How To Ice Dye
One of the most popular tie dye patterns in clothing today is ice dye. It looks effortlessly cool and not potentially dated like some traditional tie dye techniques can look. There are no rules about how many colors to use (1, 2, or 3 colors are very popular) or any particular pattern to create prior to dyeing.
What is ice dyeing and why is it different than traditional tie dyeing?
Traditional tie dyeing starts with dye that is dissolved in water and then applied to the item. The item is tied up in a particular pattern prior to dyeing and the dye is applied in such a way that enhances the pattern. Ice dyeing, in contrast, uses dye in powder form along with ice to create a random pattern on the item. The ice is stacked on top of the item and the powder dye is sprinkled over the ice. When the ice melts, the dye gets dissolved and absorbed into the item.
For this how to, I wanted show you different options you can use to create an appealing ice dye pattern for you. While you cannot control how the ice melts and where the dye goes, you can choose to start with a dry or wet (damp) item. For my examples I used an Adult white size medium shirt. You can also choose how much dye to use and the dye placement. All of these things will affect the resulting pattern.
As someone that has done a ton of tie dyeing in general, I have to say that ice dyeing is extremely easy for anyone to do, even kids, and minimal mess (especially if you have a rack and tray like I do). You just need patience since ice melting is a very slow process and a place for everything to sit for up to 24 hours once you start.
NOTE ON DYE POWDER: If you have read my Ultimate Guide On Tie Dyeing you know that I am not a fan of powder dyes in jars or other large containers. They need to be measured which allows the powder an opportunity to get into the air and be breathed in. They really belong in a commercial or studio setting with the proper ventilation hood and masks. These dyes also require soda ash which is just another added step (and thing to buy). In the case of ice dyeing, I stand behind Tulip’s One Step dyes even more because the dye comes in a self-contained squeeze tube, so it can be quickly added to the ice with minimal exposure time. Also, no need for soda ash as it is already part of their dye.
For more Tie Dye 101 Basics: HOW TO TIE DYE: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
To see more things you can Ice Dye: 30 THINGS TO TIE DYE
WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
- White Shirt
- Rubber Bands
- Dye Kit (Which Includes Rubber Bands, Gloves, And A Plastic Sheet)
- Plastic/Rubber Gloves
- Baking Tray With Rack OR Rack Over Another Bucket/Sink
- Scrap Cardboard (used to create ring around shirt)
- Gallon Plastic Bag or Plastic Wrap (optional)
- Plastic Covering For Work Surface (optional)
- Painter’s Tape (optional)
NOTE ABOUT THE RACK SETUP: For ice dyeing you will need a rack to set the shirt on, so it is lifted off of the ground. This allows the melted ice and dye to run through the shirt and any excess can fall below and away from the shirt, so it doesn’t mess up the pattern you are creating. I used my trusty baking tray with rack that I use for all of my tie dyeing. It easily held all of the excess liquid, even dyeing 2 shirts at the same time. If you do not have the baking tray and rack, you can use another rack over any container that will not stain (or you don’t care if it stains), like metal, plastic, glass.
CREATING THE PATTERN
Since ice dyeing is pretty random in terms of where the dye goes, I like to use the crumple tie dye technique which I will show you below. My daughter, however, decided to try the spiral technique and it created a lovely subtle spiral pattern, so feel free to try others as well. Here is a link to how to set up a spiral pattern, should you want to give it a try. Also, for the more adventuresome, you can check out other tie dye patterns here.
Should I Use A Wet Or Dry Shirt To Ice Dye?
For ice dyeing, there are subtle differences between using a wet (damp) or dry shirt and it’s really a personal preference. I will show you the steps using both and you can judge which you prefer. The less dye you use, the more obvious the differences are, I found. Damp/wet will create a softer wash of color like water coloring and dry will create sharp edged pops of color.
1. If you decide to use the wet method, start with a damp, but not wet, shirt for this design. The shirt could be fresh out of the washing machine. If you washed it a different day, like I usually do, then just dunk the shirt in a bucket of water or sink and wring it out before starting.
2. For either wet or dry method, lay the shirt flat on the work surface. Using your fingers, start to scrunch the shirt together in the center. Continue to gather it together towards the center until you have a crumpled circle of a shirt.
3. Place the first rubber band around the crumpled pattern by carefully sliding it under/over the shirt and across the center. Add the second rubber band the opposite direction, so it creates a cross.
4. Add the third and fourth rubber bands as shown below, so it resembles a 8 slice pizza. Don’t worry if it looks a bit messy. We’ll fix that in the next step.
5. Once you have the 4 rubber bands on, now is the time to adjust them, so that they are evenly spaced around the shirt. You can also tuck any loose ends into the rubber bands, so the circle shape is nice and tight. Add a final rubber band around the sides of the shirt to hold everything in place.
PREPARING TO ICE DYE
6. Once the shirt has been secured with rubber bands in whatever pattern you choose, you will need to create a ring around the shirt to hold the ice and the dye. I used some cardboard I was going to recycle and painter’s tape. They don’t need to be fancy, just functional. I also labeled them, so you can see which shirt started off dry and which started off wet (damp).
