What is Garment Dye?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Garment dye is special dye that is used to add color to finished garments. There are a number of advantages to using this dye to color finished garments as opposed to dying raw fabric or individual pieces, and many companies that offer dyeing and fabric finishing have a division specifically for this purpose. People can also use dye at home to revitalize old garments, or to change the color of a garment to a more appropriate or desirable shade.

Bottles of garment dye.
Bottles of garment dye.

In the garment industry, garment dyeing is often touted as a highly flexible and useful type of dyeing. With garment dye, a company can customize the color of a batch of garments, dyeing anywhere between one and 1,000 (or more) garments. This process can be used to create custom garments for specific events, and also to create stock to respond to demands for particular colors and styles. “Just in time dyeing,” as it is sometimes called, can be used to manage inventory, ensuring that companies do not end up with an excess of unwanted clothes at the end of the season.

Garment dye is used to make tie dye t-shirts.
Garment dye is used to make tie dye t-shirts.

In contrast with garment dying, in which a whole, finished garment is dipped in a dye bath and processed, some manufacturers use piece dying, in which the cut pieces of fabric are dyed before the garment is assembled, or whole bolts of fabric are dyed and then cut as needed. The disadvantage to this technique is that if the color proves to be unpopular, the manufacturer will be stuck with clothes of the wrong color, and it may be unable to sell them.

In addition to being used on new clothes designed for retail sale, garment dye can also be applied to used clothes. Some companies offer dyes as part of their restoration services for older garments; they can either re-dye a garment with a color similar to that used originally, or they can radically change the color. The dye can also cover up stains and faded spots, as in the case of a taupe jacket that is dyed navy so that it can be used again.

For retailers, garment dye carries another advantage in addition to creating flexible inventory: garment-dyed goods are also preshrunk. This means that consumers know how clothes will fit when they are tried on in the store, and requests for returns are greatly reduced, since the garments will not shrink when washed and dried.

Fabric can be dyed in many colors.
Fabric can be dyed in many colors.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


The smell in garment dying is actually the alum needed for making the dye stick to cellulose fiber fiber reactive type. Protein fibers and nylon use acidic solutions (5% acidity solutions). I have no idea how synthetic dyes work.


I have a bit of a silly question -- if dyed shirts are preshrunk when you buy them from the store, how come they still shrink when you wash them after you get them home?


When I was in elementary school, we went on a field trip to a garment dye house, and I was really shocked to see how strong textile dye smells.

I guess that's something that people these days just don't think about, even though people from just a few generations back would have used textile dye as part of every-day life.

I guess that just goes to show you how fast things change -- I couldn't dye a T-shirt to save my life, but I know that my grandmother, and certainly her mother, would have had no problem.

Always interesting food for thought, at least for me.


When I was growing up, my dad had a really odd custom -- he would buy five white work shirts at the beginning of every year.

That was all well and good, except for the fact that they always got dirty because he worked outside a lot of the time. So to make the shirts last longer, when they got too old and too spotted, my mom would dye the white shirts navy blue, thus covering up all the stains and making it so my dad could keep using them.

To this day, I still remember the smell of shirt dye wafting through our house. Now that times have changed, they of course don't do the same thing anymore, but I know that both of my parents remember it, because they use it as one of those "uphill both ways" stories to tell my children when they complain about clothes!

Post your comments
Forgot password?