New white dresses look lovely, but when they turn dingy, reach for the dye.

How to Dye a White Dress

by Joanne Thomas

A white dress can be quite beautiful in a "photo shoot at the beach" kind of way. But after even a short while, it may look a little grubby and lose its appeal. Transform a white dress into something more versatile using fabric dye. The process is quite straightforward, and starting with a white garment means you can choose virtually any color and expect successful results. First things first, though -- check the garment label to see what the dress is made of. If it's a natural fiber, such as cotton, linen, rayon or silk, you're in luck. If it's 100 percent polyester or another synthetic fiber, you probably won't be able to dye it.

Launder the dress but don't dry it. It should be wet when you start the dyeing process. Take all supplies to a well-ventilated area and wear old clothes or an apron.

Fill a bucket with enough hot water to fully saturate the dress. The bucket will be your dye bath.

Prepare the dye according to the manufacturer's instructions. With powered dye, use measuring spoons to add the recommended amount to a glass jar or plastic container. Add about 2 cups of hot water and stir the dye into the water with a plastic spoon or craft stick until it is fully dissolved. Add the solution to the dye bath and stir it with a long-handled wooden spoon. With liquid dye, add the recommended amount directly to the dye bath and stir.

Add 1 tablespoon of laundry detergent to the dye bath and stir. This helps promote even dyeing.

Submerge the damp white dress into the dye bath and stir it gently with the wooden spoon. Keep stirring gently for five minutes.

Stir 1 cup of salt into the dye bath if your dress is cotton, linen, rayon or any other plant-based fiber. If the dress is silk, add 1 cup of white vinegar to the dye bath and stir. This step is optional but results in a more intense color.

Keep stirring the dress in the dye solution until you see a fabric color you are happy with. This can take from 10 minutes to an hour. Bear in mind that the color of the dress will appear darker when it's wet.

Remove the dress and squeeze the excess liquid back into the dye bath. Take the dress to the sink and rinse it under warm water until it runs clear. Wash the dress as you usually would with laundry detergent, either in your washing machine or by hand, then dry it on a line or in your dryer.

Items you will need

  • Fabric dye
  • Salt or white vinegar
  • Rubber gloves
  • Measuring cups
  • Glass jar or plastic container
  • Plastic spoon or craft stick
  • Plastic bucket
  • Long-handled wooden spoon
  • Laundry detergent


  • If the new color is not as dark or intense as you want it to be even after an hour in the dye bath, repeat the process or use a darker shade of dye.
  • For a custom color, mix one or more dye colors together. You might want to experiment with scraps of similar white fabric before dyeing the dress.
  • For a different look, try dip-dyeing the dress, meaning you only submerge the lower section into the dye bath. The top of the dress remains white for a two-tone effect. Use a similar method for an ombre look -- submerge the dress from the bottom up in 10-minute intervals, which creates horizontal bands of gradually lighter and lighter shades of the dye color.


  • Dye will stain the equipment you use as well as the dress, so scrub the bucket and your sink clean 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

  • Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images