Yes, You Can Tie-Dye With Your Kids Without Trashing the House – Here's How

Getty / Melissa Ross

My kids and I have been housebound for three weeks now, so we’ve been on a little bit of a creative project bender. We’ve made Shrinky Dinks and painted with acrylics on canvas. We’ve done 1,000-piece puzzles and decorated cupcakes. We even made a unicorn latch-hook rug and learned how to style a food board – which is actually a lot harder than it looks.

So, what’s next on the agenda? My kids are obsessed with the current tie-dye trend, so they’ve been begging me to help them whip up some brightly swirled shirts of their own. And while I’m not hardcore opposed to this idea, it’s something I’ve so far avoided since 1) It seems like such a huge endeavor and 2) I’m scared we’ll end up staining everything in the house. But after doing a bit of research, I realized it’s actually pretty easy to tie-dye with your kids without making a big old mess. (Hint: It’s all about the squeeze bottles.)

Related: Fun Indoor Activities, Because No One Wants to Be Around the Kids When They’re Going Stir Crazy

How Do I Tie-Dye With My Kids?

Getting your tie-dye on with little ones may not be nearly as difficult or as chaotic as I first thought, but it’s an activity that does require a lot of patience and a whole bunch of steps. For starters, you’ll need to gather a slew of supplies before you can even begin, including some plain white T-shirts (100 percent cotton works best) and a tie-dye kit, both of which you can find online or at major retailers.

Purchasing a prepared kit will make things super-easy for you and your crew, mostly because it comes with everything you need for this project. There are squeeze bottles that have been pre-filled with powdered dye, a bunch of plastic gloves, string to tie up your shirts, and a cool project guide that shows you how to make a bunch of different designs. Additional items you’ll need to gather on your own include sealable plastic bags, trash bags or a plastic tablecloth, rain ponchos to protect the clothes you’re already wearing, and a spray bottle to use to dampen your shirts with water before applying the ink.

How Do We Get Started Without Making a Mess?

First, wash and dry your T-shirts without using any type of fabric softener or dryer sheet that will leave a residue and prevent the dye from sinking in. While you’re waiting, have your kids poncho up, then use the plastic tablecloth or a couple of trash bags to completely cover your designated workspace. You can also use this time to help your kids set up the inks in the squeeze bottles that came with your kit – a fun process that basically involves adding water to the powdered colors and then shaking them all up.

How Do I Tie Up Clothes to Make Patterns When Tie-Dying?

OK, so I know this step seems intimidating, but it’s actually pretty simple. First, give your kids the spray bottle and have them dampen their shirts with water. Then – after they choose which tie-dye pattern they want to replicate from their kit’s project guide – help your budding artists twist their shirts and tie them up with string to create the desired look. You can also try subbing in rubber bands for the string to make this step a bit easier.

How Do I Place the Colors When Tie-Dying?

This is the part you’ve been waiting for, right? Tell your kiddos put on the plastic gloves, then have them use the squeeze bottles (important, since the bottles keep the dye contained and less likely to spill!) to apply different colors of ink onto the tied-off shirt sections by following their chosen pattern instructions. Or, if y’all are feeling really daring, just go ahead and freestyle it! Once the dye has been applied, place each shirt in a sealable plastic bag, then let them sit for around 24 hours to allow the stain to set. Pro tip: the longer your shirts sit, the brighter the colors will be.

When your shirts are finally ready, throw on some rubber gloves, remove the items from their bags and rinse in cold water without removing any of the strings or rubber bands. Once the water runs clear – and this will take while – you can unbind them and run under cold water again to make sure all that dye is gone. Then toss those babies in the wash with a little bit of soap, and dry on high heat to further set the colors. Congrats – you’ve just made a couple of no-stress, no-mess masterpieces your kids can show off all year long!

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