polyester fabric dyed with polyester dyes

How to dye polyester fabrics (easier than you think!)

Let’s talk about how to dye polyester fabrics and other synthetics.

Real talk: you can’t always find fabric to work with that’s exactly what you want it to be. The good news is that with rare exception the color of your fabric is editable.

I use this process all the time, and I promise you dyeing synthetic fabrics is not a lick intimidating or messy. You can do this.

This post will focus on showing you how to dye polyester. I’ll walk you through what kinds of synthetic fabrics you can dye, the equipment you need and talk about the best dye for polyester fabric. After that, I’ll walk you through the process of dyeing polyester fabric step by step.

polyester fabric dyed with polyester dyes

What is a synthetic fabric and why is it important for dyeing?

Synthetic fibers are created through chemical man-made processes creating and spinning polymers into fiber. They have special properties like wicking moisture, possessing extra stretch, etc. but they react to dye slightly differently than their natural fiber counterparts. Synthetic fibers include:

  • Polyester
  • Acrylic
  • Nylon
  • Spandex

Can you dye polyester and other synthetic fabrics?

Synthetic fabrics can be challenging to dye. They have slick surfaces that are hydrophobic, meaning they don’t absorb water well or dye for that matter. That’s why they dry really quickly, but it also means that you have to follow certain steps to dye synthetic fabrics.

You need 2 things to dye polyester and other synthetic fabrics:

  1. Heat: the dye must be near boiling for the fibers to open up and soak in the dye. Because of this, you can only dye enough synthetic fabric as can fit in a pot on the stove.
  2. Dye for synthetic fabrics: you must use a dye specifically formulated for synthetic fibers. The process of dyeing fabric is in part chemistry, and dyes for natural fabrics are formulated differently. Use a standard dye on polyester fabric and watch it roll off the fabric like water off the proverbial duck’s back.

What is the best dye for polyester fabric?

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You have a couple choices when dyeing polyester fabrics and other synthetics.

The polyester fabric dye I will always keep on hand

My favorite of these 3 options is Rit DyeMore. Why?

  • The base colors of Rit DyeMore are beautiful. I’ve often joked with my husband that if Kentucky Sky ever gets discontinued as a color to expect a truck to show up at our house with the last few bottles!
  • Mixability: I dye fabric for CUSTOM color, and it’s very easy to mix exactly what you want with Rit DyeMore. Just blend 2 or more colors and you can create just about any color you’d like.
  • Quantity: It’s very difficult to dye a small amount of fabric with a packet of dye meant for a washing machine. With Rit DyeMore if you need to dye something small, just add a small amount to water, heat it and dye away.
  • No additions needed: You can use Rit DyeMore straight out of the bottle without having to add dye carriers, salt or other things to your dye bath. I can’t stress how simple this is to dye fabric with Rit DyeMore.

overdyed fabric swatches and RIT dye

Can you dye polyester fabric in a washing machine?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is, I wouldn’t recommend it.

IDye Poly is indeed formulated for use in a washing machine. The pouches are similar to a Tide pod–just pop it in a hot wash, add salt, and you’re good to go.

That being said, you have little control over what’s happening on the inside of your washing machine. The heat of the water and the amount of dye that’s added to your fabric with a dye packet is all up in the air. If you want to forego having a dye pot, this is a really good option, just know that you have less control over the final product. I’ve used IDye Poly in the past, and I ended up with a very pale end product, not a richly dyed hue. You can correct this by adding another dye packet, but this will obviously be more expensive.

On the other hand, if you are dyeing your synthetic fabrics because you truly want a custom color, take the extra steps I’m outlining below and use Rit DyeMore.

What synthetic fibers can you dye with Rit DyeMore?

