Quick, what color do you think of when you hold an avocado in your mind’s eye? The almost-black of its skin, the yellow-green ombré of its ripe flesh, the mahogany-hued pit at its center? Chances are, pink never enters the picture. But simmer a few avocado pits in water for an hour, and something unexpected happens: You create a deep red liquid that can be used to turn cotton towels, linens, t-shirts, and more the dreamiest range of blush hues.
Pretty remarkable, no? And while many natural dyes require a mordant (a plant- or metal-based fixative used to bind dye to fabric), avocado pits contain tannins that naturally encourage this process—which means working with them is an exercise in foolproof food-based creativity. With a handful of avocados and a free afternoon, you’ll have almost everything you need to refresh a batch of ho-hum fabrics—and whip up a bowl of guacamole, too. (Bonus!) The steps are simple: Just remove and clean the pits, heat in a pot of water, and soak your fabric once the dye has developed. Ready to get started? Read on.
At a glance
Time: 3+ hours
You will need:
- natural-fiber tea towels in white (look for 100% cotton or linen)
- baking soda or gentle detergent
- plastic bag
- 5 to 8 avocados
- cutting board and knife
- bowl and spoon
- large stock pot
- wooden spoon or mesh strainer
Step 1: Prep the towels
Prewash tea towels with a gentle detergent or a scoop of baking soda. This will remove any dirt and oils and prepare the fabric to receive the dye. Once clean (but still damp), store the towels in a plastic bag or sealed container so they retain some moisture until you’re ready to add them to the dye bath.
Step 2: Harvest the avocado pits
Step 3: Prepare the dye bath
Cut each avocado in half and use a spoon to scoop the pits into a bowl. Save the avocados for another use (we suggest a batch of guacamole). Gently wash the avocado pits, removing any leftover bits of the flesh.
Step 4: Heat the dye
Pour water into a large stock pot, adding just enough to cover the towels you’ll be dyeing while still allowing the material to move freely. Add the avocado pits to the pot. The more avocado pits you add, the deeper the color will be.
Step 5: Remove the avocado pits
Bring the water to a low boil on the stove, then reduce to a simmer. After 20 to 60 minutes, the water will begin to turn pinkish orange and then darken to a deep burgundy. Keep simmering until the water reaches this dark shade. (It’s OK to simmer for longer than 60 minutes if necessary.)
Step 6: Add your fabric to the pot
Turn off the heat and use a wooden spoon to remove the pits, skin, and any residue from the pot. Or, for a cleaner dye bath, pour the liquid through a mesh strainer and return it to the pot.
Step 7: Remove and rinse
Drop the damp tea towels into the pot and fully submerge; gently stir, then set aside. The longer you leave the material in the pot, the more vibrant the color will be. For a lighter shade of pink, leave the towels in the dye bath for about 30 to 60 minutes. For a deeper color, leave them in the dye pot overnight. Feel free to experiment to get your desired shade.
Once the towels have reached the desired shade, remove them from the pot and set aside for a few minutes to cool. Gently wring out any excess liquid and hang to dry. Once dried, rinse the towels with cold water or wash with a phosphate-free detergent. Hang to dry.
Ready to branch out? Consider a natural-dye starter kit:
Projects, styling, and photography by Hannah Bridge, Brigette Muller, and Jessica Ulrich.