Dyeing Old Clothes Instead of Buying New Clothes

In which I spend $9 (and some time) to avoid spending $75.

I’ve written before about my personal uniform - a way to think less about what to wear by choosing to wear the same thing every day.

The foundational two pieces of my personal uniform are gray henley shirts from L.L. Bean and lightweight olive green zip-off pants from Columbia.

Faded Pants

I’ve had the pants nearly two years and wear them most every day. Structurally they were fine but they were sun-faded. They also got a bleach stain from a campground that missed a spot while cleaning their shower stall walls.

Fix Rather Than Replace?

When I looked at replacements on Amazon they were $75. I just couldn’t click that Buy Now button for that price (I do see today they were at $52 instead). One of the comments mentioned dyeing a pair a different color - so it made me wonder if I could delay buying new pants by refreshing my current pair.

I ordered a bottle of RIT Frost Gray Dye (for synthetics) for about $9 delivered and set about the process.

While I’m At It

Dyeing clothes isn’t hard, but looked time consuming - so I scanned my wardrobe to see if there was anything else I could dye while I was at it.

I came across my favorite shirt - the one I really should have gotten rid of years ago. It has ring around the collar and other various stains. Maybe a fresh dye job would get me another couple of years out of it?

1. My daily go-to Columbia pants that cost $75 to replace.

1. My daily go-to Columbia pants that cost $75 to replace.

2. My favorite shirt with ring around the collar and other stains.

2. My favorite shirt with ring around the collar and other stains.

3. I heated water on our truck stove and another pot inside.

3. I heated water on our truck stove and another pot inside.

4. The RIT frost gray dye I purchased on Amazon.

4. The RIT frost gray dye I purchased on Amazon.

5. After dumping the water and dye into a five gallon bucket I scared up, I stewed my clothes with a tire iron.

5. After dumping the water and dye into a five gallon bucket I scared up, I stewed my clothes with a tire iron.

6. I rinsed the clothes out in the park fish cleaning sinks.

6. I rinsed the clothes out in the park fish cleaning sinks.

7. The shirt turned out great.

7. The shirt turned out great.

8. The pants didn't change color but do look fresher and crisper.

8. The pants didn't change color but do look fresher and crisper.

The Process

I didn’t have a pot big enough to do the whole job in the RV kitchen. It was also 90 degrees and muggy on this day, so the more I could do outside the better. I sourced a 5 gallon bucket in the campground shed and used our outdoor stove to heat up some of the water.

From there I just followed the directions on the bottle. Looking around online I saw other hints like adding salt or vinegar to the dye mix, but I thought that might be for a cotton dye rather than this polyester dye.

I rinsed the clothes out in the stainless sinks at the park’s fish cleaning station. I dumped the used dye mixture straight into the sewer hole at an empty campsite.

I hung up the clothes outdoors to dry and then made sure they were in the next laundry loads before I wore them.

The Results

The shirt turned out great. The dye covers up the ring around the collar and almost hides the other stains.

The pants? At first I decided they were a big fat fail. They aren’t obviously a different color. I can’t tell any difference in the photos I took. But while wearing them they do seem less faded and crisper in color.

Was It Worth It?

Honestly the shirt I could have replaced with a $5 Goodwill find, so that alone wasn’t worth it. The pants aren’t a huge win either - the bleach spot still shows but less so.

The bigger win was having our eyes opened to how we could save money by dyeing clothes. For example - all my dark socks are really faded, but still in good shape. I had thoughts of replacing them all but now see that I could just buy a bottle of black dye and refresh them all for less than $10.

I’m also thinking about changing my gray henleys to navy - something I wouldn’t consider doing if I had to repurchase them at all (8 * $24/each).

Dyeing clothes may open up some options for MsBoyink as well.

Are You Dyeing Out There?

Have you tried dyeing clothes a different color? What’s been your experience with it?

3 Comments Dyeing Old Clothes Instead of Buying New Clothes

  1. Picture of Jenni Jenni August 26, 2015

    I spent what felt like 80,000 hours dyeing fabrics for costumes in theatre school.  I am sure if you biopsied my liver 20 years from now you would find traces of Rit dye in every color they make.  I got pretty darn good at it, so if you need any other tips, you know where to find me.  My one big caution to note is that dye will be bleeding out in the wash for the next 3 or 4 runs at least, even if you rinsed like the bottle says until the water ran clear.  So be sure to wash with other dark or like color items for the next few weeks.

  2. Picture of Michael Boyink Michael Boyink August 26, 2015

    Thanks Jenni!  Makes sense that you would have done a bunch of fabric dyeing.  We won’t ask how it got in your liver…;)

    I expect we’ll do a batch of blacks and a batch of blues at some point to freshen up clothes we currently own. 

    Did you do the salt or vinegar addition to the dye batch?

  3. Picture of Jenni Jenni August 27, 2015

    In my theatre work I never added either, although I think the bottle of standard Rit says that helps.  In some home dyeing projects I have done that, but it honestly did not seem to make much of a difference in setting the color in fast.  I think it all bleeds a bit, no matter what you do. 

    As for my liver, we were all told that it does a lot of toxin filtering and that working in theatre was almost as hazardous to our health as coal mining.  Of course, that was coming from other theatre people, not the biology department (speaking of stuff to take with a grain of salt…).

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