Dye disposal & dyeing in kitchen/eating area

Hi Paula,

I have been looking for information about good safety practices when dying with fiber reactive Procion dyes. You posted a response to another person inquiring about safety that referred to information from Dharma Trading and Prochemicalanddye.net. There appears to be conflicting advise online about this topic so your input would be much appreciated.

Generally the safety advise I see online is “don’t inhale it and don’t ingest it.” I used Procion dyes this weekend on a stove top. The dye splashed out of the pot onto the rest of the stove top. I did place newspaper to minimize the dye getting on my food surfaces. I also used the sink to place tools with dye and to rinse them out. Since I also wash dishes in the sink, I am concerned that I am potentially contaminating my eating area. I use only dedicated tools for dying, but a sink is also a tool. Seeing RIT videos with demonstrators
using the kitchen for dyeing, I thought it was safe practice. Prochemicalanddye.net advised not to eat or drink were dyes are used. Likey I won’t use the stove to method again. If I dye again, I will only use my pot in the tub and clean there too. Any advise or guidance will be much appreciated. Thank you for all the information you have provided on your site! It is so helpful!


Hi Jennifer,

I haven’t been able to work much lately, but I want to try to answer your questions.

I believe that you should scrub your stove top and sink thoroughly with a mildly abrasive substance such as Bon Ami cleaning powder. Rinse thoroughly. (I’m sure you’ve done this or the equivalent already.) And then, don’t worry about it. I am much more concerned about easily scratched surfaces, which are difficult to get clean, so I would not recommend ever reusing a plastic surface for food, but an impervious surface, such as stainless steel, porcelain, or glass, can be cleaned pretty effectively. Not enough that we would trust it to remove all traces of truly dangerous substances such as hydrofluoric acid, or mercury compounds, but effectively enough for reasonably safe household chemicals such as Procion dyes. Of course you should clean until no trace of color is visible, and then clean more, after that; this should be sufficient to reduce any possible contamination with the dye to very low levels.

Procion dye is safer than All Purpose dye, because we can find out from our suppliers exactly which dyes are used in the Procion dyes we buy, but it is impossible to get any idea at all of what dyes are contained in any All Purpose dye mixtures that are sold, because the manufacturers keep it all a secret. Until the 1980s, Rit All Purpose dye contained known carcinogens, such as benzidine. See these pages I wrote:

Procion dyes do not contain known carcinogens such as benzidine or o-dianisidine. We try to be careful, though, because there’s no telling whether some of them might turn out to be bad when ingested or inhaled. Unless a dye has been safety-tested, it should be treated as though it is dangerous, even if it seems likely that it is not very dangerous. Consider the many different food colorings that have been used in processed foods for years, only to be banned after it’s found that they may slightly increase the risk of cancer in those who have eaten them.

There are other types of dyes that I do not think you should ever use in your kitchen, specifically a kind of dye called basic dyes, or cationic dyes, or another kind of dye called naphthol dye. Like the old versions of All Purpose dyes, they are known to contain carcinogens or mutagens, and therefore present a much higher risk.

To help put things into perspective, a very interesting related problem is tattoo ink. Tattoos or permanent makeup are so popular that it seems rare now to find someone without any, and yet tattoo inks are pretty much entirely unregulated for safety, in spite of any false claims you may see that a given tattoo ink is FDA approved. Tattoo inks are injected deep into the skin; some of the chemicals from the dyes remain in place, while some are removed by the body and circulate throughout before being excreted. A particular concern is the possibility of bladder cancer, since many chemicals of concern are excreted in urine. (The biggest single cause of bladder cancer is cigarette smoking.)

The shocking thing, to me, is that the safest of tattoo pigments are similar to some of the chromophores used in Procion dyes! No tattoo pigments have ever been tested to determine whether they are safe when used in tattoos. After all the effort we go to to keep from excessive exposure to the dyes we use on textiles, many people are having similar pigments, and far worse pigments, injected right into their skin? Other tattoo pigments contain carcinogens and toxins such as PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), which since before recorded history have always been a part of black tattoo inks, and heavy metals such as chromium and cadmium, all of which are far more concerning at even low levels than the fiber reactive dyes we work with.

Dangerous substances are not found only in the chemicals everyone knows to be concerned about. We can also find polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the char produced when food is cooked at high temperatures, as well, including the mess produced when food boils over on the stove and gets scorched by the heating elements. (Grilled food will contain lower levels of carcinogens if the food is marinated first.) Household chemicals such as chlorine bleach, and those that contain it such as dishwasher detergent, are more dangerous than Procion dyes. It’s safe to use bleach on food preparation surfaces only because you rinse it away after using it.

Overall my advice is to try to make efforts to prevent any textile dyes from remaining in food preparation areas, to maintain a clean work area and keep separate pots for dyeing use, but, as long as you are doing all these things, and are avoiding the more dangerous classes of dyes (which you’ve never used anyway), don’t worry too much.

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