How to Turn Food Scraps into Natural Dye for clothing, food, paint, and more

The back-story of why I wanted to try to make DIY clothing dye out of food scraps is when I ordered some eco-friendly socks. I received three white pair of socks and hated the look of them. But, I knew it would be wasteful to send them back, so I wanted to revamp them instead.

Plus, repurposing food scraps is a great way to give them more life before composting AND this is so much better as there are no chemicals involved!

I had brainstormed using food scraps as a dye before for yarn so that was my first go-to. I chose this method as opposed to regular clothing dye because it's natural (better for my AND the earth) and I get to utilize food scraps...double zero-waste win!

I'm going to be honest, I wish I had taken more photos. But, nonetheless, I want to still provide you with the methods I used and what other foods might work!

Before: white

The process:

  1. Prep your dye: to do this, you simply need to collect your scraps, whatever that may be. Place them in a pot with however much water you will need. Amounts of water and scraps will vary depending on if you dye socks, a shirt, or sweatpants (for example). After making sure you have enough, place them on the stove and turn it to high heat. Bring to a boil and simmer one hour.

  2. Strain it: you aren't going to want chunks of avocado or cabbage on your clothing, so strain the dye really well making sure to get most, if not all, the pieces of food. After this, add the dye back to the pot and place it back on the stove, bringing back to a simmer.

  3. Prep the clothing: while your dye is simmering, use this as a chance to prep your clothing. This doesn't take much work. All you need to do is add some soap to a bowl or bucket of warm water and let your article of clothing sit for 30-60 minutes.

  4. Dye the clothing: one the clothing is prepped and the dye is strained, it's time to add the clothing! Wring out most of the suds from the clothing then simply add the clothing to the simmering dye and simmer for another hour. After that, leave the clothing in there for 24 hours (the longer, hopefully, the more vibrant).

  5. Dry the clothing: after the 1 hour of simmering and 24 hours of sitting, remove the clothing, wringing out slightly. I recommend air drying to help the color last as well as to prevent the color from leeching onto other articles.

That's it! How easy!?

Though I recently learned of another step I did not do, which might have affected my results, and that is to make a fixative. You will want to do a salt fixative for berry-based dyes and a vinegar fixative for the others. You can read more about fixatives here since I am not well-versed in that.

After: Purple (red cabbage)

What can I use as dye?

For my socks, I first tried blue butterfly pea flowers (which didn't work, more on that in a bit) for my blue mixture, and for the purple mixture, I used ends of purple cabbage and hibiscus flowers. The purple mixture turned out SO good, I highly recommend. I also used old, stretched-out hair ties to get this tye-dye effect. The blue mixture, not so much. It was so pale that I decided to try again, this time with activated charcoal powder. The black color faded a bit into gray, but I still enjoy it.

Here are some other colors you can try to achieve:

Colors may vary depending on where and when you get your fruits/veggies, how long you soak, the fabric, etc. Don't be discouraged!


- Turmeric

- Yellow onions

- Lemons and other citrus

- Chamomile flowers

- Celery leaves

- Marigolds

- Sunflowers

Reds (color might be more pink depending on the amount used):

- Beets

- Plums

- Cherries

- Pomegranates

- Rose petals (red or pink)

- Lavender


- Grapes

- Red/purple cabbage

- Purple sweet potato

- Blackberries


- Strawberries

- Raspberries

- Cleaned avocado pits and peels

- Hibiscus petals


- orange (haha)

- Carrots

- Orange sweet potato

- Paprika


- Spinach

- Other greens

- Stinging nettles (be careful picking!)

- Matcha

- Parsley

- Peppermint

- Artichokes


- Blueberries (might be a bit purple-y)

- Blue butterfly pea flowers

- Red/purple cabbage + baking soda

- Mulberries


- Black tea (you can even use used bags for extra zero-waste power)

- Cocoa powder

- Coffee

- Walnut hulls

- Acorns


- Activated charcoal

After: Blue (blue pea butterfly flowers)

After using these dyes to dye clothing, consider saving them for extra use! You can use them in foods, make your own paints, and more. If anything, use them to water your plants as they will only have added nutrients and the less clean water you have to consume!

I hope you enjoyed this process. If you want to see the video and the results be sure to check it out here! Let me know how you're using this dye!

Thanks for reading and, as always, remember that the small changes you make have a big impact in the long run :)


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