Do You Really Need to Let Tie Dye Sit for 24 Hours?

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Everyone always says that you need to let tie die sit for about 24 hours before rinsing for the best colors, but I never was able to find any actual facts to back that up. How did they get that number? Did someone just pick an arbitrary number that sounded like it was probably good enough or did someone actually figure out the best cure time long ago and the data has just been lost to time?

There’s been a few times that I wanted or needed to rinse out my dyes before that magical number of 24 hours and I wondered if I was sacrificing vibrant color by rinsing early.

I’m a facts and evidence based person so I wanted to know for myself if I really needed to wait that long.

I set up an experiment using all the single pigment dyes I had on hand and tested them at various time points over 24 hours to see just how it actually took before each reached its peak color.

(As a side note, I buy my supplies from Dharma Trading so I used their color names throughout this article.)

Results:

I’d say the biggest surprise was how quickly most of the dyes took to the fabric. Check out the hot colors; by 30 minutes both Lemon Yellow and Deep Orange were already at full strength. And Fuchsia was pretty much immediate – there’s no visible difference in any of the swatches.

I found Grape interesting: it was much more prone to mottling than the rest of the colors, but by 30 minutes the swatches had reached full saturation.

The blue toned colors were about what I expected. There was a much more gradual change along these.

Turquoise was about what I expected. It had a really gradual change that continued to get darker throughout the full 24 hours. I actually find myself now wondering if Turquoise would benefit from even more time since there is still a noticeable difference between 12 hours and 24 hours. Should it sit for 36 hours? 48? I’ll have to look more into this. (Edit: Turquoise has been retested and should sit for 24 hours before rinsing.)

Although the most noticeable difference with Cobalt Blue is in the first 4 swatches, it did gradually get subtly darker throughout the rest of the time points. It’s hard to see this faint difference on a screen but it was visible in person.

And then we have Cerulean Blue.

I… I have no idea what happened here.

Yes, those swatches are in order. No, I did not mix up any of the labels. Yes, I’m absolutely sure.

So you might be wondering why I even bothered to include them in my post. Because unexpected results are an important part of science! A good scientist doesn’t hide results that didn’t match her expectations. She questions them and tries to learn from them.

Obviously something weird happened here. I have a few ideas, but that will have to wait until I have time to retest again. (Edit: Cerulean Blue has been retested. See the results here.)

Conclusion:

If you’re dying with Fuchsia, Lemon Yellow, Deep Orange, or Grape, you could rinse after just a couple hours without color loss.

When using Cobalt Blue you should wait at least 12 hours, but 24 is best.

Until I retest Cerulean Blue I’ll have to recommend waiting 24 hours. (Edit: 24 hours is recommended.)

Turquoise should absolutely be given 24 hours at a minimum – possibly longer. (More testing is needed.) (Edit: 24 hours has been verified.)

If you aren’t sure what colors are in a mix, such as when you buy a premixed color, then wait the 24 hours to ensure your color fully cures.

And this folks is probably where the 24 hour recommendation came from – better safe than sorry right?

So maybe you’re thinking “I ice dye, why do I need to know any of this?”

Knowing each color’s cure time allows you to manipulate them with better results.

I’ve done a lot of ice dye mixes with purple and blue and discovered that purple tends to overtake the blue on the fabric. The purple is quicker to bond with the fabric fibers so it basically beats blue to the punch. Knowing this, you can add less purple and more blue to better achieve the result you want.

This also explains why vibrant turquoise is such a hard color to get when you ice dye and why adding additional soda ash to the process helps. Turquoise needs more time to bond with the fabric, so adding more soda ash allows the chemical reaction to take place over a longer period of time.

Bottom line?

Wait 24 hours for full color if you can, but if you need to rinse a few hours early, you’ll probably be okay.

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