How to Dye Burlap

    by Sarah Scott

    About the Author

    Sarah Scott has been writing for a variety of publications since 1994. Scott majored in English at California State University in Sacramento. She has worked as a teacher and tutor and enjoys teaching others. Her experience includes news copy, online articles, technical manuals as well as printed business advertisements.


    Burlap is a versatile and inexpensive material used for a variety of purposes. It is typically made from any coarsely woven fibers such as flax, hemp or most commonly jute. Because burlap is made from a natural, rather than synthetic, fibers, fiber-reactive dyes must be used to color it. Fiber-reactive dyes can be purchased at craft and fabric stores and from online specialty retailers.

    Things You'll Need

    • Burlap fabric
    • Fiber reactive dye
    • Synthrapol detergent
    • Measuring cup
    • Small bowl
    • Urea
    • Large basin or tub
    • Non-iodized salt
    • Soda ash
    • Stirring utensil
    • Gloves
    • Measuring spoon

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    Prewash the burlap in hot water. Add 1/4 cup of Synthrapol, a type of washing detergent that removes sizing, to the washing machine. This step is particularly important if there is any chance the burlap has any sort of oil or dirt on it.

    Mix the dye into warm water. Make a paste by mixing a small amount of warm water with the fiber reactive dye. Use a non-metallic utensil to combine the water with the dye. The result will be a thick, pasty consistency. Once the dye has dissolved, add 1 cup of warm water to the paste and stir until the paste has been evenly distributed into the warm water. Add all of the dye to the tub that you'll use to color the fabric and mix it thoroughly.

    Dissolve non-iodized salt in a little water at a lukewarm temperature. Add the salt-water mixture to the dyeing tub, which may be a washing machine or any large container.

    Place the fabric into the dyeing tub. Agitate the fabric and dye together for 20 minutes. This is where the use of a washing machine comes in handy, because it can be set to agitate to ensure the fabric is continuously stirred. Ensure that the water doesn’t drain out of the washing machine before 20 minutes. If a washing machine is not available, use a utensil, such as a large wooden spoon, to stir the fabric in the dye gently.

    Add the soda ash and water mixture to the tub, slowly. It is important that the fabric and dye are stirred continuously during this time. It takes about 15 minutes to add the soda ash in small increments to the tub. Take care not to pour the soda ash directly onto the fabric because it will lead to discoloration and uneven dyeing. After the soda ash has been added to the tub, continue to agitate the mixture of soda ash, fabric and dye together for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

    Rinse out the excess dye from the burlap fabric. This can be done by running cool water over the dyed burlap until the water runs clear or by placing the fabric into washing machine’s rinse cycle multiple times. After the water runs clear from the burlap, wash the dyed burlap in the washing machine using hot water and Synthrapol detergent.

    • Use 1 1/2 cups of salt and 1/6 cup of soda ash for every 1 1/2 gallons of water in your dye bath.
    • If the dye does not easily dissolve into the water, add 1 tablespoon of urea to a cup of warm water prior to adding the fabric to the dye.
    • Wear gloves to protect hands as reactive dye stains on hands can last for weeks.
    • Cover the area near the dye completely with multiple layers of newspaper or a painter's drop cloth. Clean up spills promptly.

    Photo Credits

    • Hemera Technologies/ Images