My preferred dyeing vessels are plastic tubs and metal dye pots. I’ve also dyed fabric in bathtubs, kitchen sinks, laundry sinks, and I frequently use my washing machine to wash dyed fabric. I use fiber-reactive and acid dyes rather than box dyes in most cases. Box dyes, like Rit and Dylon, are more of a ‘generalist’ dye, so they contain a wider variety of dyestuffs. The risk that box dyes will stain something unexpectedly is greater than the risk with fiber-reactive and acid dyes.
The safest dye vessels to use are plastic buckets and metal dye pots. Plastic buckets are easy to replace, and dye pots are nearly impossible to stain. Fabric dye can stain bathtubs, the plastic components in washing machines, and some types of sinks, so the safest option is to avoid dyeing in these things. If you’re currently fighting a dye stain, there are a few cleaners you can try to lift the stain.
- Will fabric dye stain my sink?
- Will it stain my stainless steel sink?
- Will it stain my kitchen?
- Will it stain my washing machine?
- Will it stain plastic containers?
- Will it stain cooking pots?
- Will it stain my bathtub?
Will fabric dye stain my sink?
The likelihood of dye staining your sink depends on the material it’s made of. If your sink is made from porcelain, fiberglass, acrylic, “composite” (the molded plastic variety), or stone, it’s best to stay away from dyeing directly in your sink. These materials are more likely to absorb dye. If your sink is made from stainless steel, you can dye inside it because it’s a hard surface to stain. See the “stainless steel” section below for more details.
I recommend buying a sink bucket, or another plastic container that fits inside your sink, to dye in.
A small splash of dye that’s cleaned up promptly is less likely to stain than a dye bath that you leave in your sink for hours.
How to fix a dye stain in your sink:
If you do dye an item in your sink and notice that the stain isn’t lifting, start by scrubbing with Dawn dish soap to lift stains gently. If this doesn’t work, you can try a kitchen cleaner that contains a bit of bleach, or a soft-scrub abrasive like Bar Keeper’s Friend or Ajax powder.
Will fabric dye stain my stainless steel sink?
Stainless steel, as the name suggests, is one of the most difficult surfaces to stain. These sinks are a great place to perform dye experiments, especially if you’re working in a small space or without any buckets. And even if you dye your item in a bucket, you’ll still need to dump your dye out somehow.
In most cases, if you see dye residue in your stainless steel sink, it has stained things stuck to the surface, rather than the metal itself.
How to fix a dye stain in your stainless steel sink:
To prevent staining, thoroughly clean your sink before you start dyeing. If you notice residue in a sink after you’ve dyed or dumped dye, it can usually be lifted with abrasive cleaners like Bar Keeper’s Friend, a baking soda paste, or a cleaner that contains a bit of bleach.
If you’re dyeing in a stainless steel sink, take extra care with the rubber seal of your sink plug, as this is very likely to stain (see the “plastics” section below for more details).
Will fabric dye stain my kitchen?
Sinks aren’t the only thing that might be accidentally dyed in your house. The areas surrounding your work space are also at risk. Keep an eye on your countertop, tile and grout (or linoleum) backsplashes, and silicone caulk that may be sealing the connection between your sink and countertop.
If you have stone countertops, be very careful with dye. Put a layer of plastic down (I like to cut a trash bag open), followed by newspaper to soak up any spills. Wipe up wayward splashes immediately, and follow your installers’ directions for cleaning, as some stone countertops are sensitive to different types of cleaners.
If you have laminate countertops, I’ve found that they’re actually more durable than you think. In my experience, acid dyes and fiber-reactive dyes will stain laminate countertops immediately, but the stain can be easily lifted by pouring a small puddle of bleach over the stain, allowing it to sit for a few minutes until the mark disappears, and then wiping it clean. Our laminate countertops are off-white in the yellow direction, so do proceed with caution if yours are sparkling white.
Tile or grout
Your tile is most likely safe from dye stains, and any that don’t wipe up immediately you’ll likely be able to remove with a scrubbing powder (though you should watch for chips).
Grout, however, can permanently absorb dye stains, especially if it’s older or un-sealed grout. If your grout is stained, you can try scrubbing with a firm bristled brush using an abrasive bathroom cleaner (preferably one that contains some bleach), but you may have to resort to specialist grout cleaners.
Silicone caulk is meant to be replaced at a regular (though infrequent) interval. When silicone caulk nears the end of its life, it can start lifting from the surfaces it’s attached to and liquids like dye can seep through the cracks. Although the dye won’t stain the silicone, it may find its way underneath the silicone and add color where color shouldn’t be.
In my experience, the best way to fix this is to pour some liquid bleach over the area and cross your fingers that it seeps under the same cracks to neutralize the color. If you do this, don’t leave it for more than ten minutes at a time. This works most of the time, but ultimately if your caulk does this, it might be time to replace the seals around your sink.
Will fabric dye stain my washing machine?
As a dyer who learned in a professional context, I feel the risk of damage is too great to dye fabric in a washing machine. I’ve spoken to a handful of professional dyers and nobody I know uses a washing machine to dye fabrics. But it’s important to know that the dyes we use (including fiber-reactive and acid dyes) don’t follow the same processes as box dyes like Dylon and Rit, so it’s a bit of an unfair comparison.
That said, we do often wash freshly dyed items in a washing machine to remove excess dye. The nice thing about this is that the intensity of the chemical reaction happens outside of the washing machine (in the bucket, usually) and then the residue is washed out by the machine.
