Can You Dye Bath Towels?

When trying to update the look of your bathroom or looking to revive some old linens, you have a couple of options for dyeing bath towels just about any color you desire. It is possible to dye towels by hand over a stove, in cold water or in the washing machine. All-purpose dye works best in hot water, while fiber reactive dye is available in a cold water formula.

Spa towels
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A stack of white bath towels.

Materials Used in Towels

Before dyeing a bath towel, it is a good idea to find out what fabric it is made from. The material and construction of a fabric can alter how it picks up dyes. Most bath towels are made from cotton or a cotton blend, which you can dye with an all-purpose dye or a fiber reactive dye. A new material used in expensive towels is bamboo, which is known for being colorfast. It may be more difficult to dye a bath towel containing bamboo fiber. However, you can achieve good results with a fiber reactive dye. These dyes work better on microfiber towels too.

All-Purpose Dyes

All-purpose fabric dye is intended for a variety of fabric types, but particularly cotton fiber blends. This dye works best at a water temperature around 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Most home water heaters only reach a high temperature of about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. You would have to dye the bath towel in a large pot of simmering water on the stove for the most color-intense results. However, you can follow the package instructions for dyeing with the washing machine, but the final color will probably be lighter than the package indicates. It is also important to use a color setter on the towel after dyeing it to help prevent color bleeding later on.

Fiber Reactive Dyes

A fiber reactive dye works perfectly well for dyeing bath towels. This dye works particularly well on cotton, creating a brighter, longer-lasting color. It is also the most permanent dye available. You can use this product to hand dye or dye bath towels in the washing machine. Look for a "cool water fiber dye," which colors best in water temperatures between 95 - 105 degrees F. There are also fiber reactive dyes intended for use in hot water up to 175 degrees F, which is quite scalding.

Washing Machines

A top-loading washing machine is easier to work with when dying towels. It allows you to open the washer at any time during the wash cycle and check on the process. You can also pour in additives -- such as other dyes, salt, soda ash and color setter -- when dyeing fabrics. A front loader also works for dyeing bath towels. If you have the option, use one that has a small compartment to allow you to insert additives during the wash cycle without having to open the door. Some front loaders also feature heaters to bring the water to a higher temperature than the water heater is set too. This is very helpful when using all-purpose fabric dyes.