Monthly Archives: November 2014

Dyeing cotton material for a cat toy

Name: Alex

Country or region: North America

Message: Hi—I’ve been searching for an answer all over the internet—I hope you can help me.

I have 100% white cotton material. I want to dye it a light gray—maybe even a blue or brown. It’s for a cat toy so it will be chewed on. So I need the color to be non toxic, no scent (as much as possible) and hold to the fabric. I don’t want my kitty’s mouth to turn colors!

Can you tell me how to do this?
Thank you.

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The least toxic dye for an item that will be chewed on, aside from edible food coloring dyes which work only on silk or wool, not on cotton, is a dye that forms such a strong chemical bond to your material that it does not come off when moistened.

This means that you need to choose a highly wash-resistant dye. Do not use all-purpose dye, such as Rit, because it tends to bleed in warm water. Instead, use a fiber reactive dye. An excellent fiber reactive dye is Procion MX dye.

It is often difficult to find fiber reactive dye in local shops. Look at the Jacquard Products website to try to find a local retailer who carries Procion dye, using their Where to Buy It page, or order your Procion dye online. See my page, “Sources for Dyeing Supplies Around the World”. You will also need soda ash or washing soda to chemically set the dye; you can buy soda ash from your dye supplier or from local sources, such as swimming pool suppliers.

The easiest method for dyeing cotton with Procion MX dye is called low water immersion dyeing. It requires only small amounts of water, and can produce interesting color mottling. See “How to Do Low Water Immersion Dyeing”. All you need is a plastic container, Procion dye, water, soda ash or washing soda (not baking soda!); salt is optional. You will dissolve your dye in water before pouring it over the fabric, and do the same with your soda ash. You will need to be sure that the dye is in a warm place, at least 70°F (21°C), to get a good reaction of the dye with the cotton. Not all of the dye you add will react with the fabric, so add more dye than it seems at first that you will need.

Any sort of dye powder can produce allergies, so it is a good idea to avoid breathing dye powder. It’s best to wear a dust mask when measuring out the powder. Although Procion dye is not particularly hazardous, it is also a good idea to wear gloves, to avoid excessive exposure to the dyes. You should do this with any kind of dye that you use. Like many household chemicals, soda ash is irritating to the skin, so wear gloves, and wash it off if you get it on your skin.

After you have finished dyeing your fabric, you will need to wash out all of the unattached dye. You can do this by washing once in room temperature water, then several times in very hot water, at least 140°F (60°C). You can even use boiling water, if you wish, for the greatest efficiency in color removal. Fabrics dyed with less wash-resistant dyes will lose much of their color when boiled, but Procion MX dyes can easily withstand boiling, so only the unattached portion of the dye is removed.

To test whether you have removed absolutely all of the unattached dye, moisten the dyed material and place it between two white cotton rags, then use a hot iron to press it until dry. If there is no color transfer to the white cloth, you are done; if some color does transfer, wash again in hot water and repeat the test.

There will be no scent remaining on the dyed fabric after it is washed.

You can use this same method to dye anything that is made of cotton, or other dyeable fibers such as rayon or hemp. You can use a dull color of dye for subtle effects, or combinations of bright colors for brilliant results. If you use a small container and crumple your fabric tightly, you will get contrasting intensities of dye on different parts of the material, while if you use more water and stir the fabric around in the dye, you will get less variation in color.

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-Paula