The professional dyers I know use a separate washing machine to wash dyed items so that there’s no risk of transfer to the rest of their laundry. While staining can be an issue in washing machines, the real risk is that the dye will remain in your machine, resulting in an accidental dyeing of future loads of laundry.
Rit and Dylon both recommend you carefully clean your washing machine after a dye session. While the risk of a box dye staining metal is negligible, the plastic parts of your machine are at risk of staining. For example, the agitator fins and rubber seal. This is especially true if the dye is allowed to sit on these surfaces for an extended period of time. In fact, Dylon’s website states that staining of plastic surfaces is to be expected.
Dye is more likely to stain plastic when the colors are particularly dark or intense. If you’re dyeing a load of, say, baby-blue items, the washing machine method may be safer for you.
How to fix a dye stain in your washing machine:
In the event that you notice staining after you’ve dyed fabric in your washing machine, some people have mentioned that running a hot-wash or two with an empty machine and some whitening laundry powder can help lift stains.
Regardless, running a hot wash after you finish dyeing with your machine is a wise idea to ensure that future loads of laundry won’t be stained.
Will fabric dye stain plastic containers?
Plastic is one of the most accessible vessels for dyeing, but it’s also the easiest to stain. I have dedicated dye containers that I don’t mind staining, but there are some things you can do to keep your plastic looking new for a bit longer.
When selecting a container, you can choose a darker color that will help disguise stains. However, if you’re planning to mix colors in the container, you might want to avoid colors that may affect the way your dye looks. In this case, choose a white or clear container with a glossy and smooth finish rather than a matte surface. The matte finish of some containers can contribute to trapping dye and holding it against the surface. This will give the dye greater staining power.
If your container is partially plastic, be sure to focus your cleanup efforts on the plastic areas first. Although dye behavior varies from brand to brand, in my experience a dye will only stain plastic if it’s allowed to sit on a surface for an extended period of time and dry. Cleaning up thoroughly and promptly is the best way to prevent staining.
Overall, I don’t recommend dyeing in any plastic container that you’re not willing to risk staining. Plastic buckets are my preferred method for dyeing with fiber-reactive dyes for fabrics like cotton, rayon, and bamboo. I have 6 or so buckets in different colors and sizes, and although the insides are very clean, the outsides are blotched with stains because I don’t ever worry about cleaning them up. I got them at the dollar store for 99 cents each, and they work great for my purposes.
Will fabric dye stain my cooking pots?
Once you’ve used a pot for dye, it’s no longer a pot for food. Dye introduces chemicals to the pot that you don’t want inside your body. Even though we may be able to remove all visual evidence of dye, the potential of ingesting dye chemicals is not worth the risk.
That said, it’s very rare to see dye leaving permanent residue on a dye pot. In some cases, you may see a ring mark. This can happen when the dye has been allowed to sit in the pot for an extended period of time, so some dye evaporates and dries around the upper edges of the dye bath.
This can usually be scrubbed off with a mild abrasive like Bar Keeper’s Friend or a kitchen cleaner that contains some bleach.
My preferred dye pot for acid dyes (used for dyeing wools, silks, and nylon) is a cheap soup pot I bought for under $10. I keep it separate from the other pots in my kitchen so nobody accidentally uses it. I’ve had it for over a decade and although it has some dents, it hasn’t stained yet.
Will fabric dye stain my bathtub?
Modern bathtubs are made from materials like thermoformed acrylic, fiberglass, and ceramic. If you live in an older house, yours may be porcelain-enameled cast iron. Each of these materials has different care requirements and different degrees of risk when it comes to dyeing.
If you’re dyeing in a porcelain-enameled tub or a modern ceramic tub with a glossy finish, dye is extremely unlikely to stain your tub. Although if the tub is chipped, there’s a chance the dye may find this chip and leech under the surrounding surface.
If you have a thermoformed acrylic or fiberglass tub, I would suggest testing your dye on an inconspicuous surface of your tub before you begin, if possible. Bathtubs are coated with a stain-resistant finish, but in some cheaper tubs these finishes can wear off over time, leaving the surface more susceptible to absorbing dye. While it’s unlikely that these tubs will stain (less likely than staining plastic, by a fair margin), it’s still worth proceeding with caution, especially as bathtubs are a lot harder to replace than a plastic bucket!
How to fix a dye stain in your bathtub:
If you find dye residue in your tub after a dye bath, try cleaning it up with dawn dish soap first. This is the gentlest on surfaces and still great at lifting dye. If that doesn’t work, you can try a light scourer like Bar Keeper’s Friend or Ajax cleaning powder.
What to read next:
- The Best Fabric Dyes for 23 Fabrics
- How to Dye Silk from Start to Finish (4 Ways)
- How to Dye Silk Fabric with Natural Dyes (Step-by-Step)
- How to Dye Fabric & Clothes Black – 5 Methods
- How to Dye Jeans Black – Complete Guide for Beginners
- How to Naturally Dye Fabric & Clothes Black Without Dye
- Dyeing Fabric & Clothes with Turmeric – the Complete Guide
- 18 Realistic Things to Tie-Dye at Home (+ Tips from a Pro)
This article was written by Kat Waters and edited by Sara Maker.
Kat Waters (author)
Kat has been sewing since her feet could reach the pedals, starting with quilts she made with her mom and eventually graduating to garments. She now makes everything she wears, occasionally teaches classes, and shares her projects on social media. Highlights include her wedding dress, shoemaking, and a love for almost any fabric that comes in hot pink! Read more…
These sources were referenced in March 2022.