Monthly Archives: October 2014

iDye plus iDye Poly didn’t work on cotton pants. What is my next step?

Name: Bernie
Country or region: Vancouver, Canada
Message: Hello Paula,

I have a quick question about dying.

I have two pairs of pants, one in black and one in a light beige colour. Both are of the same style and fit, just different colours. Now that I’ve worn the black pants for about a year, they’ve faded quite a bit. I only wore the light beige ones several times. Now I want to dye both of them to black. On the tag, it says they are 98% cotton and 2% polyester (followed by another line that says 100% cotton; I don’t know, I bought these pants in Korea).

I tried iDye today. I mixed both a regular pack of iDye and a single pack of iDye Poly together (two packs together) in 1L of boiling water, dumped it into my laundry machine, followed by a cup of table salt pre-dissolved in water, and then threw in my pre-soaked pants, and washed them for 1:30. Results were not very satisfying. The pants only darkened a little bit. However, I want to point out that:

1) The water may have not been hot enough in my washer as I ran the bathtub faucet a little bit too long soaking the pants and the washer’s hot water temperature might have been affected (in which case I might try out the stove-top method)
1A) If I do the stove-top method, won’t the intense heat cause my pants to shrink or the fibers to break down?

2) I have a front-loading washer. When I poured the pre-dissolved salt and iDye solution in the machine, it went through the holes in the washer drum and I’m not sure if some it got drained or not. But when I turned on the wash and came back 30 minutes later, the pants were all covered thoroughly in a black dye (which surprised me more when post-rinse and spin that the pants barely changed).

Now, Paula, I seek your assistance. From Googling and doing some research, it seems that you are one of the more knowledgeable people on this topic on the internet and I am curious what you would recommend as my next step.

Thank you!

Hi Bernie,

The problem is a combination of choosing the correct dye for the fiber, and using the correct temperature for the dye. The dye that I recommend for your project, Procion MX dye, will work well on cotton without having to use high heat.

The iDye Poly works only on synthetic fibers and only when boiled with the clothing, at least at a simmer but preferably at a good rolling boil, for at least half an hour. iDye Poly does not work in the washing machine, because it’s not hot enough. Even when used correctly, though, it will have little effect on clothing that contains only 2% polyester. Only one thread in fifty will even take the dye at all! Polyester dye does not color cotton at all; no matter how you apply it, it will wash out of the cotton. It’s great for clothing that contains, say, 50% polyester, when combined with the plain iDye for natural fibers to dye the non-polyester portion of the fibers in the fabric. However, you are right to be concerned about shrinkage when boiling cotton or cotton-blend fabric.

Seam stitching is nearly always made of polyester, which stays the original color when dyed with cotton dye. This may be a problem for you when you successfully dye your beige pants black with cotton dye. Did the iDye Poly color the threads at the seams of the beige pants? Probably not, because you were not heating the pants in the dye on the stovetop.

Clothing that is 98% cotton is best dyed with fiber reactive dye, such as Procion MX dye. Fiber reactive dye is better than direct dye (the type that is in iDye for natural fibers), because it lasts longer in the clothing, and because it can be applied at room temperature. Direct dye requires very hot water, preferably close to boiling, though it can work in the washing machine if the water temperature is at least 140°F (60°C). If, like many people, you have your water heater set to 120°F or below, to reduce the risk of scald injuries, you are less likely to have acceptable results with direct dye, unless your washing machine itself heats the water to a much higher temperature.

Unlike direct dye, Procion dye can be set with sodium carbonate (using either washing soda or soda ash, but not baking soda), instead of heat. It will work at temperatures as low as 70°F (21°C), though warmer temperatures are better. You can use a five- or ten-gallon plastic bucket, if you’re willing to stir it for an hour, or you can use a washing machine. Top-loading washers are better than front-loaders for dyeing, but there are instructions available for dyeing with Procion MX dye in a front-loader. Dharma Trading Company provides a recipe for “Garment Dyeing With a Front Load Washing Machine”, and Jacquard Products includes instructions for a front-loading washer near the bottom of their “Procion MX Instructions” PDF page. The fact that your pants did become visibly soaked with black dye is encouraging, even though that dye did not work.

When dyeing black, always be sure to use a lot of dye. It takes more dye powder to obtain a dark black than to obtain any other color, regardless of what type of dye you are using. For each pound of dry cotton fabric that you are dyeing, you will want to use 30 grams of black Procion MX dye powder. That’s a whole ounce! Paler colors can be obtained with much smaller quantities of dye.

In Vancouver, you can buy Procion MX dye from Maiwa Handprints. They have a shop on Granville Island, and they also sell online, as do Dharma Trading Company and other good dye suppliers. Another Canadian online source of Procion MX dyes is G&S Dye in Toronto. See my page of Sources for Dyeing Supplies Around the World.

