Creating a Happy, Colorful, Handmade Home & life on the shores of lake superior

January 4, 2016

How to Dye Jeans Darker (+ Dye FAQ)

I mentioned in passing, awhile back, that I had successfully dyed a new pair of jeans darker and I received a lot of questions about the process.  I wore that pair of jeans for almost a year and was so impressed with the results!  I recently dyed another pair and decided that this time I'd share a "before" and "after," along with answering some FAQ about dyeing jeans (at the bottom of this post).

I have been on a weight loss journey since the fall and have lost 25 pounds (and a couple of pant sizes).  I am trying to lose 25 more, so I have been hesitant to spent money on pants - although I need them!  My old jeans have become insanely baggy and frequently droop, pulling my underwear down with them.  Pant shopping isn't easy though, because I don't like when jeans have any whiskering or fading on the front/back of the thighs.  I prefer a simple dark wash but, alas, jeans that fit me aren't the wash I like and the jeans with the wash I like are usually uncooperative and won't zip up.

Not a problem!  I found inexpensive, comfy, skinny jeans at Winner's for only $25 and turned them into a perfect dark wash.  Here's a look at the original finish:


And here's a look at them now:


In this photo, the colour seems lighter than real life and doesn't appear 100% uniform, but they are perfectly uniform and a lovely dark wash now.  I'm so thrilled with how they look!

How to Dye Jeans Darker at Home:

If you're read any of my DIY dye posts, you know that the procedure is really simple and not scary at all - especially if you dye in the washing machine.  Here's the how-to:
  • Completely soak the denim (or give them a pre-dye wash)
  • Fill the washing machine (or a large basin) with hot water
  • Add a cup of salt and fully dissolve
  • Pour in one bottle of Rit Dye Black and another bottle of Rit Dye Navy Blue
  • Agitate for 30-40 minutes (either re-setting the machine or doing it by hand)
  • Rinse and let dry (I line dry to preserve the colour)
  • Run the machine through with bleach to remove dye

And now, the Jean Dyeing FAQ:

Did the dye cover the denim evenly?

Yes!  All of the whiskering and fading was covered on both pairs I've dyed, and the result was a uniform hue. 

What dye formula did I use?

The first time I dyed jeans, I used two bottles of black and one bottle of navy.  The result was very inky - I loved it, but it did add to the cost because three bottles was about $12.  This time I used only two bottles and did a 1:1 ratio of navy and black, which resulted in a dark denim blue.  I love the shade and it looks great.  Because these jeans are temporary, I wanted to keep the cost low so I didn't want to purchase three bottle, but if I'm being honest, I preferred the 2:1 (black to navy) ratio because the jeans were really dark - almost black, but with some depth.  I'd call the result a midnight blue.   

How much dye do I need?

I used two bottles for one pair of pants and was happy with the results.  The Rit Dye instructions indicate that one bottle covers 1 pound of clothing, but suggests using more for darker/brighter colours.

Will any colour work?

You can dye denim with any colour but I find that the black/navy combo looks most like a commercial "dark wash" denim.  But you could turn white jeans into teal (do it!) or go for all-black.  Rit Dye even makes a "denim blue" that might be great on its own.  It's a bit of a gamble, though, how dye will look when applied over an already dyed fabric. 

Did the dye cover the stitching as well?

No.  The stitching remained light, so they don't look like they were given at at-home dye bath.  This happened with the dress I dyed as well.

Did it wash out quickly?

No!  I was surprised!  I never had to re-dye the first pair of jeans I dyed and I washed them once or twice a week (no dryer, though).  They faded a bit, but the whiskering didn't come back and they were still a dark wash - they just looked like broken in jeans.  I was really impressed - my dyed dress has barely faded, if at all (although I don't wear that nearly as often as jeans).  

How can I make the colour last longer?

I find that washing my jeans inside out, on cold (preferably using a detergent meant for dark colours), and skipping the dryer helps preserve the colour of dark clothing, whether I've dyed it or bought it that way.  Line drying dark items (out of the sun) really helps keep their colour longer than simply tossing them in the dryer - that's probably the best colour-saving tip I have up my sleeves.

Did the colour rub off on furniture?

No!  The dye stays put once the jeans were dry.  After the initial dye, while they were line drying, they deposited dye on anything they touched while wet (like the wall and the lid to the washing machine - crap).  This contact stained, although with scrubbing I got 95% of it off.  But once the denim was dried, and especially after the first wash, there was absolutely no transfer, which was interesting because I've experienced colour transfer with commercially dyed indigo jeans.

Did the jeans feel stiff?

Briefly.  Any time I dye something, I notice that it feels a bit stiffer when it's first dyed.  But after it's ironed or worn, it immediately softens and the fabric feels completely normal again. 

