Author Archives: pburch

About pburch

Paula Burch is a scientist with degrees in biochemistry and biology who became frustrated with the difficulty of finding user-friendly information on the chemistry of dyes and resolved to find and share the information dye artists need to take full advantage of their materials. She established her All About Hand Dyeing website in 1998.

Can I use soda ash in my front loader washer to soften my hard water?

Name: Mary
Country or region: United States

Message: Hello: I am wondering if I can use soda ash in my front loader washer to soften my hard water. I am a beginner dyer and had to purchase some soda ash and wondered if I can use the same product for dyeing and as a water softener.

I have also seen washing soda (by Arm & Hammer) used as a water softener. Is that better? If possible, I’d like to use one product for dyeing and water softening. Please advise. Your comments/suggestions would be most appreciated. Mary

Soda ash is not a good water softener for dyeing.

What works really well as a water softener for dyeing is sodium hexametaphosphate (also known as Metaphos, and formerly sold under the name of Calgon). Here in the US, I recommend that you order Water Softener from Dharma Trading Company, or Water Softener from Colorado Wholesale Dye (they have really good prices!), or Metaphos from PRO Chemical & Dye, or buy Jacquard Products brand Calgon from an art supply store that sells dyes from Jacquard Products. (See Sources for Dyeing Supplies Around the World for contact information for these and other suppliers.) Do NOT buy Calgon that is not specifically labeled as being Jacquard brand or sodium hexametahosphate; although “calgon” used to mean sodium hexametaphosphate, the Calgon company now sells entirely different products, such as sodium citrate or polycarboxylate, under the same name, which can cause real problems in dyeing. As long as you buy a product with “hexametaphosphate” in the fine print, you’ll be fine.

Water softening is the removal of hard water metal ions, specifically calcium and magnesium. Calcium forms complexes with some unattached dye molecules that are difficult to wash out, which results in some slowly-released unattached dye that bleeds in the laundry; it can also produce unwanted spotting as the dyes attach to the fabric. Sodium hexametaphosphate binds to the calcium and magnesium, making them water soluble, and removing the problems caused for dyeing by hard water.

We frequently use sodium carbonate to increase the pH so that cellulose can react with fiber reactive dyes. Although sodium carbonate is listed as a water softener for some purposes, using sodium carbonate does not solve the calcium problem when dyeing. It’s just as useless for this purpose in a front-loading machine as in a top-loader. Sodium carbonate reacts with the calcium in hard water to form insoluble calcium carbonate, which is deposited not only on the sides of a sink or bathtub, but also on the fabric, interfering with the ability of dye to evenly reach the fiber that you are dyeing. The water in the dyebath is, technically, softened by this reaction, because you end up with less calcium in the water; however, putting insoluble calcium carbonate onto your fabric does you no good at all.

A household water softening device uses a resin to replace the calcium ions with sodium ions, but this is not possible without the water softening equipment. You can’t do this in a washing machine.

Washing soda, including that sold by Arm & Hammer, is nothing more than sodium carbonate with a few extra water molecules complexed to it. It is not better or worse as a water softener than soda ash is; they act exactly the same, which is to say, neither is useful as a water softener for dyeing, and both work very well as a fixative for fiber reactive dyes such as Procion dye. You can always use washing soda (sodium carbonate decahydrate) as a substitute for soda ash (anhydrous sodium carbonate), or vice versa, if you remember that washing soda has more volume and more weight per a given amount of sodium carbonate than soda ash does. You need to use 2.7 times as much washing soda as a substitute for soda ash, if measuring by weight, or 4.6 times as much if measuring by volume, to get the exact same number of sodium carbonate molecules. However, most of our dyeing recipes include a comfortable excess of sodium carbonate, so it’s usually not all that important if you forget to increase the amount you use.

(Please help support this web site. Thank you.)


Shortages of Procion Turquoise MX-G and Blue MX-G

My old cat, Isis, on a bedspread dyed with turquoise MX-G, blue MX-G, and yellow MX-8G.

Last month, Dharma Trading Company sent out an important and alarming email about recent dye shortages:

Yes, it is true. The supply of our most important and most beautiful blues, #23 Cerulean Blue and #25 Turquoise, has become problematic. It is even possible that Cerulean Blue won’t be made anymore, due to a lack of the chemical precursors used to make it. This seems to be a little up in the air, so we are keeping our fingers crossed.

