How to make natural dyes

Looking for a fun weekend project with the kids? Try making your own natural dyes using simple kitchen ingredients, then use them to make tie-dye patterns.

Mother and child making dyes with red cabbage and turmeric

You can easily make natural dyes at home using a few basic fruit and vegetables – it’s a fun activity for kids and involves a little science, too. These natural colours can be used to dye any white fabric, such as socks, t-shirts, scrunchies or wool, or colourful decorated eggs at Easter.

Getting ready

This is a messy one, so make sure to wear gloves and an apron. Cover your surfaces with a few layers of newspaper before you start, or, even better, put a wipe-clean oilcloth on the table. The dye will work best when the water is still warm, so adult supervision is recommended, and we suggest you use tongs.

Different bowls with coloured dyes and spoons
You will need

  • 700ml cold water (about 3 cups) per colour
  • Your chosen vegetables (see below)
  • Saucepan
  • Sieve
  • A pair of tongs
  • Different bowls

Method

  1. Put the cold water in a saucepan along with your chosen vegetable. Cover with the lid, and bring to the boil.
     
  2. Once boiling, remove the lid and turn off the heat. Let the mixture infuse for about 10 mins.
     
  3. Set the sieve over a bowl and strain the mixture. Use tongs to add your dyeable item to the mixture while the dye is still warm.
     
  4. Leave it for as long as you like – the longer you leave it immersed in the dye, the stronger the colour will be.
     
  5. Use tongs to remove your item and transfer to a new, clean bowl. Gently rinse with cool water to remove the excess dye, then leave to dry completely.

Choose your colour

We suggest making a double batch of the purple and red dyes if you’d like to make all the colours of the rainbow.

Woman chopping red cabbage in kitchen

Purple

Chop ½ red cabbage and add to the water. If you want to make a double batch so you can make some other colours too, use a whole red cabbage instead, and double the amount of water to 1.4 litres (about 6 cups).

Baking soda and lemons on a table

Blue and pink

To make blue, add ½ tsp baking powder to the purple dye, and watch it transform before your eyes! To make pink, add the juice of ½ lemon to the purple dye and it will turn a reddish-pink instead.

The science bit: red cabbage contains a pigment called anthocyanin that acts as an indicator of PH levels, like litmus paper. When baking powder is added, it turns the solution into an alkaline, which appears blue. When lemon juice is added, it turns the solution into an acid that appears red.
Learn more about universal indicators on BBC Bitesize

Chopped red beetroot on board

Red

Chop 1 cooked beetroot and add to the water. Beetroot will create a strong red-coloured dye that you can combine easily with other colours. Again, if you want to create a double batch, use 2 beetroots and double the amount of water to 1.4 litres (about 6 cups).

 Chopped fresh turmeric and ground turmeric in bowl

Yellow

Slice a thumb-sized piece of turmeric and add to the water. We found that fresh turmeric works best, but you can also used ½ tsp ground turmeric if you prefer.

Green

To make green dye, first make blue and yellow dyes and combine the two.

Orange

To make orange dye, first make red and yellow dyes and combine the two.

Homemade tie-dye with different colours and paintbrush

How to make tie-dye clothes

To make a tie-dye effect, first wrap elastic bands tightly around your chosen fabric in the pattern you’d like to create. For an easy version, we suggest rolling your fabric into a long log shape and wrapping the bands all along the length. You can then either dunk your item into the dye (for one colour) or paint the dye on in sections of different colours. Let the colour set, then leave the fabric to dry as much as possible before removing the elastic bands.


Like this? Discover more fun ideas:

Sensory play ideas for kids
Video: How to make a walking rainbow
How to make paper mache
How to make a homemade bath bomb
The best indoor activities for kids

Have you tried making your own homemade natural dyes? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments below.

Comments, questions and tips

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cibaris1
28th Jul, 2020
What happens when they are washed? In other words are these colours permanent?
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