A Cheap Dye Job

April 27, 2011

A favorite pair of jeans is like … a favorite pair of jeans.  Really, once you’ve broken in a pair that fits your backside to perfection, they really are an irreplaceable treasure.

I was switching out my winter and spring wardrobe the other day and pulled out my most favorite pair of summer capris I’ve ever owned.  Ever.  I confess I’ve even fallen asleep in them a few times, they’re that comfortable, and I don’t ever say that about denim.  I’m more of a lover of yoga pants, but these denim capris have the perfect amount of stretch and softness.  They are my favey faves. 

I’ve washed them a zillion times and they were showing it.  Everyone has their preference when it comes to the perfect shade of denim, but for me, these were way too faded to be worn out of the house.  These days as I creep closer to 40, I’m hopelessly devoted to dark wash, it’s just a little more slimming ay?

Meet my beloved crop denim jeans in their saddest state.

faded capri jeans before


Notice the excessively deep crouch lines.

faded jeans before


No, I did not say crotch, I said crouch.  I would never use the word crotch in a blog post, I’m too much of a lady.  I’ve earned these crouch lines cleaning up after kids and all those squats I do every day for the benefit of my gluteus maximus.  Actually that last part isn’t true, I can’t remember the last time I did a squat for the sake of exercise alone. 

I simply could never part with these jeans because they fit me so well, but mostly because this pair tells me two things I want to hear every single day of my life and it’s written right on the Jolt tag.  They are my daily affirmation.

“Live Your Own Dream, Follow Your Heart”


“You’re a size 5!”

live your dream affirmation


My scale begs to differ.

scale talking

Must be all that cheese

Scales are such Debbie Downers.


Anyway, in a desperate attempt to restore my beloved cropped denim pants, I bought this $2 dollar pack of Rit Dye. 

rit dye for jeans


According to the directions, there are several methods: stovetop, washing machine, or bucket. 


As an amateur, I was too chicken to put dark blue dye in my washer, or in a pot I cook with.  It was then that I had a Lucy moment.  Hey I’ll just use my husband’s car wash bucket, he’ll never know!  I’ll get rid of all the evidence before he comes home! 

I mixed up about 10 cups of boiling water and the dye powder, and then (biting my nails in trepidation) dipped my jeans into the mix. 

dunk in dye


Then I stirred and stirred and waited five whole minutes.  Then I couldn’t take it anymore, I could hear my jeans crying out to me to save them from the torture. 

stir dye mix


I pulled them out, and wrung the dye out as best as possible with my hands.

violet hands

Note to self: in the future, wear gloves to avoid Violet Beauregarde hands.

Second note to self: moisturize more often.

After rinsing the jeans till the water ran clear in my bathtub, then drying them in my dryer, I was pleased to discover I had a ‘new’ pair of jeans. 

before jeans


jeans after dye


I was shocked how the threads stayed mostly true to their color too, maybe because I left them in for only 5 minutes?  Anyone know?  I’m just amazed how these jeans came back to life with a cheap dye job.

*Reader update: it’s because the threads are synthetic.  Good to know!

new colored jeans


Most importantly, my daily affirmation remains, albeit a little muddied from the dye.

affirmation darker

“Live Your Own Dream, Follow Your Heart”


“You’re a size 5!”

Thank you beloved jeans, thank you.

How cool to have a new pair of old jeans that fits me to perfection!  And ones that can be worn out of the house and won’t embarrass my husband or children.

new dyed jeans


So now I just have this little problem called a full bucket of dye that I’m thinking shouldn’t be dumped down the drain or near where it could affect a water source (but then again, you can use this stuff in a washing machine).   

A big bucket of dye.  Sitting in my husband’s weekend carwash bucket.  That I sheepishly hid around the back corner of our house cause I’m worried about dumping it down the drain.* 

Come Saturday afternoon, this conversation will occur. 

carwash bucket

Oh wait, he reads my blog. 

I’m thinking the jig is up. 



* YAY, reader update: there is a safe way to dispose, thank you Sarah!


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168 Responses to “A Cheap Dye Job”

  1. Jamie says:

    Thanks so much for that ! I died laughing through the whole entire thing! They turned out great but your sense of humor throughout the whole thing was a much needed laugh! Thanks!

  2. elz says:

    Your dye job turned out SO MUCH better than mine. I attempted to dye some drop cloths a couple months ago for curtains and it was a tremendous FAIL. So bad.

  3. Rachel says:

    Great timing! I was thinking about dieing my fave black coat just TODAY! Has anyone died anything black with no problems of a greeny-black appearing after a few washings?

  4. cheryl says:

    I cannot believe how great they look!!! I wish I was a size 5.

