White shorts are ideal for dip dyeing because you can use any color dye.

How to Dip Dye Shorts Without Bleach

by Joanne Thomas

Liven up a plain pair of shorts with a quick and easy dip dye project. The technique adds a new color to the bottom legs of the shorts or the top of the shorts, depending on your preference. As long as you use a dye color that's darker than the original color of the shorts, there's no need for any bleaching prior to applying the dye. Choose a darker shade of the original color for a subtle effect, or a boldly contrasting dye color for a more dramatic transformation.

Wash the shorts, and leave them wet. The fabric needs to be damp when you're ready to start dyeing.

Take the supplies to a sink area, and cover nearby surfaces with newspaper or plastic bags to protect them from the dye. Put rubber gloves on. You should be wearing old clothes that you don't mind staining.

Prepare the dye in a glass jar, according to the manufacturer's instructions. You will generally need to blend powdered or liquid dye with salt and hot water, and stir with a plastic spoon until the solution is fully blended.

Fill the shallow plastic basin with hot water to a depth appropriate for your intended dip dye effect. For example, if you want the bottom four inches of the shorts to be dyed, fill the basin with approximately four inches of hot water. If your tap water doesn't get very hot, combine the tap water with boiling water from a kettle or pan.

Pour the dye solution from the glass jar into the hot water in the basin. Add approximately one tablespoon of laundry detergent. Stir the mixture gently, being careful not to splash it around.

Smooth out the damp shorts until the waistband is straight, and the side seams are aligned. Dip them bottom first directly into the dye, and submerge the fabric to the level at which you want the dye to reach. If you want to dye the tops of the shorts, dip from the waistband.

Drape the tops of the shorts -- or legs, if you're dyeing the tops -- over the side of the basin, and clip in place with clothes pins. Be careful not to splash or drip dye onto the parts of the shorts that remain out of the dye bath.

Leave the shorts to soak in the dye bath. Examine the dyed part of the shorts every 10 minutes or so until you're happy with the new color. The time it takes to reach this stage will vary considerably, depending on the original color of the shorts and your chosen dye color.

Remove the clothes pins, lift the shorts out of the dye bath and transfer them to the sink. Be careful at this stage not to let excess dye drip onto the un-dyed parts of the shorts. Rinse the dye out under warm running water until the water runs clear.

Launder the shorts before wearing them.

Items you will need

  • Rubber gloves
  • Newspaper or plastic bags
  • Shallow plastic basin
  • Glass jar
  • Plastic spoon
  • Dye
  • Salt
  • Laundry detergent
  • Clothes pins


  • For a more creative approach to the dip dye look, create an ombre effect. Dip the very bottom parts of the shorts into the dye bath for about 10 minutes. Lower the shorts further into the dye bath, and soak for another 10 minutes. Continue in this manner until you have several horizontal bands each dyed lighter shades than the previous shade.


  • Before trying to dip dye your shorts, check the label for the fiber content. Only natural fibers, such as cotton, linen, rayon and silk, will accept dye successfully.
  • Dye will stain any surface it comes into contact with. Scrub your sink and all the equipment you used immediately after finishing the project.

About the Author

A writer of diverse interests, Joanne Thomas has penned pieces about road trips for Hyundai, children's craft projects for Disney and wine cocktails for Robert Mondavi. She has lived on three continents and currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is co-owner and editor of a weekly newspaper. Thomas holds a BSc in politics from the University of Bristol, England.

Photo Credits

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