Does Kool-Aid really work as a hair dye?

Photos: Newscast, Jacob Wackerhausen/Getty Images
Photos: Newscast, Jacob Wackerhausen/Getty Images

Snow day: The two words that strike terror in the hearts of parents and equal amounts of glee in the hearts of children. As Chicago bared down for its latest snowpacolypse, our public school system shut down for the first time in a few years, my daughter’s after-school playdate stretched into a sleepover, and I was just grateful to have a job that lets me work from home if I need to (unlike my husband, who headed out in a pre-dawn Lyft).


My son spent the day angling for sledding excursions, but for my daughter and her friend, something a little more crafty was in order. Some of their friends had been dyeing their hair with Kool-Aid, which seemed to be a fun, nontoxic, relatively semi-permanent way to amp up your middle-school hairstyle. And the girls both have long, extremely thick, wonderful hair: My daughter—a mysterious buttery blonde, as my husband and I are both dark-haired—and her adorable brunette pal.

Photos: Gwen Ihnat
Photos: Gwen Ihnat

It wasn’t difficult to find a multitude of YouTube videos and online illustrations regarding the process: I chose to use Kool-Aid liquid instead of packets, thinking it would be easier to mix. Unfortunately, the blue on one of the bottles fooled me, as it was actually red for tropical punch. Pro-tip: Go for blue raspberry if you want blue hair. So we stuck with grape, the flavor/color of purple. My whole house smells like grape right now. We boiled some water and added it to the Kool-Aid syrup in a little bowl. We then put the dissolved Kool-Aid in coffee cups for easier hair dipping.

The next step was to section off the girls’ hair into ponytails, measuring how far in they wanted to dip the hair, from tips to ends. My daughter went pretty far in, a few inches. Then they had to stay like that, 10 minutes per side, to let the Kool-Aid set. Welcome to the inconvenience of beauty treatments, girls.

Photos: Gwen Ihnat
Photos: Gwen Ihnat

Once the 10 minutes were up, I dried them off as much as possible with clean rags and paper towels, to avoid the distinct possibility of dyeing the entire house purple. We then pulled out the hair dryer, and viewed the results after drying. The eventual revelation was much more exciting for one head of hair than the other. As I once spent an entire seventh-grade sleepover wrestling with some henna that had literally no ultimate effect, I told the brunette in the room that I could sadly relate. Maybe a lighter color would have worked better. Stupid blue.


But my daughter was pretty excited, as it’s the most she’s ever changed her appearance outside of a haircut. I’m willing to give it a try myself: Kool-Aid is considerably cheaper than my pricey highlights. Overall, Kool-Aid hair dye worked pretty well for a snow-day activity; for us non-sledding types, the view from inside was imminently preferable.

Photo: Gwen Ihnat
Photo: Gwen Ihnat

Kool-Aid hair dye

You will need:

  • preferred bottle of Kool-Aid liquid for color
  • boiling water (about 2 cups)
  • small bowl
  • hair elastics
  • coffee or styrofoam cups for hair dipping
  • A mega-ton of clean rags and paper towels
  • blow-dryer

Dissolve liquid in boiling water in small bowl, then pour into coffee cups. Separate hair into two low ponytails, and dip into cup, 10 minutes per side for thick hair. Then pat dry as quickly as possible, following up with hair dryer. You can eventually follow up with shampoo (to get the stickiness out) but the color should hopefully last at least for a few shampoo rounds.


Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.



Old school punk rock advice:

You can die you’re hair with Koolaid. But the above is the wrong way to go about it. It’ll work OK. Color won’t be great. It won’t show up well in dark hair. And it won’t last long. Which is probably a great low impact way to do this with kids.

To do it right you want the powder. The old school packets. The concentrated non-sweetened powder you have to add sugar too to make a drink. Since they’re concentrated and there’s not much else in there it contains the best concentration on dye to other shit.

You need to bleach your hair first. Dark hair the dye from Koolaid won’t show at all. And even if you’re blond its not going to take very well unless you bleach the shit out of your hair first.

You mix your concentrated powder into a paste. Just enough liquid to make it smoothly spreadable. I even knew kids who mixed it with crisco or hair jell. The idea is to get a large amount of it evenly coating the hair you’re looking to dye. And you leave it for a good long time. I think 30 minutes was the usual length.

Even then its not a very good way to dye your hair. Its gonna dye the fuck out of your skin too, if you’re not extremely careful. The color that comes out is extremely variable. You need a ton of Koolaid to do it right. And the color will not stay around long. Shit fades fast. You’re basically dying hair with food coloring. You can cut to the chase and use food coloring. For pretty much the exact same effect. Some of  the most concentrated food colorings come in gel form which would make it even easier.

A tub of this

Is stupid cheap. Will create lasting color, without being out and out permanent. And is widely available. You still want to bleach the hair first for the best color. And there are better dyes out there. But its the classic for teen or pre-teen dyes their hair a stupid color.