7. Place the shirt inside the ring and onto your rack/tray. NOTE: For this first round I also used my planting trays (the black trays) as a backup, but it turned out, they were never needed.
8. Once you have the shirt in the ring and on the rack/tray, you can add the ice. I added about 1-2″ on top of the shirts to make sure they were well covered.
ICE DYEING THE SHIRT
Using A Lot Of Dye – Option A
For the first round of ice dyeing I went heavy on the dye. I used this 3 pack of Tulip dyes for my 2 shirts which is much more than you would typically use if you were traditional tie dyeing. (It didn’t seem like a lot at the time, but it definitely shows in the results)
9a. For any dyeing technique, always start with the weakest color (which is usually yellow) and finish with the strongest (which is blue) . In this case I started with the fuchsia. Since the dye is already in a squeeze tube, conveniently, just take the cap off and gently squeeze to get the dye to come out. Move around the shirt adding dye, so its not evenly distributed (if you do, the shirt will mainly come out one color).
10a. Continue to add the rest of the dye colors in the same method. Once you are done, now you just wait. I showed a time lapsed below of both shirts in the melting process (right after I added the dye, 4 hours later, 8 hours later).
11a. After 10-12 hours or so, the ice will have completely melted and the dye will have been disbursed throughout the shirt. You can place the shirt in a plastic bag, like we do with traditional tie dye (and I would recommend that, so the colors are more vibrant). In this case, however, I didn’t. I just left them on the tray, so the dye could cure.
Using Less Dye – Option B
For the second round of ice dyeing I used a lot less dye and tried to keep the dye colors somewhat separated a bit. I used yellow, fuchsia, and turquoise from Tulip’s Tie Dye Party kit. As with the first round, I ice dyed both dry and wet (damp) shirts, shown as the top 2 in the picture below. My older daughter also spiral iced dyed a shirt (bottom left) and I ice dyed one more shirt for my younger daughter (bottom right) so no one was left out (the things we do as parents 🙂 .
9b. Since we start with the weakest color I started with the yellow. I added it to a few areas in particular using the squeeze tube, just like before.
10b. Continue with the additional colors. I added the fuchsia next and finished with the turquoise. Notice that you can distinctly see each color.
11b. Similar to the first round of ice dyeing, I left the shirts on the racks, so the ice could melt, and the dye could be disbursed and cure.
RINSING AND WASHING
Typically, tie dyed items sit for minimally 6-8 hours and up to 24 hours max, so the dye can cure and produce the brightest colors. In the case of ice dyeing, however, it usually takes at least 8 hours for the ice to completely melt, so the dye can be disbursed into the item. As the dye takes a lot longer to fully absorb into the fabric, I lean towards 16-24 hours before considering it cured.
Once the dye has cured, it’s time to rinse and wash the shirt. This is an important step as, if done in the wrong order or rushed, it can muddy up the nice colors and pattern you created.
12. Take the shirt out of the ring and put it in a sink or bucket (something that can get dirty and won’t stain). We have a stainless steel kitchen sink, so I use that. You can cut/take off the rubber bands and then rinse the shirt in COLD water. The cold part is critical because it allows excess dye to wash out slowly while not dyeing the remaining white parts of the shirt.
13. Repeat this rinse process several times until the water is fairly clear.
14. Once the water is fairly clear, repeat the rinse process once more, but with luke warm water (not HOT). This should get the last bit of excess dye out before putting it in a washing machine.
15. Once the shirt is thoroughly rinsed, you can wash it in the washing machine either by itself or with several other rinsed tie dye items. If I’m tie dyeing a bunch of shirts, I will put up to 6 in one load. Wash on warm or cold with a bit of detergent.
16. Dry the shirt(s) in dryer or let air dry. Personally I prefer air drying as it extends the life of the dye color (as they will eventually fade a bit with washing and wear).
NOTE: Wash the shirt by itself or with other tie dye items for the next few washings before adding it in with your other clothes.
THE ICE DYEING RESULTS: the FINISHED SHIRTS
Using Lots Of Dye
If you use a lot of dye or a lot of colors, you will get a shirt that heavily blended. It reminds me of a traditional crumple tie dye pattern. I also noticed that there is not much difference between using a dry or wet shirt, as you can see below (Dry on left, Wet on right).
Using Less Dye
If you use less dye or fewer colors AND focus the colors in fewer, more specific areas, there is better contrast. When the shirt is dry, on the left, you will get more defined pops of colors and less blending between each color. When the shirt is wet (damp), on the right, the colors blend better and are softer (like water coloring).
For my daughter’s spiral pattern ice dyed shirt, below, she used a bit more dye than I did in the second round. It really helped the spiral pop a bit and create this cool, almost abstract take on tradition spiral tie dye.
So there you have it. Tie dyeing with ice is a fun alternative to traditional tie dyeing. It’s easy, creates very little mess, and there are countless ways to make yours unique. Just adjust the amount of dye, dye placement, and whether the item starts wet or dry.