Don’t throw out that orange peel just yet—you could turn it into pretty homemade dye! Follow these instructions to make natural dyes from basic grocery store ingredients.

By Sydney Price
Updated: March 08, 2019

Plant materials have been used to color objects for thousands of years. Continue the long-standing tradition by simmering up a dye bath at home. Dyeing fabric yourself is a fun way to dress up old clothes, thrift shop linens, cloth napkins, or pillowcases. You can use produce aisle scraps like fruit peels and vegetable skins or backyard finds like flower petals and acorns as eco-friendly, inexpensive fabric dye alternatives. We’ll show you how! But first, check the label on the object you're dyeing: Cotton, linen, silk, and wool are the easiest to dye, and the dye will absorb better than synthetic fabrics, such as polyester or rayon.

Related: Dip-Dyed Project Ideas to Try

Natural Dye Ingredient Guide

Leftover fruit and veggie materials, such as peels and skins, are ideal for creating natural fabric dyes in a variety of colors. The intensity and shade may vary from plant to plant, but you can generally expect the following colors. Use this list of natural dyes to plan your color scheme. Experiment with other items to create new natural dye colors.

  • Blue natural dyes: blueberries and blackberries
  • Red natural dyes: raspberries and beets
  • Yellow and ochre dyes: lemon and orange peels and turmeric
  • Green natural dye: spinach leaves
  • Orange natural dye: onion skins
  • Purple natural dye: red cabbage leaves

How to Make Natural Dyes

After you've chosen which colors you'd like to create, it's time to make your natural dye. To do so, you'll need the following:

  • 1 cup chopped fruit or vegetable material
  • Saucepan
  • 2 cups water
  • 2-3 Tbsp. vinegar or salt
  • Strainer
  • Glass container or jar

You’ll need about 1 cup of your chosen chopped fruit or vegetable to produce color. Feel free to use extra for a more vivid dye.

  1. Add the ingredients to a saucepan and pour in 2 cups of water. If you're doing a large batch, you'll need twice as much water as your ingredient measurement.
  2. Next, you’ll need to add a mordant, which is a substance added to dye to help it bind to the material. Add 2-3 Tbsp. vinegar or salt as your mordant.
  3. Set your burner to medium heat and bring the water to a simmer. Let simmer for about an hour. The longer you simmer the ingredient, the richer the color will be.

  • Switch off the heat and allow the water to cool to room temperature. Strain your dye into a glass container and discard fruit or vegetable material.
  • Related: Dress Up a Plain Shower Curtain with Fabric Dye

    How to Dye Fabric with Natural Dyes

    Protect your work surface with an old cloth or plastic sheet, and wear gloves to avoid staining your skin. Dampen fabric with water first. This will help the dye soak into your material.

    Next dip your item into the dye and wait. The longer time you give it, the deeper and richer the color will be and the more the dye will spread. If you want an ombré effect or only to dye one section of the fabric, fold it and leave a blank section draped out of the dye bowl. Use rubber bands, clothespins, or masking tape to form a resist-dye design.

    When you’re satisfied with the color and design, remove your material from the natural dye. Let dry completely, then iron on high heat to set the colors permanently.

    Editor’s Tip: Repeat washings may cause colors to fade, but you can re-dye your item if needed.

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