  • Polyester
  • Acrylic
  • Nylon
  • Acetate
  • Fabric with blended fibers of the above

I have experimented with Rit DyeMore freely, and it will dye natural fibers just fine too. I often reach for it because of the color choices. In all my tests over many years, I’ve never had it do something weird on my natural fibers. The cotton blend corduroy pinafore below started out as a tan, but the DyeMore turned it a nice warm purple.

cotton corduroy blend dyed with rit dyemore

If you’re ever not sure, make a swatch of the fabric with the method I’ll show you below and see what happens. Dye is often about experimentation. If you go in with a sense of adventure and exploration, you’re in the right mindset to dye fabric!

Essential equipment for dyeing synthetic fabrics

All of this equipment needs to be reserved for fabric dyeing only for safety.

  • Large stockpot: use something cheap! Thrift a pot or use a tamale steamer.
  • Small loaf pan: great for making swatches of fabric or dyeing small amounts. I often dye zippers this way.
  • Tongs: for fishing out fabric and mixing in dye

How to dye polyester fabric: How to use rit dye for synthetic fabrics (Rit DyeMore)

Make a swatch

Whatever your fabric, make sure that you prewash your fabric.

After that, cut off a small piece of fabric. If you’re dyeing something like a sweater, find a small inconspicuous area to test.

Heat about a cup of water in a baking loaf pan. Add in the color of Rit DyeMore you’d like to test by the capful. Add more color for a deeper color. If you’re mixing colors, add in color in proportion to how you want to dye your final fabric. Take note of the ratio of dye (i.e. 1 capful Kentucky Sky, 2 Tropical Teal) so that you can get close to the same color when you dye all of your fabric.

If you’re starting with white fabric, you can make a swatch with a paper towel. Sometimes I will test with a paper towel just to see what my base color of the dye color I mixed is.

When the water and dye mix is at a boil, lower it to a simmer and pop in the fabric swatch. Stir it with tongs, then pull it out when it’s absorbed the color. Rinse the swatch with cold water and dab it with a paper towel. Allow the swatch to air dry to see the final color.

polyester fabric swatches dyed with rit dyemore

If you’re not happy with the color of your swatch, repeat this process. Sometimes my best guesses for colors are a little off. Adding a little less or a little more of a dye will make all the difference.

Don’t be afraid to fail here. The slate blue suede knit proved to be too dark to dye from my swatches, making the colors look kind of muddy. I won’t be dyeing the yardage of this one!

Dye your fabric

After you’re happy with the color of your swatch, fill up a dye only stock pot with enough water for your fabric to float freely.

Add in the color(s) of Rit DyeMore as the water is heating. Note that the more fabric you have, the more dye you’ll need to add. I’ve rarely used more than 1/2 bottle at a time, but if you like intense colors, you may need to add up to 2 bottles.

When the water is at a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and pop in your fabric. Stir the fabric with the tongs until it absorbs the color. This should not take more than a couple minutes.

P.S. This is my favorite thing about Rit DyeMore–that it gets drawn into the fabric almost immediately. This is not always true of dyes for natural fibers which can take some time to absorb the color.

Finishing the dyeing process

Take the pot off the heat and take it to the sink. With cold water running, pour out the dye water.

From there, rinse the fabric with cold water in the pot until the water is mostly clear. Drain off the rest of the water.

To finish everything, take the dye pot to your washing machine and run the fabric through a cold cycle. I always run my hand dyed fabrics on cold to preserve the color as best as possible.

rit dyemore and polyester fabric

Allow your fabric to dry as you would normally.

How to clean up after dyeing fabric

To clean up, scrub out your sink with a soft scrub cleanser like Barkeeper’s Friend. Rinse well, then wipe out with a paper towel to make sure you’ve caught all the color.

Do the same to your dye pot or loaf pan. Dry the pan/pot immediately to prevent rust.

Place your dye pot/pan and tongs in a spot where they will be safe from those that might be tempted to use them for food. These are not the most toxic dyes around, but it’s best not to chance it.


And that’s how to dye polyester fabrics. Give this process a try the next time you find a sweater or some polyester yardage that’s not quite what you want it to be. You’ll quickly find that with the right dye, dyeing polyester fabrics is fun and easy and a little addictive to boot!