Will it wreck my machine?

Nope!  BUT, you have to run the machine empty, with bleach, immediately after dyeing to remove any dye from the machine (otherwise it can stain the drum and plastic pieces).  I usually use this bleach load to wash my floor rags and scungies because I hate wasting water.


Am I missing any questions?  I've also used this process to re-dye my comfiest pants/jeans once they've become faded from wear.  However, I find that dye always "sticks" best to clothing that hasn't been worn.  So, while my brand new jeans took the dye well and stayed dark, my old and faded pants were only temporarily revived by dye as it seemed to fade more quickly from the beat up pants.  But I will definitely keep dyeing jeans because it makes it so much easier to find the perfect fit when I no longer have to be concerned about the wash.
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32 comments

  1. I don't use it often but I have to agree that Rit dye is a great tool. I have even used it in the bathtub to dye slip covers and it worked great even on such a big job. Never thought to use it to refresh my jeans though. All mine end up fading in the knees so this mix might give them a little more life.

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    1. Wow - I've never tackled something as large as a slip cover! It's so good to hear that it works even on such a large application. Maybe one day I'll be brave enough, lol.

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  2. Holy crap! You are the cutest thing ever just as you are, but 25 lbs is an incredible accomplishment! Especially in such a short amount of time! Even though you are a complete stranger, I am proud of you! Weight loss is never easy, but it's particularly tough when the temps drop and the most entertaining thing to do with your time is snuggle up and eat delicious foods. You are a total badass.

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    1. Awww, thanks :) I packed on weight very quickly this spring/summer due to lots of stress eating, so at first I just wanted to loose the pounds I gained, but I've been trying to loose weight for years so now that I have momentum I decided to keep going. I fell off the wagon a bit during the holidays, but I enjoyed it, lol.

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  3. This is great. I have thought about doing this but I was definitely concerned about wrecking my washing machine. Thanks for the tutorial!

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    1. That is the beauty of always living in a house with crummy old machines, lol. Just make sure you run it through with bleach as soon as you're done and be generous with the bleach and water levels (fill the machine). i think I used half a jug of bleach!

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  4. Do you wash your jeans separately after dyeing them? Inside out? I love dyeing stuff, especially prints as the results are generally a surprise. It's a great way to tone something down that seems a bit too loud - but then, I lean towards the dark and smudgy.

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    1. I was them with darks, inside out most often (sometimes I forget). No dryer - that seems to fade my clothes faster than washing. I turned a printed dress a bit smudgier too, but only tried it the once. I agree, the unexpected results can be fun!

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  5. Thanks for sharing this. It's a great jeans tutorial, but then all your dye tutorials are great!

    As an FYI, we have a dye fixative you can use after dyeing your jeans but before they're rinsed to make the color last even longer--it reduces the amount of bleeding. It's great for cotton fabrics. Lots of info on how to use it in our techniques on our site. And the thread doesn't dye because it's usually made of polyester and our core dye line doesn't dye polyester (though our new DyeMore one does!).

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    1. That's a great tip! I've never seen the dye fixative at my Michael's location, but I'll ask for it next time I'm dyeing something! I was able to dye a polyester dress with your core dye, but I added vinegar. It was a little lighter than expected, but still did the job - I was impressed! I'm going to try the DyeMore next time!

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  6. I did this recently and found about 2/3 bottle of each was enough. I wonder if certain jeans may need to be rinsed more than once after dying/before wearing? I rinsed my hand before I gave up and then had to put them in the washer 3 x's before the water was clear. Plus now I can wash them with other darks and no dye comes out onto the other clothes.

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    1. I've dyed two new pairs and four old pairs and haven't had to rinse them more than once. But they did transfer dye when wet right after dyeing. No problems after that, though. Were your jeans transferring colour to other clothes in the wash?

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  7. Oooh! Thanks for this! I've tried dye-ing jeans before but was never happy with the results, but now you've shared the secret.

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    1. Happy I can help! What was the problem when you dyed jeans?

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    2. I just used plain old dark blue dye and they looked like I dyed them myself - not a good darkwash color. If you like dye-ing, I really like to use Procion MX dyes. They are a little more fiddly (you need lots of salt + soda ash) than good old RIT, but they are super colorfast and come in all kinds of luscious colors. Now if I can just figure out how to machine dye in my new HE topload washing machine, I'll be all set.

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    3. Ahhh, that's good to know - I've never used just the plain navy or "denim" blue Rit sells. I think the secret might be the added black, for some depth and richness. I'll definitely look into that Procion Dye, thanks for the tip! I've never used fancy new machines - I've only ever had really ancient washing machines. Dyeing things easily is my consolation prize, lol. Good luck with your new machine!

