How to Make Natural Fabric Dyes

Don't throw out that orange peel just yet! Follow these instructions to make natural dyes from basic grocery store ingredients.

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 revive old clothes, thrift shop linens, cloth napkins, or pillowcases. You can use scraps from the produce aisle, including fruit peels and vegetable skins, or backyard finds like flower petals and acorns, for eco-friendly, inexpensive 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 on synthetic fabrics, such as polyester or rayon.

Natural Fabric Dye Guide

BHG / Michela Buttignol

Natural Dye Chart

Leftover fruit and vegetable 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 dye ingredients, but don't hesitate to experiment with other items to create your own colors.

  • Blue natural dyes: blueberries and blackberries
  • Red natural dyes: raspberries and beets
  • Yellow and ochre dyes: lemon and orange peels, turmeric
  • Green natural dye:spinach leaves
  • Orange natural dye: onion skins
  • Purple natural dye: red cabbage leaves
pastel-colored naturally dyed fabric in circle

How to Make Natural Dyes

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

  • One cup chopped fruit or vegetable material
  • Saucepan
  • Two cups water
  • Two to three tablespoons of vinegar or salt
  • Strainer
  • Glass container or jar

You'll need about one 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 two 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 two to three tablespoons of 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.
  4. Switch off the heat and allow the water to cool to room temperature. Strain your dye into a glass container and discard the fruit or vegetable material.
gloved hand holding blue-green dyed fabric

How to Use Natural Dyes

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

Next, dip your item into the dye and wait. The longer 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 want 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 it 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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