Should You Tie Dye Wet Or Dye?

When you start any tie dye project, it is important to understand if you should tie dye wet or dry (specifically, should the item be wet or dry when you add the dye). And the answer is…it depends! It depends on the pattern and technique you are using and what you want the finished project to look like.

Let’s walk through the pros and cons of wet and dry tie dyeing and which patterns and techniques work best with each.


Tie Dyeing Wet vs Dry

WET tie dyeing

First, just for clarification, when you tie dye an item wet, it really means that the item should be damp, not soaking wet. There is no technique I know of where the item is dripping wet with water. The excess of water would allow the dye to run everywhere, creating muddy colors and blurring the pattern (not to mention creating a big mess). Sooooo…why should you start with a damp item for tie dyeing? Well, here are some of the benefits:

Benefits of Wet Tie Dye

  • Patterns, such as spirals, are easier to create with damp fabric because the fabric stays in place while you secure it with rubber bands or string
  • Damp fabric allows dye to penetrate it easier than when its dry (which beads up on top)
  • It takes less dye to saturate an item since the dye penetrates damp fabric better
  • Dye colors blend together softer which gives a nice watercolor feel

Best Patterns/Techniques for Wet Tie Dye

  • Traditional tie dye patterns that swirl or gather the item together, like Spiral, Spider, Crumple, Bullseye, and Sunburst benefit from damp fabric, both for the pattern creation and adding the dye
  • Some traditional tie dye patterns, like Heart or Rainbow, start out dry, so you can create the pattern with a washable marker. Once the rubber bands are in place, you can make the item damp, so the dye absorbs better. With rubber bands already in place, if the marker starts to wash off it will be fine. Dunk the shirt in a bucket of water or sink and wring it out before starting to dye.
  • Ice Dye can be done with a damp or dry item. If you are looking for softer edges and blending between colors, you should dampen the item first.
  • If you are Reverse Tie Dyeing, the second part of the process which is adding dye back to the fabric is most easily done while it is damp. The patterns used are also typically the ones I have listed above.


Ok, so there are A LOT of benefits and techniques that use wet tie dye. Why would you ever leave an item dry then? Well, here are a few reasons:

Benefits of Dye Tie Dye

  • Dye color is the most intense as there is no water to dilute it
  • Without the additional water in the fabric, the dye doesn’t penetrate as easily which also means that the colors don’t bleed together as easily
  • Techniques that use bleach benefit from the lack of water as you can control the bleach better and the bleach is more effective

Best Patterns/Techniques For Dry Tie Dye

  • Like I mentioned above, Ice Dye can be done with a damp or dry item. If you are looking for sharper edges and pops of color, then starting with a dry item is best. I compare the 2 techniques here in How To Ice Dye, so you can decide what’s right for you.
  • Bleach Tie Dye works better with a dry item for the reasons I stated above, more control over the bleach and effectiveness of the bleach solution (you use a 50/50 bleach/water solution).
  • When you Reverse Tie Dye, the first part of the process is to bleach tie dye the item. For this reason, a dry item is best. After that first part is finished, you can damped the item for adding dye back to the item.
  • And lastly, technically, you can dry tie dye with any pattern, but you will use a LOT more dye trying to fully penetrate the fabric OR you will have a lot of white areas (which might be what you are looking for).

So, there you have it…the benefits and best patterns/techniques for tie dyeing wet or dry. They both have their place and, in my opinion, knowing what each one does allows me to play with each project and try some new, unique results. Hope this was helpful. Happy Tie Dyeing!!

~ Nikole

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