  5. Lisa says:

    I want to see hubby try and use that bucket now!!! You make me giggle!!!

  6. Jenn says:

    I did this in the 80s – the results did not look nearly as good as yours.

    The white threads that didn’t dye are probably nylon. Synthetic fibers require a different sort of dye.

  7. lesley says:

    gosh, they look marvelous ! :)

    I’m trying this, this weekend, my fave Gaps are looking a little faded.

  8. WOW!!! Just WOW….totally impressed!

    Becky B.
    Organizing Made Fun

  9. Debbie says:

    Impressive! Now I’m thinking about doing this, too.

  10. Stephanie says:

    Yay, “new” jeans!!! I love dark wash also, and hate when they start fading. My trick is to mix a little black dye in with the blue dye, and they always come out looking like new.

    One tip… you might want to wash and dry them twice before wearing them. I’ve found that they dye can sometimes rub off onto furniture if I don’t wash them a few times first. :)

  11. Amanda says:

    I would love an update after you’ve worn them post-dye… my biggest fear with re-dyeing clothes is that the dye will come off all over me and/or anything I rub up against!

  12. Linda says:

    Wow! Those turned out awesome! I am also curious if the dye will rub off on you, furniture, etc. Also, can you watch/dry them with other clothes or will you need to wash/dry them separately for fear of leaching dye?

  13. Nadir@stitchsense says:

    Wow! They look great! Let me know if the die rubs off on anything, I’ve always wanted to die some clothes but have been too afraid to try.

  14. Janell Beals says:

    Get out…I tend to say that a lot in comments on your blog! Those can’t be the same jeans. Crazy…Janell

  15. Nikki says:

    I can’t BELIEVE those are the same jeans! Good for you!

  16. Käri says:

    Yes! I recently did the same thing with a pair of super low rise trouser jeans from Fossil that I’d had since the super low, light wash trend of the early 2000’s. Why would I want superlows in 2011 you ask? Because they button under my 4.5 month pregnant belly and make me feel less like a big ol’ Betty and more like a trendy wendy! I will say that after about 10 washes, my jeans were faded considerably, but still much better than the original dated light wash look I had. Well done!!!

  17. Lynne says:

    They look fabulous! I need to try this… I’ve been too chicken. I’m so afraid of making a ginormous mess!

  18. Sarah says:

    Wow! That turned out great! I’m always leery of the Rit dye packs, especially on jeans. But wow, I’m definitely surprised!

  19. Michelle says:

    About dye disposal…right after I dumped the easter egg dyes down the drain, I realized that I should have saved it and my kids could have used it to paint on paper, might have been like watercolors! Anyone ever try this?

  20. Theresa says:

    I have heard that you should soak them in salt water before you wash them to retain the dye? And not to wash them with anything else the first time you wash them? Let us know ok?

  21. Bernadette says:

    hi..great idea! I am currently wearing jeans that are way too faded to be called acceptable to wear to work..btw, I’m at work, so..who’s embarrassed right now?..umm ME!…lol…so I’ll be buying some RIT after work today & the next time I pull these jeans out of the closet, they’ll be nice and “new” again!

    Bernadette @ agirlandherhome.blogspot.com

  22. TMJ says:

    Thank you SO much for posting this project! I have been playing around with dyes on things like place mats and such, but my hubby is deeply skeptical of dying clothing (or painting walls, or staining furniture…basically changing the original color of anything) unless you are a trained professional, and since my “trust me, I’ve tried it before on other things” argument hasn’t convinced him, perhaps a true clothing victory will :) They look awesome!

    TMJ astitchsublime.blogspot.com

  23. Käri says:

    Mine did not rub off on furniture or my hands like I’ve had other dark denim do but they did rub off on light stuff in the wash with cold water so I’d suggest either doing something to set the dye or only wash with dark stuff.

  24. Laura says:

    Those cannot possibly be the same jeans!!! They look amazing! I’ve always wanted to try Rit Dye, but have been a little intimidated. Not anymore. Let’s see . . . what can I dye this weekend? :-) Thanks for sharing XO Laura

  25. Amy says:

    That’s amazing! I have heard lore of this but have never seen it in person (or on the computer!)

  26. kristin M says:

    amazed. they went from 80’s acid wash look to modern

  27. Great & funny post!!! The jeans look amazing – like new and I’m SO jealous about the size 5. ;o)

  28. Wow, they look great! I can’t believe you got such a deep color with Rit dye. I always thought you had to use fiber reactive dyes to get that kind of color. Also, I’ll bet that is polyester thread and that’s why the dye didn’t take.