I have to mention one other possible cause of your problem. If the pants were treated with a surface finish, such as stain-resistance or an anti-wrinkle finish, even Procion dye may not work for you. There is always a risk of failure when re-dyeing commercially-made clothing that isn’t sold specifically for dyeing. It usually works out okay, but there’s a small but real chance that it won’t work at all.

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comparison of dye costs

I posted this in the Dye Forum a few years ago. (I’m working now on bringing back a forum on this site.) The numbers will be a little different now, but the overall comparisons will probably be pretty much the same. Please comment if you know of any interesting changes.

I thought it would be interesting to compare the prices for different types and brands of dyes. You cannot simply compare the price per ounce, since some dyes are so much stronger than others. To make a fair comparison, I took the amount of dye recommended, for each dye type, to dye one pound of fabric or yarn to a medium shade, and divided it into the cost of that dye from various sources. For dyes that cost different amounts for the different colors, I averaged together the prices of the three main primary colors. Prices for the same types of dye varied considerably from one distributor to another, especially between different countries.

The table below is sorted by the cost of enough dye to color one pound of fiber/fabric. The cost of Procion MX dyes varies from 40 cents per pound of fiber to $2.47! Direct dye is much cheaper than Procion MX dyes (but does not perform nearly as well). Procion MX dyes are considerably cheaper than other types of fiber reactive dyes, when purchased in jars of at least 2 ounces of dye. Lanaset dye, a high quality wool dye that is rather expensive, is considerably cheaper per pound of wool dyed than all-purpose dye such as Rit. The wide variety of prices for the same dyes in different locations is surprising…

The sources of dyes in the table below are in the US when not otherwise indicated. All prices are given in US dollars. The small quantities of dyes that artists use seem to be much cheaper in the US than in most other countries. In some cases the price differential is so large that it may be cheaper to pay overseas postage from the US rather than buying locally. (I know that Synthesia in the Czech Republic is cheaper than the other European sources I know, but they don’t have price quotes on their web site, and they sell only one-kilo quantities and larger.)

The prices for the natural dyes in the table below are overestimates because I was using the weight recommended for a deep shade, whereas the other dyes are adjusted for the amount required for a medium shade, and the Rit dyes for a “pale to medium” shade.

dye type and source cost to dye one pound
Direct (Dharma Industrial, 1 lb) $0.06
Direct (Prochem Diazol, 2 oz) $0.22
Kiton Acid (ProChem, 2 oz) $0.39
Procion MX (Jacquard, 8 oz) $0.40
Procion MX (ProChem, 8 oz jars) $0.44
Disperse dyes for synthetics (ProChem, 2 oz)              $0.44
Procion MX (Dharma, 8 oz) $0.46
Washfast Acid (ProChem, 60 g jars) $0.55
Procion MX (Dharma, 2 oz) $0.56
Procion MX (Best Dyes, 2 oz) $0.56
Procion MX (ProChem, 2 oz) $0.65
Procion H powder (ProChem, 2 oz) $0.82
Lanaset (ProChem, 2 oz) $0.88
Sabracron F (ProChem, 2 oz) $0.92
Lanaset (Sheep Hollow, 14 g) $0.98
Procion MX (Jacquard, 2/3 oz) $1.29
Lanaset (Telana) (Maiwa, Canada, 30 g) $1.34
Procion MX (Batik Oetoro, Australia) $1.34
Procion MX (G&S Dye, Canada, 25 g) $1.39
Procion MX (Maiwa, Canada, 30 g) $1.40
Jacquard Acid (avg of sun yellow, pink, and royal blue) (Dharma, 8 oz jars) $1.41
Procion MX (Quilt & Textilekunst, Germany) $1.45
Remazol liquid (ProChem) $1.50
Remazol powder (Batik Oetoro, Australia) $1.61
Rit All-purpose liquid ( $1.86
Drimarene K (Batik Oetoro, Australia) $2.04
One Shot Acid (ProChem, 3 oz) $2.15
Rit All-Purpose powder ( $2.29
Procion H liquid (Jacquard via Dharma) $2.35
Procion MX (Fibrecrafts, UK, 50 g) $2.47
Remazol liquid (Jacquard Red Label, 8 oz) $2.79
Disperse dyes for polyester (Aljo, half-ounce) $2.95
Dylon Cold (Procion MX) (Dick Blick, US, 5 g) $4.34
Tulip One-Step Fashion Dye (Procion MX type) (CreateforLess, 6 g) $4.49
DEKA L all-purpose dye (Fibrecrafts, UK, 10 g) $4.90
DEKA L all-purpose dye (Chicago Canvas, 1/3 oz) $4.95
Dylon Permanent (Drimerene K) (, 50 g) $4.98
Jacquard Acid (avg of sun yellow, pink, and royal blue) (Dharma, 0.5 oz jars) $5.27
synthetic dye indigo (ProChem, 2 oz) $7.02
natural dye indigo (Dharma, 2 oz) $8.00
Procion H 5% paint (G&S Dye, Canada) $10.42
natural dye henna (Dharma) $12.00
natural dye alkanet (Dharma) $13.00
natural dye cochineal (Dharma) $13.20
natural dye cutch (Dharma) $14.00
natural dye annatto (Dharma) $17.00
natural dye brazilwood (Dharma) $23.40
natural dye madder (Dharma) $32.00
natural dye osage orange (Dharma) $34.00

(Abbreviations: g = grams; lb = pound or half a kilogram; oz = ounce or 29 grams. Price conversions for Fibrecrafts, Quilt & Textilekunst, Maiwa, G&S Dye, and Batik Oetoro are based on the US dollar’s being equivalent to 0.51 GBP, 0.68 Euros, $1.00 Canadian dollars, and $1.11 Australian dollars. All prices are from 2008.)