#23 Cerulean Blue
We were able to get a couple of shipments of #23 Cerulean before our manufacturer ran out. Right now, we have enough Cerulean Blue to sell up to 25 lbs per customer, but no more. As we run low, we will have to ration it further.

#25 Turquoise
Right now we are having to limit orders of Turquoise to 2 oz. per customer, and are unable to package any more. What we have in stock is it for now. We have a teeny tiny shipment coming in around 12/11 or so, so we hope to be able to be able to sell 2 and 8 oz jars, one per customer, until we get some more. But, we are assured by several importers that they will get more Turquoise, it is just a matter of when.

Mixes containing these colors are all still in stock, but as they run low,
some may have to be rationed as well.

Rest assured that we are doing everything we can to resource these colors for you as we know how important it is to people’s livelihoods. We will keep you informed when any new information comes to light. Thank you for your patience!

As of this writing, Dharma’s website says,

ATTENTION: there is currently a worldwide shortage of 2 dye colors, #23 Cerulean Blue, and #25 Turquoise. For now, we have Cerulean Blue, so at least temporarily, that gorgeous color is in stock, but we have to limit it, and so cannot allow large orders. Turquoise – we currently now have 2 and 8 oz jars, 1st come, 1st serve, 1 per customer please. We are expecting a super huge shipment of Turquoise around mid January. We will keep you updated as we learn more.

Meanwhile, ProChem’s website says,

Procion Turquoise MX-G


ProChemical and Dye currently has both of these dyes in stock, so I’m sure Dharma’s expected big shipment of turquoise will be in stock soon. Whew! Big sigh of relief.

What would we do if these two dyes were to become discontinued altogether? We would have to turn to another class of fiber reactive dyes. There are equally brilliant turquoise and blue dyes available in other types of fiber reactive dyes, though they are a little more expensive than our Procion dyes, and none of them are currently available in the wonderful variety of pre-mixed colors that the Procion dyes are. We won’t have to give up using these glorious colors in our work. This would still be an awful thing to have happen. It would be a tremendous headache for everyone who relies on existing recipes for mixing dye colors. It must be a nightmare for the people who mix colors at Dharma, Prochem, Jacquard, and our other suppliers.

(Please help support this web site. Thank you.)


Dye Remover for Polyester-Spandex Blend


I was reading your suggestion on the fabric dye page for spandex blends. I have a Spider-Man suit that I believe was made through dye sublimation. I want to change the color of it for a new costume idea since it is a spare and I’d rather use the money for this project. I understood from the manufacturer that it is a spandex-polyester blend.

Originally, I was going to buy Dye-Na-Flow and get to work, yet I realized that it would be better to remove the existing dye. Which dye remover will work best for this?

Thank You,

Bad news here. It’s unlikely that any dye remover will restore your costume to a colorless condition. Some dyes can be removed, some can be lightened or turned to an unpleasant surprise of a color (such as black turning to orange), and some dyes cannot be removed at all; among the dyes currently coloring your costume are probably some of each.

What’s worse, trying to remove the dye is likely to damage the material. Spandex, the stretchy fiber which enables your costume to be close-fitting, really hates heat. All reducing-type dye removers require high heat. Oxidative bleaches such as chlorine bleach will destroy spandex and will turn polyester an ugly dull yellow color.

What I’d encourage you to do instead is find an inexpensive long-sleeved unitard, something like this item:
Unitard Men’s Zentai Bodysuit with Eyes Open
…in either white or a suitable color, keeping in mind that you can easily make it darker or more intense in color, but not lighter. Then go ahead with your Dye-Na-Flow fabric paint. Whatever fabric color you choose will show through any lighter color of paint or dye that you apply; you can apply an opaque color on top of it, such as Neopaque fabric paint, but there will be some slight change in texture, so that’s more suitable for details than large areas of color. (I’m not recommending that specific item, just the concept; make sure that it comes in a size large enough for you. Try a dance supply store if you can’t find it elsewhere.)

(Please help support this web site. Thank you.)