  29. AP says:

    I love dying my old clothes. I’ve dyed clothes in a white washer and it doesn’t stain. I’ve also dyed clothes in a pot and dumped the water in my white sink and it does leave a slight tinge if I don’t rinse it out right away.

  30. Pam says:

    I have never thought of doing this! So darn clever! I would just keep the bucket for your next dye job and get hubby a new one!

  31. Holly says:

    These turned out awesome – I have some jeans that I roll up and wear as capri’s, and they have an annoying stain on the leg plus they’re pretty faded. Now instead of throwing them out I’m definitely trying this method!! Thanks SO much!!

  32. Lisa says:

    Love it! Going to try that this weekend on my fav jeans! Thanks

  33. Serretta Barlow says:

    I just discovered rit dye too! I used it to dye my sheets-pretty awesome basically! :) You are honestly hilarious, I just kept laughing throughout the post!

  34. Ann says:

    What, am I the only one who tie dyed t-shirts with Rit back in the 80’s?
    I do seem to recall a salt solution for making the color last. And less likely to continually bleed on other clothes. Is the dye better these days? Let us know how it goes!

  35. I’m so glad to have you as the guinea pig. I’ve had a bottle (I read use liquid instead of powder) of Rit dye for about 5 months now, but I’ve been afraid to take the plunge. Now I have more confidence to go for it!

  36. Elizabeth H says:

    Your jeans look great. Great post, I enjoyed the humor. Love all your posts and your blog information is second to none.

  37. Kristin says:

    I used rit to dye a shower curtain and hand towels. I used the clothes washer method and it worked fine, although I had to do an empty cycle with soap afterwards to clean it out. Also, the first several time I washed them I noticed some color run so be careful with what you wash the jeans with. In additiona, I have noticed the hand towels getting lighter and lighter with each wash. So much for true staying power…

  38. Liz H says:

    Adding 1/2 cup vinegar to the dye solution will help set the color and keep it from washing out over multiple washes. Rit’s website recommends adding it 5 minutes after you put in the dye; I always add it right after the dye and everything comes out fine. You can also add regular table salt to the dye solution (about 1 cup), which helps certain types of fabric take up the dye more evenly. Rinsing your dyed item with cold water right after it comes out of the dye bath can remove some of the excess dye that may rub or wash off, but I always wash dark, newly dyed items separately or with like colors (and usually several Shout color catcher sheets) a couple of times before putting them in with “regular” clothes.

  39. Lexy says:

    Thanks this is great! I just pulled out an old favorite pair of summer pants and alas! There is a dark blue area on my stone washed pants! Some other jeans must have bled! I’m going to have to try this …

  40. Ashley @ the handmade home says:

    Oh. My. Word. Love it. How clever are you? Its late and I cant sleep and I was all LOL the scale has thought bubbles! While i read this on my phone under the covers. And then I got busted cause the hubs was all, go to sleep, freakazoid. And does it make me a weirdo that I still want to wear some of my maternity tops that were super cute and non maternity-ish, but cut out the tag that says “maternity” because I couldnt BE more over it? A little? Meh.

  41. I can totally relate to the size “5”, it reminds me of the Jerry Seinfeld episode where he changes the tag on his jeans. Sometimes I get lucky, and google the brand name and the style number and can find the same item again. I love how the dye changed the look of those jeans, they are rockin now!

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  43. Laura says:

    VINEGAR – You know vinegar is great for just about everything, now add it to your laundry to “set” the colors. The first wash should be with just straight, white vinegar, cold water. This sets the color to prevent fading. I do this with all my new sheets and towels and some better type clothes. It seems to work. Adding vinegar to the dye seems to help too.
    GREAT Post.

  44. I bet your hubby reads your blog! I wonder if mine does. He say he has a shortcut on the toolbar. I hope he does!

  45. Sheri says:

    I didn’t read all the comments so hopefully no one else sent this. Put them thru the wash on their own with a bit of vinegar to prevent the dye from running onto your other clothes, legs, hands, shoe laces etc. Works like a charm. I’ve have never dyed jeans but quite often do black clothes. Who knew??? Thanks for the tip, great blog. :)

  46. Jackie B says:

    I saw that you have front loaders. I was wondering how you were gonna dye those jeans. I used to dye tons of things in my top load machine, but never since I’ve gotten front loaders. I’ve dyed clothing, sheets, down comforters (yes, I did!), a rug and an expensive new shower curtain. I ALWAYS wash my item after I’ve dyed it to prevent the color from rubbing off on something else. I look forward to your post on the “blue” underwear that will be occurring after your first wear especially if you are doing anything exhaustive like house renovation!!! I was wondering, has anyone tried dying something in a front load washing machine?

