Dyeing in a front-loading HE washer

I have a Whirlpool Duet HE front-loading washer. I wanted to dye three pair of my husband’s 100% cotton jeans back to black, so I went online to search for how to do that on an HE front-loader. I found some instructions, but nothing that looked as if it would work well, so I did some testing, proceeded with the dyeing, and learned a few things that I can share.

Online instructions said to pour the dye through the plastic detergent dispenser as the washer filled. I know this is necessary because of the water level sensors in the machine, but I wasn’t willing to have a gray dispenser for the rest of the machine’s life, and if you’re reading this, I doubt you are either. So without further ado . . .

  • buy liquid dye, not powder. Shake the bottle to mix.
  • dissolve a cup of salt in hot water. When it’s dissolved, throw in ice cubes to lower the temp. I don’t know if the salt is necessary, but I’ve read to use it before, and I read it again, so I did.
  • pre wet the jeans –I did three pair– on a quick rinse, low-spin or no-spin cycle to get them wet.
  • remove all the “extra” parts on the washer’s dispenser, which are the little gate that you change, depending on whether you wash with powder or liquid detergent, and the whole top “lid” of the assembly as well.
  • cut a bottom corner out of a plastic bag; I used a ziploc because I had one. Tuck the cut corner down into the detergent compartment, as far back into the hole as you can–this is where the dye is going to flow in, bypassing all that nice white plastic you don’t want to dye. Turn the zip top of the bag out and down a little, forming a cuff that is more rigid and will hold its shape when you’re pouring the dye through. I had no worries about a ziploc going the same way as the liquid and getting hung up in the machine anywhere, but not knowing what kind of more-flexible bag you might use, it bears mentioning.
  • set cycle on bulky, cold water, low speed rinse. That should give you over an hour for a really good dye. And yes, I know they say to dye fabric on the hottest possible setting. Believe me, cold is the hottest temp I want on our jeans. I never wash them in warm, and I always hang them to dry. Tumbling them in the dryer later–on air, not heat–softens them up just fine for wearing. I have always dyed our jeans on cold. So I might have to redye them in a couple years, so what? It’s better than shopping for new ones.
  • start washer
  • when the washer starts filling with cold water –and this is just in the first couple minutes– pour the dye into the plastic bag. Follow with the salt water. I noticed that the right side of the dispenser was filling with cold water and not going into the machine at all (probably because I had the dispenser pulled forward and it couldn’t), so I estimated that it looked like three cups or so of water and I quickly poured three more cups of water down the chute to make up for it.
  • here’s the only tricky part. There was still a pocket of dye caught in the ziploc when I pulled it out. I could see it and prepare for it, but as careful as I was, there still was a little that escaped into the plastic dispenser. I got right on that with a rag and nothing stained.
  • go do something else and come back when the washer’s done. The jeans were beautiful black again! I did a quick wash and rinse on cold, just in case.
  • hang the jeans to dry, unless you normally dry them in the dryer anyway.
  • clean washer on hot with a load of towels and rags. I threw in some light rags, just to see if they’d pick up any tint from the dye process. They did not.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Danielle
    Jul 04, 2013 @ 20:54:24

    I know this post is old but I’m hoping you still drop by to check on comments from time to time. I wanted to ask how much ice should exactly be added to the salt? I’m worried that if we add too much it will dilute the mixture and mess with the outcome. Any advice?


    • Jenna McKnight
      Jul 05, 2013 @ 17:36:01

      I didn’t measure the ice. I can’t control how much water is used overall in the washer, so I don’t worry about too many ice cubes diluting the mixture. I just slip some cubes into the diluted mixture in the big glass measuring cup and let them sit a bit to chill the water down. Not a lot. But I wash our jeans on cold and never dry them, so I don’t want to add hot water when I dye them.


  2. Laura
    Aug 23, 2013 @ 22:17:14

    Brilliant! I Was Getting Very Tired Of Scrubbing Out The Dispenser Each Time I Dyed Jeans. ThankYou.


  3. Meghan
    Aug 20, 2014 @ 22:48:41

    Rubbing Alchohol is great for cleaning up dye mess because it dissolves the chemicals (( many dyes contain trace amounts of lead to set the dye, though I’m unsure about Rit )) which allows for a cleaner washing. I use Rubbing alchohol on all my cleanups even the machine.


  4. Margaret
    Aug 21, 2015 @ 08:22:55

    Used your idea and it worked great ! One tip I want o share with you, when I started to add the dye to the dispenser, I found that I could remove the entire dispenser drawer by depressing a lever in the back of the drawer !! Simply poured the dye down through the chute, wiped off with wet cloth. Replaced the drawer, no stains ! 🙂


    • Jenna McKnight
      Aug 21, 2015 @ 21:26:00

      I’ve had the drawer out to clean it, but did not know that everything would go where it was supposed to if I removed it for the dye. Thanks for the tip!


  5. Betsy Sundquist
    Oct 30, 2016 @ 21:41:28

    Ladies!! Thank you all for this info!! I plan to try it tomorrow on some curtains I made.


  6. Tim
    Jun 22, 2017 @ 15:40:52

    Ok . . . I MAY be the only guy on here, but really appreciate the instructions (I have an HE front loader).

    My favorite jeans color is no longer available, so I’m going to give this a try to get to a DARK blue (probably going to mix a bottle of dark blue & black dye).


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