How to Naturally Dye a T-Shirt (Or, a Great Plug for My Laundry Detergent)


There are so many great reasons to choose natural dye. It’s cheap, it’s ecologically friendly, and it’s likely sitting in your kitchen as we speak. Since your husband won’t let you dye your living room’s white curtains, let’s dye a boring white t-shirt, the third white t-shirt in your wardrobe, the one that you exclusively wear under your spaghetti strap jumpsuit to make it work-appropriate. Let’s dye it a warm cappuccino brown using — of course — coffee!

First, gather all your materials: a white t-shirt (preferably 100% cotton, though in a pinch, 48% cotton, 4% spandex, and 48% modal works too); coffee; distilled white vinegar; a bucket; and a wooden spoon.


Step One. Soak a clean white t-shirt in the bucket of water + a cup of vinegar for two hours. (One hour is for the actual soaking, the other hour is for the inevitable distractions of lunch, children, and not being able to find your FREAKING SHOES THAT YOU’RE FREAKING SURE YOU PUT IN THAT FREAKING TOTE PUSHED INTO THE BACK OF THE UPSTAIRS CLOSET, SO WHERE THE HECK ARE THEY?!)


Step Two. Brew 10 cups of coffee. I highly recommend Folger’s Breakfast Blend (shamefully, they are not paying me anything for this plug) — just because it’s almost as cheap as Meijer brand’s, but better-tasting; by which I mean very little, because I drink coffee only as a vehicle for coffee creamer.


Step Three. Soak your t-shirt in the bucket of hot coffee until you’ve reached the desired color, stirring occasionally. (Some friendly advice: Don’t soak it outside if you’re concerned about stepping on yellow jackets or fishing out tiny flies, both of which the coffee will attract. Also, do not breastfeed during this time without a toddler wrangler on hand, unless you enjoy sitting helplessly by while your two-year-old plunges his sleeves into the coffee to “help.”) For our beautiful cappuccino color, the Pinterest link recommends a 10 minute soak.

(I found my shoes.)

Step Four. Add 10 more minutes to that, because you’re pretty sure you’re still in that undesirable “sandy beige” range.

Step Five. Add, like, an hour, because those 10 minutes didn’t seem to move the needle on the yummy warm brown color dial.

Step Six. Wonder, “Is this the same color as the past hour and twenty minutes, or do I detect a bit more cappuccino and a bit less beige?”

Step Seven. Just resign yourself to stirring this concoction indefinitely.

Step Eight. Further resign yourself to whatever color you’d call this thing you’ve soaked for six hours.

Step Nine. Rinse in cold water. (Wow, that’s…that’s a lot of color gone. Looking more like how I take my coffee. See disturbing amount of creamer above.)

Step Ten. Wash — WASH?! — alone in hot water (HOT?!) with detergent (???).

Step Eleven. Okay. You’ve barely taken me this far, Pinterest. I’ll continue to misplace my trust in you for one more step. It’s not like my detergent cleans as well as Tide, anyway.

Step Twelve. Pinterest LIES.

Do you hear me?


Pinterest does not operate according to the rules of the universe by which we mere mortals must abide. Oh, no. It is a fantasyland of probable impossibilities that suck up weekends and spit out our hopes.

Step Thirteen. LOOK AT THIS.


Step Fourteen. LOOK AT THIS.


Step Fifteen. LOOK. AT. THIS.



In what world would hot water and detergent not wash out six hours of a tepid coffee soak? Why did I trust you, Pinterest? Why do I do this to myself? Is this a fun little ten minute save-the-earth-and-some-of-your-cash project? NO. IT. IS. NOT.

Step Sixteen. Yell, “I DO NOT DESERVE THIS KIND OF FAILURE” at your husband, whose weekend project of turning a tossed-out TV cabinet into a mud kitchen is going quite splendidly. (Husbands, your step one is to say this: “I’m sure you can figure it out!” in a very encouraging way that also strongly hints that you are in no way willing to enter this Pinterest catastrophe.)

Step Seventeen. Boil 10 cups of coffee.


Step Eighteen. Simmer dye bath on the stove for an hour.


Step Nineteen. Throw in some amount of salt halfway through because a random article suggested it.

Step Twenty. Rinse in cold water. Whoa. Whoa whoa whoa. What devilry is this? A cappuccino color that stays cappuccino upon rinsing??

Step Twenty-One. Better simmer it for another hour, just to be sure.

Step Twenty-Two. Better add some more coffee, just to stay on the safe side.

Step Twenty-Three. And maybe some more salt. Because why not?

Step Twenty-Four. Rinse in cold water, wash on cold, and………………………………………………………………


Step Twenty-Five. Accept defeat.

Welp. It looks like cappuccino…if you took cappuccino…and washed it thoroughly in Seventh Generation Free and Clear laundry detergent.

So there you have it. Buy Seventh Generation Free and Clear. It works swell on coffee stains.

One thought on “How to Naturally Dye a T-Shirt (Or, a Great Plug for My Laundry Detergent)

  1. bethanydurie

    Giggling like a lunatic over here! 😂 Emmerich’s arm plunging in the coffee was my exact dilemma with Toby, my phone, and the mop water. Ugh.

    It was a valiant effort on your part. Pinterest is always hit or miss. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can always try dying with onion skins! Worked great for our Easter eggs, but I’m not sure if it can withstand your super detergent. Haha

    Miss you!


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