We love tie-dye, but could do without the dyed hands, repeated rinsing and stained sink. Enter: Sharpie tie-dye shirts to the rescue!   This crafty kids’ science activity is the perfect solution! It’s a fun way to explore solvents with tie-dye but skip the mess.

Want more kids’ science?! Hop over to our shop and snag our 30 Science Experiments that kids will beg to repeat!

Getting Ready

The prep for this Sharpie tie-dye activity couldn’t be easier.  I grabbed a couple pre-washed white cotton t-shirts, Sharpies in several colors, an eye dropper and squirt bottle of isopropyl rubbing alcohol. I also used a flexible cutting board (thick cardboard works well, too) to place inside the shirt to keep the marker from bleeding through to the back of the shirt.


Sharpie Tie-Dye Magic

Before starting, I asked my daughter, A,  to think of what design she wanted before picking up a Sharpie.  She decided she wanted a firework and seemed pretty determined to complete her design completely on her own. I did show her how to hold the marker down on the shirt and count to three to make a larger size dot.  The larger the dot, the more vibrant the color after the alcohol is added.


Once my daughter completed her design, I showed her how to use alcohol as a solvent to dissolve and spread the dye.  For smaller designs, she dripped a few drops of alcohol on the design using an eye dropper and watched the color slowly bleed. For the larger fireworks, A wanted a lot of spread, so she used the squirt bottle to add a little more alcohol.


She didn’t mind if her firework bled together, but if you do, wait about 15 minutes until the first design is mostly dry before adding alcohol to the next design.

Once done, my daughter couldn’t wait to design the next Sharpie tie-dye shirt.  We placed the first t-shirt outside to dry.  With permanent marker and alcohol, this activity can get a little smelly so if you can’t do it outside, make sure you have good ventilation.

For the second shirt, A wanted a heart design.  I helped her by making a light heart shape with pencil on the shirt and reminded her to count to three to get large dots of color.  A loved squirting on the alcohol solvent and watching it dissolve the colors across the t-shirt.  I had to remind her that if she too much alcohol, her colors wouldn’t be bright.


Once both shirts were dry (about 15 minutes) I popped them in the dryer on high for 10-15 minutes and they were ready to wear.  The hot dryer set the colors, but I still washed ours separately on delicate for the first few washes.

The Science Behind It

Sharpie tie-dye isn’t magic without a little science!  A solvent is any substance that dissolves a solute.  A solute is any substance, gas liquid, or solid, that is dissolved by a solvent.

Permanent markers, like Sharpies, are hydrophobic.  Hydrophobic, or “water-fearing”, substances that will not dissolve in water.  That’s why permanent markers won’t wash away with water.

The ink molecules in the Sharpies, however, are soluble {they will dissolve} in a different solvent.  The solvent {rubbing alcohol} you dropped over the dye dissolved the ink molecules and carried them with it as it spread across the t-shirt.

Extensions with Sharpie Tie-Dye

Experiment in the kitchen by trying to dissolve salt in oil and water.

Try dissolving lip balm or wax in water and oil (You’ll need to warm this.)

Try dropping a few drops of food coloring in water and oil to watch if and how it dissolves.

Add the same amount of salt to water and alcohol and observe the differences in solubility.

The Super Cool Science Kit

For even more fun, check out our mega pack of insanely cool science experiments for kids. Turn an egg to rubber, whip up a tornado in a jar, separate the colors of M&M’s and much, much more!

Similar Posts


  1. This was a delightful activity for my 6 year old and I! Since we are quarantined, we’ve made the whole family shirts and the Boys boxers…they came out great!
    Thanks again

    1. How fun, Stefanie!
      Thanks for sharing 🙂
      Stay well!
      Ashley // Happiness Ambassador

  2. I’m a home schooling great grandmother, Not a regular teacher, Really like your site, the projects you have shown and how to use them. A lot of these will help with my 11 yr old, Thank You.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *