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Rust Dye: How to Dye Fabric with Rusty Objects

Updated on June 4, 2014

Use Rusty Metal to Dye Fabric

It's happened to me before. I've set something metal on cloth and it dried leaving a rust stain. This is never a good thing when you don't plan to add rust to your clothes.

But if you like the patina of rust, you can rust dye fabric on purpose to very pleasing effect. I'll show you how to dye fabric using rusty objects. It's easier than you might think.

If you're like me and think the color of rust is lovely, this easy dyeing method will have you dyeing fabric with brown designs in no time at all.

The photo shows a rust man, if you use your imagination! To make this rust pattern, I used metal pieces set on the fabric to resemble a man. The metal included washers, nails, nuts, springs, a small saw blade, and other miscellaneous junk. A photo of the metal used is shown below, which shows a much clearer rust man. The rusted fabric shows how some pieces just work better than others.

Photo credit for all photos of how to do rust dyeing: Peggy Hazelwood

Rust Man Pieces - What It Looked Like First

Rust man in pieces before fabric was rust dyed.
Rust man in pieces before fabric was rust dyed.

This photo shows the rusty metal pieces I used to make the rust man shown above. The nuts and wire on the left were meant to be flowers, but they didn't "take" very well. You just never know and that's a lot of the fun of dyeing fabric with rust.

Gather Rusty Metal Objects (aka Junk)

The first step of rust dyeing is to find rusty metal junk. This can include old washers, nails, screws, keys,

bottle caps, nuts, bolts, springs, pieces of screen,

flat metal pieces like saw blades,

and just about anything else.

Make sure it's already rusty. These pieces

transfer the most rust on your fabric.

Rusty Objects for Rust Dyeing - Make Sure the Metal is Already Rusty

An assortment of rusty junk for rust dyeing.
An assortment of rusty junk for rust dyeing.

Use Long-Handled Magnets to Find Rusty Objects - Attracts Any Metal Containing Iron

I love my long-handled magnet. I found everything shown in the photo above with my magnet (and so much more junk!). To find really old rusty stuff, be sure to visit older parts of town with dirt alleys and vacant lots. You'll be surprised at all the junk, er, treasures you'll find!

Rusty Junk Yields Fun Designs

Rusty Junk Yields Fun Designs
Rusty Junk Yields Fun Designs

Supplies: Vinegar and Water and a Spray Bottle

You'll need a spray bottle (used is fine, just be sure to clean it well and rinse before use).

Add 1 part vinegar and 1 part water to your bottle. Shake to mix and you're ready for

the next step of fabric dyeing with rust.

Recycle a Spray Bottle - or Buy a Spray Bottle for the Vinegar and Water Mixture

Whip up some half vinegar/half water in a spray bottle.
Whip up some half vinegar/half water in a spray bottle.

To do rust dyeing, you'll just need a few supplies. You probably already have most of them around the house.

First, you'll need vinegar, water, and a spray bottle. I used a glass cleaner bottle that was almost empty. I just cleaned the bathroom mirrors and sinks and then it was empty! I washed out the bottle and sprayer.

To the clean bottle, I added 1 part water to 1 part vinegar. I used 1 cup of each, added it to the bottle, and shook it up. I was ready to go. Use a clean used spray bottle or a new one.

Supplies: White Cotton Fabric

The picture shown below is a white cotton dish towel that I used for my first rust dyeing projects.

I suggest you practice on an old piece of fabric.

It can be white or colored. Rust will tone down bright colors, so that can be an interesting look, too!

Cotton accepts dye well, but feel free to experiment!

Fabric for Rust Dyeing - White Cotton Works Well

White cotton fabric with small holes.
White cotton fabric with small holes.

For my first fabric rust dyeing projects, I used an old white cotton dish towel that was already distressed. It had a few little holes and has been mended more than once, plus it's stained. But I wanted to experiment so thought this was the perfect fabric for my first try at rust dye.

Choose Old Metal Pans

Aluminum pie pans work great for rust dye projects.
Aluminum pie pans work great for rust dye projects.

I used a couple of recycled aluminum pie pans for this project. I figured whatever I used might actually get rusted and aluminum wouldn't so these seemed to be a good choice. I use them exclusively for my rust dye projects now.

Line each pan with a piece of the fabric. Spray the fabric with the vinegar/water mixture until the fabric is soaked.

Rusty Metal Objects - Random Designs

Arrange the rusty metal objects on top of the wet fabric.
Arrange the rusty metal objects on top of the wet fabric.

This is the fun part! Arrange the rusty metal pieces in a random (or organized) design. I decided to just fill up the fabric for this rust dyeing project. Some of these pieces worked better than others.

NOTE: This photo is how the metal was arranged to create the fabric shown below.

Notice how many of the pieces didn't "take" and some didn't show up entirely. That's the rustic beauty of rust dyeing. No two pieces of rust dyed fabric will ever be the same.

Random Patterns of Rust Dyeing

Random Patterns of Rust Dyeing
Random Patterns of Rust Dyeing

Rusty Found Objects - "Dyeing" to Do Their Thing

More rusty found objects arranged to rust dye the fabric.
More rusty found objects arranged to rust dye the fabric.

How To Rust Dye Fabric

After arranging the rusty metal objects on top

of the wet (vinegar/water) fabric, spray the metal

and fabric again with the vinegar/water.

Place inside a plastic bag. I used grocery bags.

Close the bags and weigh down the metal

as best you can so the metal pieces press into

the cloth. I used heavy pans full of water (photo below).

Leave a few hours or overnight.

The longer you wait, the darker the rust will appear.

More Instructions for Rust Dyeing

Remove the metal pieces and rinse

them off to use again, if you want, and let them air dry.

