How to Dye Fabric with Food

If you’re looking for sustainable fabrics for sewing, chances are you know that conventional cotton is a no-no, and you probably shy away from petroleum-based fabrics like polyester, but what about the dyes that give all of those fabrics their vibrant colors?

Luckily, many organic fabric-makers already use dyes that are far superior to conventional fabric dye. Fiber reactive dyes, for example, are much easier for fabrics to absorb, which means less pollution in the waste water from the dye process.

Water pollution is one of the major problems with many fabric dyes. After clothing goes through the dye bath, companies need to dispose of all of that water. In China, the Pearl River is heavily polluted because denim factories have been dumping their waste water there for years. Here’s a video that illustrates how much damage conventional dye processes can do:

So, how can you opt out of this process? If you’re a crafter, one sustainable (and fun!) option is to dye your own fabric at home with natural, food-based dyes that you make yourself. If you’ve never tried making your own fabric dyes, don’t fret! Check out the next page for basic instructions and some ideas for kitchen ingredients that make the best fabric dyes.

Next>> How to make food-based fabric dye

turmeric makes a great natural fabric dye

How to Make Food-Based Fabric Dye

Dyeing fabric with food ingredients is easy and fun. The best part? Chances are you have everything you need in your kitchen right now! To make your own dye, you will need:

  • 1/2 cup salt + 8 cups water
  • Large stock pot
  • Undyed organic fabric. I really like the undyed organic hemp at Hemporium. Their prices are good, and the customer service there is great.
  • Enough of your food to cover the fabric in your pot, if you’re using fruits or veggies. If you’re using herbs, start with 1 tablespoon of dried herbs per cup of water

1. Put your fabric in the stock pot with the salt and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for an hour. Drain your fabric, then let it cool and wring out any extra liquid. This saltwater step is important. The salt is a ‘fixative’ that helps your fabric take and hold the dye.

2a. If you’re using fruits/veggies: Chop up the fruit or veggies into small pieces. Place your fabric into a pot, cover with the fruit or veggies, and boil for one hour. When the hour is up, let the fabric soak in the dye, checking every 5-10 minutes until the fabric gets a little darker than you want. Rinse the fabric until the water runs clear, then hang it to dry.

2b. If you’re using herbs: Combine the water and herbs in a pot, then simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, and submerge your fabric. Depending on what herbs you’re using, it could take 15 minutes to get the color you want, or it could need to soak for a few hours. Just keep checking until you get the results you want, then rinse and hang your fabric dry.

Not sure what kitchen ingredients to use for your natural fabric dye? Check out some suggestions on the next page!

vintage handkerchief dyed yellow with natural turmeric fabric dye

Top Foods for Dyeing Fabric

Pretty much any food that you worry about staining clothing while you cook is good for making natural fabric dye, but some definitely work better than others. Here are five foods that are excellent for dyeing your fabrics.

1. Plum skins – Plum dye will turn your fabric a hot pink! You can save the plum innards for making jam or just munch on them while you’re dyeing your fabric.

2. Turmeric – For a vibrant yellow, like in the photo at the top, choose turmeric. It works fast, so keep an eye on your fabric once you dip it!

3. Spinach or sorrel – Looking for a nice shade of green? These green and leafies will do the trick!

4. Beets – When I think of veggies that stain, beets are the first thing that come to mind. They’ll dye your fabric a nice reddish purple.

5. Coffee or tea – Cook up a strong pot of tea or coffee to stain fabrics in shades of brown.

You can also use your natural dyes with more advanced dye techniques like tie dye or batik! Just use your natural dye in place of synthetic dyes, and you’re good to go.

Have you guys made your own food-based natural fabric dye? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

40 comments

Lisa M
Lisa M2 days ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M2 days ago

Noted.

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Elena P
Elena Poensgen2 days ago

Thank you

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Elena P
Elena Poensgen2 days ago

Thank you

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Teresa W
Teresa W3 days ago

amazing

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Peggy B
Peggy B3 days ago

Good to know

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Ingrid H
Ingrid H3 days ago

Thank you

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Ingrid H
Ingrid H3 days ago

Thank you

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ellie d
Ellie M3 days ago

ty

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Alice Baker
Alice Baker4 years ago

I'm new to this, so what happens if you dye cotton? And what fabric can I use besides organics, that would still get bright colours?

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