Bulk Dyeing T-shirts for my Small Business

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At last! A blog post that several fellow shop owners have been patiently waiting months for me to finish and info that I would have been giddy to come across when I was first venturing into the world of dyeing shirts for my small business. I am someone who thoroughly researches something before getting started and I struggled so much when I was getting started with dyeing because I couldn’t find what I was looking for on the internet. I needed another small shop showing me the ropes and not someone dyeing a couple old dresses with stains. I needed to see bulk tees being done in order to feel confident in my methods and not feel like I was going to ruin $100 worth of shirts to test it out.
 
Here is the video of me walking through the process because I know how important it can be to visualize what I’m actually talking about in some of these steps. Once you’ve watched it (or if you just prefer the written instructions), you can reference all of the steps plus a few more helpful tips below!
 
 
 
 
I’ll be mentioning a few products throughout this post. Some links are affiliate links which means I earn a small commission should you decide to purchase a product I recommended through my link (read more about that here). You can read through the products I use and how I use them, but I’ve also got everything in one convenient storefront location here.
 
I videoed this process when I had open orders for about 300 shirts. Since I had so many to process, I was dyeing as many as possible at once. I also regularly dye just a couple shirts on the stove, up to 4lb or about 10-15 kids shirts in just the tub or up to 6lb in the washer. Videos of smaller batches coming! The most important part is to do the math on your dye formula.
 
Example:
The Rit formulas are for a 3 gallon dye bath.
Formula: 1c gray, 2Tbsp blue
For 1 gallon of water in a pot on the stove, divide by three: 1/3c gray, 2tsp blue
For 3 gallon tub bath: Use exact formula
For 6 gallon washer: 2c gray, 1/4c blue
 
Quick reference conversions – I use these a lot
1 Tbsp = 3 tsp
4 Tbsp = 1/4 c
 
I’ve only ever dyed 100% cotton shirts so I use the traditional Rit Dye. If you’re dyeing fabric that contains 35% or more of a synthetic material (polyester, spandex, etc), you’ll need the Rit DyeMore line.
Standard Rit Dye: https://amzn.to/3qLcOLp
 
A few more things you may need (some depending on what process you choose):
Salt
Measuring cups/spoons (get some that will be dedicated to using with dye)
Mixing spoon (also dedicated to dyeing)
Washing Machine/Dryer
Detergent
Old towels
Paper towels
*Large plastic tub (mine is 58Qt/55L)
**Pots to boil water
And of course.. shirts!
 
* If using tub bath method
** If your washer doesn’t get quite hot enough OR if you are going to do a small test dye bath on the stove. If adding dye directly to your pot, I’d suggest grabbing one specifically for dyeing from the store or even a thrift shop.
 
Let’s start the process!
In the video, I begin by filling up pots of water and get them going on the stove. If your washer gets plenty hot, this may not be necessary for you – it’s something you’ll just have to test next time you start a load of laundry. Even on the hottest setting, my washer still adds quite a bit of cold water to the mix, so this is necessary for me.
 
To get things started, I fill up a large tub of the hottest water I can get from my kitchen sink and dump that in to the washer.
 
After I’ve dumped the water, I start the washer (on the hottest setting – even though it does add some cold, I’ll be adding boiling hot water later so it works out) and begin adding the shirts in. It’s important that they’re all totally wet before added to the dye bath to prevent uneven absorption. Once they’re in, I let it run for a bit to get water on them and I return to the sink to fill up my tub with hot water again.
 
Next up, I pause/stop the washer and remove shirts and squeeze out the water. I put them on a towel on the floor in front of the washer.
 
Once they’re all out, I add dyes to the washer.
 
Now I grab my pots from the stove that should be very hot or even boiling and dump them. Use oven mitts if needed!
 
I then add the last big tub of water just to bring the water level up more. There’s a pretty good amount of water in the washer now.
 
I take my pots back to the kitchen to fill and place them back on the stove to begin warming for a batch in the tub (if needed).
 
Now I start quickly adding the already damp shirts to the washer dye bath and use my mixing spoon to push them down into the bath. My water is hot but not too hot to touch briefly. Use your best judgement with the temp of your water! I also make a note of the time once the shirts are all in the washer.
 
Time to unpause/restart my washer which will continue filling (usually just a bit) on the hottest and heaviest (for more agitation) setting.
 
If you’re also doing a tub dye bath, take the tub back to the kitchen and add salt. Soak your shirts in the kitchen sink while water warms for the new bath and the washer agitates the shirts in that bath. Squeeze out those shirts once they’re thoroughly wet and set aside.
 
Once the water is hot on the stove (doesn’t have to boil), pour into the tub.
 
Add dyes and mix well.
 
Make a note of the time when shirts are all in the tub.
 
I let the tub shirts go for about 10 minutes on their own and then I take the tub to the washer (you may need help for this step) and dump shirts and dye in with the washer dye bath. The washer is pretty full at this point! I didn’t mention it in the video, but the reason I start them separately is to allow the shirts to move more freely in the water so they can all get dye evenly distributed. Once they’re evenly saturated, the goal is to just let them sit in it so that dye really adheres to the fibers, so I find it’s okay to combine them at that point. Please keep in mind that I’m not a professional – this is just what has worked for me!
 
I let the washer sit until the end of the 25 minutes from the start of tub shirts (so they sit 10 minutes in the tub, 15 in the washer. The washer shirts usually get about 10 minutes longer, but I don’t notice a difference in color saturation because of it). You may need to watch your washer closely and turn it off to restart a new cycle if it’s ready to start draining water before it’s had enough time to soak (I have to do this, but didn’t catch that part on video).
 
After your shirts have soaked long enough and your rinse cycle has finished, toss in some detergent and start a new wash cycle.
 
Lastly, move your shirts to the dryer and then pull them out when they’re all warm and roll around on them to celebrate all your hard work (kidding – sort of).
 
I hope you found this helpful! As I said, this is for when I’m needing to process a bunch of tees quickly. Depending on how many you’re needing to do, you can definitely do JUST the tub bath (3-4lb) or JUST the washer bath (5-6lb). If you’re doing just a tub bath, let them go the full 20-30 minutes (depending on how pigmented you want your shirts to be) and dump the bath water in your sink where you’ll then give your shirts a good rinse with cool water until they run clear (-ish). Then toss in the washer for a regular cycle with detergent. If you do just the washer bath, just start it over with some detergent once the dye bath is gone/done.
 
It’s all super easy for me to follow because I’m familiar with it, but PLEASE let me know if any part is not clear and I will do my best to give more detail!

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