Next, rinse the cloth you dyed in plenty of water

(a dishpan works great) with 1/4 cup

of salt added. Swish the fabric around.

The salt water will neutralize the rust so it

will stop rusting the fabric and so it "sets."

Wash the fabric if needed, and dry it. Iron or not.

Weigh the Metal Down - Use Heavy Objects to Press the Metal into the Cloth

I used a pan and a tea kettle full of water to press the rusty metal objects into the fabric.
I used a pan and a tea kettle full of water to press the rusty metal objects into the fabric.

Supplies for Making Rust Dye Projects - In Case You Don't Have These Items Around the House

You might already have all of these craft supplies, but in case you don't here are some to get you started doing rust dyeing projects. It's so much fun!

Roll the Fabric

To get a more thorough rust coverage on your fabric, instead of laying the fabric flat, layer rusty junk in the folds of fabric. Then roll the fabric into a lump to let the layers pick up rustiness from other layers.

Spray the fabric well with the water and vinegar mixture to ensure good rust coverage.

Use Rust Dyed Fabric in Your Projects

Use the fabric with the rusty patina in your altered art, quilting, collage, or any craft or sewing project.

NOTE: The rust weakens the fabric so it is advised to use the rust-dyed cloth in projects that won't be washed often.

Things to Make with Rust-Dyed Fabric - Use It for Any of Your Craft or Sewing Projects

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Star made with rusty fabric.Bookmark made with rust-dyed cloth.Top-stitched flower coaster.
Star made with rusty fabric.
Star made with rusty fabric.
Bookmark made with rust-dyed cloth.
Bookmark made with rust-dyed cloth.
Top-stitched flower coaster.
Top-stitched flower coaster.

Rust Dyed Fabric

Rust Dyed Fabric
Rust Dyed Fabric

Affiliate Disclosure

Just an FYI:

This author, Peggy Hazelwood, participates in Amazon, eBay, All Posters, and other affiliate advertising programs. When you click an advertising link on this page and make a purchase, I receive a small percent of the sale. Thank you for reading this far!

Have You Tried to Rust Dye Fabric? - Was it on purpose or an accident?

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    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 3 years ago

      Looks like you could get some interesting patterns with this technique.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 3 years ago from Land of Aloha

      It was an accident, but I wish I'd have thought of doing this on purpose. What a nice effect!

    • Natalie W Schorr profile image

      Natalie W Schorr 3 years ago

      Really interesting ideas!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 4 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      What a clever idea ... and I've learned something new today. Almost akin to Tye-dying isn't it? Well done. And congrats on your 'rusty' Purple Star. LOL.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      You are getting to be the queen of junk. I never would have thought of making patterns with rusty things. I do like collecting up old junk, but don't usually find anything to do with it.

    • Julia Morais profile image

      Julia Morais 4 years ago

      Have a white top with Cookie Monster in front. It was stained, so i was about to get rid of it. Now, i have an idea what i can do with it instead. Great idea.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I like the creases that are added to rust print, if I rinse fabric these could disappear do I have to rinse in salted water?

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @Gypzeerose: No. Camp Grandma, huh? Will have to check it out!

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      Have you ever heard about Camp Grandma? This would be a huge hit there. Pinned to my Crafts I love Board - fabulous.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @SnipClips: Yes, that's a great idea! I have some projects in mind and will add finished pieces here (if I ever get them made!).

    • profile image

      Ruthi 5 years ago

      How crafty you are, Peggy! But, where were you and this rust-dyeing tutorial years ago when rust ruined my favorite jean skirt?

    • SnipClips profile image

      SnipClips 5 years ago

      Using the rust dyed fabric might be nice for making those fabric collage journals.

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 5 years ago

      You can turn nothing into something - every time! What a fun lens (dn)...

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 5 years ago

      Oh no, it was always an accident and I thought rust ate holes in fabric, so you've pleasantly surprised me. Nice, so nice!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @lesliesinclair: Rust can eat holes in fabric if left too long! I just love the look for projects you display. I don't think I'll rust dye my clothes though!

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      Absolutely awesome! I've accidentally used rust as a dye plenty of times, but it never occurred to me to use this technique intentionally. Brilliant! Your crafts pages are always so great, and I love your focus on found/undervalued treasures.

    • profile image

      jtbmetaldesigns 5 years ago

      Hey I like this idea. I might want to do random rust stains on cotton and then drip navy blue RIT on the white areas for contrast.

    • profile image

      bossypants 5 years ago

      You come up with the most interesting projects! Altho I, too, have gotten rust on fabrics by mistake, I would never have thought to do it on purpose for crafting! Clever, clever!

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      I love rusty objects but have never considered doing it to fabric on purpose! :)

    • mysweetjane lm profile image

      mysweetjane lm 5 years ago

      great idea to make something unique!

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 5 years ago

      You know I love all things Surface Design; thanks for sharing, I always enjoy your Lenses.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @BetsiGoutal1: I "take my magnet for walks" in alleys and have found SO much junk. It's wonderful! I love doing that. I'm the crazy magnet lady, I tell ya! Thanks for letting me know about your lens. Off to check it out!

    • BetsiGoutal1 profile image

      BetsiGoutal1 5 years ago

      I pinned this too! I love the beauty of random rusted things - I own the book Secret of Rusty Things and also have a lens about Rust Art... so yeah, we're kindred spirits! Where did you find all that glorious rusty junk? The long handled magnet is way cool, but I'm just curious... did you find that junk in your backyard or did you have to go to a junkyard or something like that?

    • Barkely profile image

      Barkely 5 years ago

      Love this idea! I'm Pinning it for later so I can give it a try. I think I have done it accidentally before! Hah!