How to Make Natural Dyes from Fruits and Vegetables

By Mali Anderson in Thinking Sustainably

For thousands of years, vegetables, fruits, and other plants have been used to make homemade dyes. Learning how to make natural dyes yourself is easy, eco-friendly, and fun. While artificial coloring is not usually considered harmful, it's not nutritious, either, notes the Mayo Clinic, and more and more consumers are choosing to avoid it. Tint your food, clothes, and more with homemade plant-based colors.

glass of homemade beet dye

Getting Started

Homemade dyes are a great way to get more out of your kitchen scraps and teach kids about sustainability.

First, decide what color dye you want to make. Some of this might be dictated by what you have on hand. You'll want about a cup of the fruit or vegetable scraps like onion skins, carrot tops, or squashed blueberries. Food52 shares some suggestions for what plants can produce what colors:

  • Red. Beets, red berries
  • Orange and yellow. Onion skins, turmeric
  • Green. Spinach and leafy greens (If you wear gloves to pick and handle it, the stinging nettle that grows in your backyard also makes a nice bright green!)
  • Blue. Red cabbage and baking soda
  • Purple. Blueberries
  • Brown. Used tea bags

Then, place your chopped vegetable or fruit into a small saucepan and cover with water. Use twice the amount of water to the amount of fruit or vegetable. Heat to a boil, then simmer for about an hour. Let water cool to room temperature and strain. Now your handmade dye is ready to use!

Coloring Fabrics

Vegetable dyes are great for a summer tie-dye adventure or revamping a stained white shirt or towel. Make sure the item you want to dye is a white or pale cloth made of a natural fiber like cotton. Any fabric that looks shiny or feels slick like a raincoat is probably a polyester or rayon blend and won't hold dye.

First, boil the fabric in a mixture of one part vinegar to four parts water for about an hour. Rinse with cold water. Next, submerge the fabric in your homemade dye. Let it soak until it reaches the color you want.

Make Your Own Face Paint

When the kids in the neighborhood are calling for a face-painting session, you can make your own. Your face paint will be free of chemicals, and you'll likely have everything you need without taking a trip to the store.

  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 2 tsp. of your favorite lotion
  • a small amount of homemade dye.

Stir together cornstarch and lotion. Add your vegetable dye a few drops at a time until the paint reaches your desired color.

dyed egg

Naturally Colored Eggs

Kitchen scraps and used tea blends are an excellent way to add color to your hard-boiled eggs. After you have strained your vegetables or fruits, add a splash of vinegar to your dye and allow to cool. Then, place your hard-boiled eggs into small jars filled with color and let them sit until the eggs are the color you want. For some, it will take an hour or two. If you are looking to get more vibrant hues, you may want to have the eggs soak in the fridge overnight.

Natural dyes are also great for tinting cake frosting, cookies, or even pancakes. As long as you add color sparingly, they shouldn't carry over any vegetable flavors.

Learning how to make natural dyes is fun and costs nearly nothing. Plus, you are teaching your kids another way to be eco-friendly. Just remember, homemade dyes can stain. So wear your apron when you are ready to experiment!

Have you made homemade dyes? Share your results on Twitter!

Image source: Mali Anderson | Pixabay | Pixabay

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Why It’s Good

Colors can be fun to play with, but not all dyes are natural. So make your own homemade dyes! It is easy, eco-friendly, and you likely have what you need in your kitchen.