13 thoughts on “How to dye polyester fabrics (easier than you think!)”

      1. Hello Elizabeth,
        I’m hoping you can help me, my best friend is getting married in 2weeks, I’m his best man/woman. I was going to wear the suit I bought but the dressmaker made the pants too short, so I went out today and bought a formal dress from Salvation Army second hand clothes shop it’s 100% polyester tangerine color. I am stressing because I want to look nice but don’t have the money to buy a brand new anything. I than went to spot light and bought Rit dye more midnight navy to dye this dress, I have been reading a lot of things on the Internet with peoples experiences and Im worried im might mess it up and ruin the dress. My question to you is that if I put this dress in boiling water to dye will it shrink and make it go funny, I read that this happened to some people. I hope you can help you look like an expert with this Rit dye more.

        1. Understand that you will not get a pure navy since what you’re describing is going to be an overdyeing job…Think of overdye like layering watercolors on top of each other. If you start with white, you’ll get the pure color, but with the orange, you’ll probably get some version of brown. Find an inconspicuous area to test the dye on (or better, is there a small bit you can cut off?). Dye the swatch on its own and see what you think. Polyester does not shrink, so don’t worry about that. As I responded to another question below, you only need worry about the heat and polyester if the fabric hits direct heat; the dye is formulated to work at high temps. Just use a big enough dye pot that the fabric can float freely, and you’ll be okay.

    1. I’m trying to dye some Nike Golf pants.

      I ordered them as RED golf pants. They arrived as a reddish-orange.

      The pants are 96% polyester and 4% spandex.

      I dyed them once using red RIT Dye-More but they still look orange.

      I followed the directions….brought water to near boiling and stirred for about 30 minutes then let them soak as the water cooled.

      I’m going to attempt again.

      This time I’m using red RIT Dye-Mor combined with regular pink RIT.

      I also bought the color stay liquid for after dying is complete.

      Will this work? any suggestions are appreciated.



      1. Unfortunately, there’s no way to fix this. What you’re attempting to do is overdye the fabric with DyeMore, but since there’s already a color in place, the best you can do is add to that color, not take away. Since there was already a secondary color in the mix, there’s no way to get to that more primary red. Rit makes a product called Color Remover that will remove old dye from fabric, but it is not appropriate for polyester fabrics.

  1. Hello,
    Thank you for explaining the process of coloring the polyester fabrics. However, PE fabrics I come across support only low temperatures (max 90-100F). I have already damaged one shirt washing in 140F. Do you have any suggestions on this?
    Many thanks. Christophe

  2. hi, i noticed your instructions are slightly different from those on the rit dye bottles. specifically, the bottle says to include a little dish soap in the dye bath and has a longer dye time (30 mins). do you use the dish soap? i’m trying to dye a few white/cream items black

    1. Dish soap can be added to break the surface tension on the water and make it easier to submerge fabric. It’s not necessary, but it can be helpful. I omit it because I’m usually dyeing small pieces of fabric. The longer dye time in my tests have not been necessary, but when you’re trying to get a big color change, like white to black, it might be necessary. All the fabrics I’ve tested pull out the amount of color that’s in the water within a few minutes and then there’s no further change. You’ll want to make sure you add enough dye to get the right saturation on your color. I’d start with the whole bottle, and if it doesn’t look dark enough, add more.

  3. This was super helpful! Do you find there’s a smell after dyeing with the Rit DyeMore? And if so, do you think it would be ok to soak the garment in vinegar/water solution and would it make a difference? I’ve used the iDye packets and don’t love the remaining smell. Thanks!!!

  4. Thank you for the advice.
    What is the effect of dying at near boiling point on the structure of the polyester ?
    I wouldn’t want my garments to come out as a crumpled mess or to shrink.

    1. As long as you are working in a dye pot that is large enough for the fabric to float freely, you should be okay. All my experiences with melting synthetic fabrics have come from direct heat. The dye is formulated for this fabric and at this heat level, and I’ve never had an issue with it.

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