At what point should I add the dye: to the cold water, or after the water is hot?

Name: Ann
Country or region: US
Message: Thank you for your wonderful website. I am going to attempt to dye a piece of beige wool fabric to black. I understand that I need to put the wool in cold water and gradually heat to a simmer. At what point should I add the dye- to the cold water, or after the water is hot.

As a general rule, you should dissolve wool dyes in a small amount of boiling water, then, after they are completely dissolved, add them to the dyebath before heating it. Dye dissolves more easily in hot water than in cold water, and with acid dye you don’t have to worry that heat may inactivate the dye (as can happen with many fiber reactive dyes). You will want to add the wool to the dyebath while it is still at room temperature, and the dye must be mixed into the dyebath before the wool is added.

What kind of dye are you using? You should find a recipe that is specifically intended for that particular dye, and follow it closely.

Maybe you haven’t chosen your dye yet. If not, then now’s an opportunity for me to encourage you to choose a high quality dye. Better dyes give longer-lasting results, which are much less likely to ruin other garments if they accidentally get wet, and which do not require as much care in cleaning.

Lanaset Jet Black is felt by many to be the very best black dye for hand dyeing wool. It is a good rich black color, produces very smooth even colors when used with the recommended auxiliary chemicals, and is extraordinarily washfast. Most dyes require that wool dyed with them must be washed only in cool water, or dry-cleaned, because they tend to wash out in warm water, but Lanaset Jet Black is so resistant to bleeding that you can wash it even in hot water, at 140 degrees F, without fading the dye. You can order Lanaset dye from several good dye suppliers, including PRO Chemical & Dye, Earth Guild, and (in Canada) Maiwa Handprints. Earth Guild has a smaller minimum package size than ProChem does, while ProChem has lower prices for larger quantities.

ProChem’s recipe for using Lanaset dyes [the link is to a PDF] says to dissolve the dye powder in two cups of boiling water, then add that to 3.5 gallons of room temperature water, along with citric acid, sodium acetate, salt, and Albegal SET (which is for Lanaset dyes only). You add the wool to the room-temperature dyebath, then gradually increase the temperature to a boil. Earth Guild’s recipe [PDF] advises you to mix the dye powder with a tablespoon of hot water first, before dissolving it in a cup of hot water; this “pasting up” step is helpful for avoiding lumps.

For half the price of Lanaset dye, you can buy a black acid dye called Colour Index acid black 172, which is actually one of the two dyes that make up the formula for Lanaset Jet Black. Obviously, it, too, is extremely washfast. It can be purchased from Pro Chemical & Dye as their Washfast Acid Jet Black WF672. The same method of dissolving in a small amount of hot water before adding to a room temperature dyebath is recommended in ProChem’s instructions for WashFast Acid Dyes [PDF].

Even Rit Dye, which unfortunately is a rather low-quality dye, so that materials dyed with it are prone to bleeding badly when wet, is supposed to be dissolved in very hot water. I imagine they specify hot water, rather than boiling water, for the sake of convenience. The Rit Dye instructions do not specify whether you should start your dyebath with cool or hot water. Surprisingly, Rit dye is significantly more expensive, per pound of fabric dyed, than higher quality dyes. The amount of Lanaset dye needed for dyeing each pound of fiber costs less than one dollar, if you buy a half-pound at a time from ProChem, while the amount of Rit dye needed for the same weight of fiber costs over two dollars. The only advantages of Rit dye are that it is more likely to be available locally, instead of having to be bought online, and it comes in single-use packages, so your initial investment may be lower.

For dyeing solid colors with any dye, always add the dye to the dyebath and make sure that it is thoroughly mixed in, before adding the fiber you want to dye. The only time you should add the dye after the fiber (yarn, fabric, roving, or whatever you are dyeing) is when you are trying to get uneven, variegated colors. In that case, you would use a much smaller amount of water.

Be sure to use a lot of dye, when you are trying to get black. Using less dye will often result in surprising colors instead of black. I have many times seen complaints about Rit black dye producing brown wool or purple cotton, but most black dyes can produce off colors if you do use too little dye. As a general rule, it takes twice as much black dye as one would use of a lighter dye color. Follow the upper limit of the recommended amount of dye in whatever recipe you use, for black.

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