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  8. Hi Tanya, wish you a happy new year! This is actually unrelated, but I love your home so much. I always go back and see your photos. The aqua and your husband's grandfather's paintings are my favorite parts! I am actually planning a living room makeover, with navy and other shades of blue and a bit of green-yellow, and looking at some of your pictures has convinced me that shades of blue are indeed my favorite color. There is nothing like the calming qualities of blue. And I also wanted to say, I think your home is incredibly calming. It is so colorful, but it is extremely calming. I guess it is because of the blue. ok, in short, I love your home if I wasn't clear enough. lol

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    1. Thanks so much!! I find blues so calming too. I'm at peace as soon as I walk in the door. Good luck with your living room makeover, I can't wait to see it on Instagram!

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  9. Great idea! I love dark wash or black jeans, but whenever I got shopping I can only find light wash in my size (and I hate spending money). I'm definitely going to have to try my hand at dyeing some things. Ps. Congrats on your weight loss!

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    1. Thanks Haley! Isn't that the way it goes? Knowing that I can dye jeans myself has made it so much easier to shop for pants. If you like a really dark wash, do the 2:1 ration of black to navy - it will be inkier and I think you'll really like it.

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  10. This is great. I am currently in the market for new jeans- looking for another pair of skinny jeans for tall boots. I'm new to this cut and the search is painful but until you posted this, wash colour was just another requirement making my search all the more difficult. It looks like this works remarkably well.
    Good for you and your fitness achievement- keep riding that success train to your end goal! Very impressive!
    And thanks for all the tips In the faq section- I think a long overdue dip dye project is a great January project. My procrastination on this may see me finish my dip dye throw just as the trend leaves the building- haha

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    1. I hear you! I only just started wearing skinny jeans this fall and it seems like it's so much harder to find a good fit because they are cut so snugly.
      I'm excited you're going to try dip dyeing - it's so much fun. If you wait long enough, trends circle back again anyway, lol.

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  11. Did the inside of the jeans turn dark blue as well?

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    1. Yes, the dye thoroughly covers the jeans, inside and out. But in my experience, the dye did not rub off on my skin (if that's what you're curious about).

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  12. I want to re dye my favourite black stretch jeans, wont the hot water affect the stretch in the fabric, can I dye them on a lower temp for longer??

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    1. That's a good question! The jeans I've dyed have all had a lot of stretch and I don't think it affected them. I have dyed new and old pants and haven't noticed a difference in fit immediately after dyeing. BUT I have been losing weight since the fall so they've been getting bigger and perhaps that has distracted me from any breakdown in the stretch material which might have occurred from the hot dye bath.

      According to an e-How article, cold water will work but could result in a less saturated dye bath:
      http://www.ehow.com/how_8658544_use-cold-water-rit-dye.html

      However, you don't need to use Rit Dye for this - it's just what's readily available. If the jeans are really special and cost a bit, you might want to invest in a better quality dye and once you start shopping for more professional-grade dyes, you can find ones designed for cold water. Here's a link to one that looks good and they have a black dye:

      http://prociondye.com/

      I hope this helps you safely dye your favorite jeans! Good luck (I'd love to hear your experience).

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  13. I did an old faded jean jacket and it came out great! The only thing I would say... it came out a bit darker than I really wanted (more toward black than navy blue) so I should probably have used 1 bottle navy and 1/2 bottle black. But I think after I wash it a few times it might be right. I have a front-loading HE machine, so I used a bucket. I was careful to keep it submerged and move it around frequently to make sure the fabric wasn't staying creased in the same spot (so it wouldn't get a tie-dye effect.) After 35 minutes, I (slowly!) poured out the dye into the sink, and refilled the bucket with cold water and 1 cup vinegar to set the dye. I let that soak about 10 minutes, then rinsed with cold water until it was running pretty clear. Then I transferred to the washer and washed with another cup of vinegar. Then I washed again with detergent and dried. Came out great for $6!

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    1. So happy to hear your jacket turned out! My jeans lightened a smidge with wash, so hopefully your jacket will be perfect.

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  14. Can you wash the jeans with other clothes and be sure that the colour won't run and affect the other garments?

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    1. I wash them the way I wash store bought dark wash jeans: inside out, in cold, with other dark colors. I've never noticed dye transfer, but I wouldn't toss them in with a white blouse or anything.

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  15. So glad I stumbled upon this tutorial! Exactly what I was looking for! I want to dye 3 or 4 pairs of jeans. Can I dye them altogether? If so, should i just multiply the quantity of dye and salt? Thanks!

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    1. Happy I could help! I've done bigger batches and, yes, I just added more dye, water and salt. Most bottles/brands will say how many garments one bottle with cover, in case you're not using Rit.

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