  47. Lisa says:

    well…I did it ! Love the idea but … they have a purple tinge. If I re-dye them should I add some black ? If yes how much ? I used the powder,navy blue. They were not 100 % cotton.

  48. Jessica says:

    I seriously just LOL-ed. I have the same exact pair of jeans (even the same size) and they are my absolute faves but like yours they faded into a terrible shade. Definitely going to take your advice because your’s turned out so well!

  49. arveerella says:

    impressive. haha…It’s amazing about the color of the threads. Looks like they haven’t been dyed at all. Does this also work in bags? I’ve been thinking of dying it black! ;)

  50. Trysha says:

    When I worked at Outback Steakhouse our jeans had to be super super dark and we would use 2 Navy Blues and 1 Black dye packs. I don’t advise using your Grandma’s washing machine…but the apartment facilities are excellent. Just avoid the maintainance manager for a week or so.

  51. A says:

    Wow I can’t believe how great they look!

  52. TERRIE says:

    Hello i have a nice cream pair of curtains and i am changing the decor of my living room can i dye these curtains?

  53. Alison says:

    Hiya! just wondering how well the color held up after a couple of washes? Are they still good and dyed the darker blue or has it faded really quickly? I’m thinkinig about trying this with some jeans I just never loved the color of (but fit great). Thank you!

  54. candysales says:

    Run the washer through a cycle with hot water/soap after you do the dye job. I’ve done it many times with no problems.

  55. Beste says:

    Did you have any trouble later like turning your underwear into blue after wearing the jeans for a couple of hours?

  56. Amber says:

    I did this exactly the same and mine turned out very purple-ish! Eek! I had to bleach them to get them faded again and get all the purple out :(

  57. Zobiana says:

    I’ve done this for years, particularly on black jeans that fade to that yucky greyish black colour. Another thing I sometimes do is when your white bras start looking a bit wishy-washy after too many wash and wears, I dye them white. It really works. Its a trick that I learned from my friend’s mother. Every now and then she adds white dye to her white washing load – her white shirts and socks are always sparkling white and look like new.

  58. Sam says:

    Thank you! I’m going to use the reader recommended 2 navys 1 black to darky dark siome faded skinnies of mine. I’m also going to try the reader recommended white dye for some whites!! Genius.

  59. Aysha says:

    Thank you for posting the world most easy directions. Did you wet the jeans before soaking them in the RIT solution??

  60. CentsationalGirl says:

    Nope, I just dunked them Aysha, it’s been a year, they’ve only faded a little bit but still looking good!

  61. Kim says:

    Thank YOU! I discovered your step-by-step guide in June, but was kind of chicken to tackle it until this very day. I used 2 navy Rit dye packs. In a bucket – yes, the hubs carwash bucket. I thought, why mess with a plan. 5 minutes, just as you did, with my fave jeans that had just been washed right out. They look PERFECT now! Just like new. The only thing I found to be a bit of a challenge was rinsing the dye out of the jeans after the 5 minute dye job. I used a garden hose for a while, then put them in a plastic garbage bags to take up to the tub. Rinsed them a few times, the last time in cold water and a cup of vinegar. Then I got frustrated and grabbed some old towels to roll them up in and soak up the excess like I would with a sweater. After that, I put them in a warm wash with detergent as suggested on the box. Now they are in the dryer – and PERFECT! Did I say that already? I’m so pleased. Thanks for the funny process complete with pictures. It gave me inspiration, incentive, and I finally just said ‘why not’, I’m not wearing them anyway. The worst didn’t happen – now I have my NEW old comfortable jeans to wear. You ARE centsational GIRL. (oh, and my bathtub got a really good cleaning too:!)

  62. Rachel says:

    The threads ( if polyester or synthetic) will stay the same color always because they are solution dyed extruded fibers and so can’t be chanded. They won’t bleach out either. If you are dying a white shirt blue then the thread would remain white, unless it was cotton. that’s a good thing to know.

    Thanks for the post. I am going to try this on a pair of jeans. I can’t wait!

  63. Auntiepatch says:

    So…….what did you do with the dye water???

  64. CentsationalGirl says:

    Tossed it down the sink!

  65. Nikki C. says:

    Thanks for this funny and useful tutorial! I can probably use my old jeans again! You don’t know how exciting this is for me. Actually you probably do.

  66. Nichol says:

    How did the dye job stand up? I have 5 pairs of jeans I want to do this to, including a pair of skinny’s that are blue that I want to try to dye black (am I going to ruin them??). Did you wash them alone the first time in case of dye-running? Thanks –

  67. Centsational Girl says:

    They held up well Nichol! I’d say through about 10 washings but slowly faded a bit by the end. :)

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