. The cloth swatch on the right was dyed using dried hibiscus flowers and the color is really quite lovely.

There are several different mordants available for purchase, but many of those that were used in the natural dyeing world for years (and unfortunately still are) have been found to be toxic.

You can avoid these toxic mordants by using natural materials like salt and white vinegar.

The basic rule of thumb for this application is to use salt when dyeing with berries, and vinegar when dyeing with fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs. It is not a steadfast rule, but it is a very good guideline.

Using salt to make dye for berries:

In a stock pot large enough to hold the fabric you want to dye create a salt based mordant. Use a ratio of 1/4 cup salt to 4 cups water to create this solution. Then immerse the fabric in the salt based mordant and allow it to simmer on very low heat for approximately 1-2 hours.

Using vinegar to make dye for fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs:

In a stock pot large enough to hold the fabric you want to dye create a white distilled vinegar based mordant. Use a ratio of 1 cup vinegar to 4 cups water to create this solution. Then immerse the fabric in the vinegar based mordant and allow it to simmer on very low heat for approximately 1-2 hours.

Dyeing fabric with your natural dye solution

At this point, your fabric is ready to dye. It is not necessary to rinse it before you begin the dyeing process. Simply allow it to cool completely and wring it out. Then immerse it in the dye solution that you’ve prepared for it.

muslin cloth dyed with spinach and oranges
As you can see the results that I received from both the spinach and the orange are very poor. The picture does not depict a 100% accurate result, but it wasn’t good. The spinach had such a light tint that each time I looked at it I vacillated back and forth as to whether or not it was pigmented at all. The orange had a bit more of a tint than can be seen in this picture. But it was still pretty negligible.

You will want to use your hands for this step, in order to gain maximum control over the uniform saturation of the fabric.

Put on a pair of latex gloves, or you will find yourself in the comical predicament of walking around with stained hands!

I find that reusable latex gloves are a good thing in this case. Gloves are necessary and reusable latex gloves help reduce the waste that would otherwise occur by using disposable gloves.

Once the fabric is fully immersed in the dye solution, allow it to soak for at least an hour, or until you have achieved the desired color.

If you haven’t achieved the color you want after 24 hours, it is not very likely that you will attain it. At this point, the fabric has reached it’s saturation point for color absorption.

In order to get a darker color you will need to start the process over using a fresh batch of dye.

How to take care of your fabric after it has been dyed

After the fabric has been removed from the dye allow it to hang, or lay flat until it is dry. It is best to do this in a space where you are not concerned about the dye ruining anything, as it will likely drip from the fabric.

If it is possible to do it in an outside space, that would be your best option.

Once it is completely dry, take your dyed fabric and run it under cold water until the water runs clear. Then allow it to hang or lay flat to dry again.

If you prefer you can use a dryer to set the color in the fabric. Place the fabric in the dryer by itself and run it through a high heat cycle to do that.

The color of your fabric, after it has been thoroughly washed and dried, is the color it will retain. It may fade slightly, but if it is properly cared for it probably will not.

Treat it as you would delicate washables, using a gentle ph neutral soap and either hanging it or laying it flat to dry for optimal color retention.

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cloth swatches dyed with naturl dye made from kitchen ingredients on a table

MAKE NATURAL DYE USING FOOD FROM YOUR KITCHEN TUTORIAL

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 1 day
Total Time: 1 day 15 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

How to make diy natural dye with food from your kitchen. Simple and easy to do with things like red cabbage, black beans, turmeric, and coffee.

Materials

  • Choice of: Cotton, Wool, Silk, Hemp, or Muslin
  • Water
  • Salt (if making dye with berries)
  • White vinegar (if making dye with fruits/vegetables
  • Choice of: Berries, Fruits, Vegetables, Spices, or Herbs

Tools

  • Please note that tools may become stained by the dye materials:
  • Pot (to make mordant)
  • Pot (to make dye)
  • Vessel for dying (choose a container that is large enough to hold the fabric you want to dye)
  • Gloves (optional, but recommended)
  • Large spoon
  • Measuring cups

Instructions

  1. Prepare enough mordant to adequately immerse the fabric you will be dyeing in.
  2. If you will be creating your dye from berries use the following formula to prepare your mordant: 1/4 cup table salt to 4 cups of water. You may have to warm the water in order to dissolve the salt.
  3. If you will be creating your dye from fruits, vegetables, spices, or herbs use the following formula to prepare your mordant: 1 cup white vinegar to 4 cups of water.
  4. Immerse your fabric in the appropriate mordant and place it on the stove to simmer for at least 1 hour. You can simmer it for 2 hours if you choose.
  5. While this is simmering begin your natural dye solution.
  6. Place the plant material you wish to dye with and water in a pot. Use the ratio of 1 cup plant material to 2 cups of water to create enough liquid to adequately immerse your fabric in.
  7. Simmer the natural dye solution gently for at least one hour.
  8. Strain the plant material from the dye solution.
  9. Remove the fabric from the mordant and wring the excess liquid from it.
  10. Place the fabric directly in the dye solution. It is not necessary to rinse the mordant from it.
  11. Allow the fabric to soak in the dye solution for 1 - 24 hours. In many cases the longer it soaks the darker it will become.
  12. Remove the fabric from the dye solution and wring out the excess water.
  13. Hang the fabric and allow it to dry completely.
  14. Once it is dry thoroughly rinse the excess dye solution from it.
  15. Hang it back up and allow it to dry completely.

Notes

* If you wish to make your dye solution darker than it becomes after simmering your plant material in water for 1 hour, strain the material from the water and replenish it, then allow it to simmer for another hour.

* Your dye solution will be much darker than the final results it will produce on your fabric.

* When you hang your fabric to dry, both before and after rinsing the dye solution from it, be sure to hang it where it will not ruin anything. It may drip on as it dries.

* If you would like to potentially achieve a better setting in of color on your fabric, then place it in the dryer before you rinse it instead of hanging it to dry. Please note that this may leave dye residue in your dryer. You will need to carefully clean it by running some wet towels through it. Choose towels that you will be okay with damaging.

* When you need to launder your naturally dyed fabric in the future pay close attention to it the first time. It may still leach some color and you will want to be careful that it doesn't ruin another piece of clothing. Wash it alone and check the water for color to see if it is running.

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2 Comments

  1. Hello and Greetings from Ireland.
    Thank you for this beautiful and thorough article! I found it because I want to dye some cheesecloth for junk and art journals, but you’ve inspired me to try different dyes as well.

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