Category Archives: low water immersion (LWI)

Low water immersion dyeing with Remazol (vinyl sulfone) dyes

Name: Tori

Message: I’m a new dyer … and was excited by your comment about the remazol type dyes. I’ve carefully read your ‘low immersion’ tutorial … and am wondering … are there any changes/alterations you’d suggest for using this type of dye over the procion type?

Remazol dyes work very well for low water immersion dyeing. (See my page about Remazol dyes, “About Vinyl Sulfone Fiber Reactive Dyes“.) They are among my favorites. They will work well when used exactly the same as Procion dyes. There are a couple of differences, though, that it’s handy to be aware of: give them extra warmth to react (ideally 140° F), and let them cool before rinsing out the excess dye.

Names for Remazol dyes. These dyes, chemically known as vinyl sulfone dyes, were originally sold under the brand name Remazol, so this is one of the names they are commonly known by. PRO Chemical & Dye sells them as PRO Liquid Reactive Dyes. Dharma Trading Company and other retailers for Jacquard Products sell a slightly different selection of the same type of dye as Jacquard’s Vinyl Sulphon Liquid Reactive Dyes, “Vinyl Sulphon” being a brand name derived by two changes in spelling from the generic name. The same class of dyes is also found in Jacquard Red Label dyes and Jacquard Green Label dyes, but there is no reason to seek out those older brands of dyes.

Warmer reaction temperature. The Remazol dyes are similar to the Procion dyes, but they do like a warmer reaction temperature, so I either place the buckets I’m using to dye in into a sink of hot water, after I’ve added everything, or I use a glass container or unsealed ziplock bag and heat for a minute or two in the microwave–not enough to make the dye mixture boil, but enough to make it hot to the touch (on the outside of the container). This is not strictly necessary, unless your dyeing room is cold, but you will get a better color yield with added heat, as the ideal reaction temperature of Remazol dyes is around 140°F (60°C). If you use the sink full of hot water method, be careful not to fill the sink deeper than the liquid level inside the buckets, because if they float they can tip over.

Possible alternatives to soda ash. Like the Procion dyes, Remazol dyes require a high pH in order to react with the cellulose in cotton and other plant fibers. One of the ProChem recipes calls for potassium carbonate as the dye fixative for the Remazol dyes, rather than the usual sodium carbonate (soda ash), but I don’t see any difference between the two. In my measurements, the pH is the same, and my experience is that the effectiveness is the same. Remazol dyes have an ideal reaction pH that is a little higher than that of the Procion dyes, around a pH of 11.5 instead of 10.5 to 11.0. When I have trisodium phosphate handy, I use it instead of soda ash, for Remazol dyes, but soda ash will work fine, especially if you are careful to add warmth. Trisodium phosphate is sold in a small box labeled “TSP” in the paint section of many hardware stores, for use in washing walls before painting. You should wear safety glasses when working with it; it is more caustic than soda ash.

Cool before initial rinsing. Remazol dyes should not be washed out under hot alkaline conditions, alkaline conditions being at a high pH, which is when they are in the presence of soda ash or TSP. Because their dye-fiber bond is different from that of the Procion dyes, they can be vulnerable to becoming detached from the fabric at a high pH, even after they have bonded properly to the cellulose or silk fiber. This means that it is important to rinse the excess dye out, after dyeing, with cool water. It is best to allow the dyeing containers to cool to room temperature before you rinse them out. Sometimes when I’m in a hurry I dump in ice cubes, directly into the dyebath, so that I can be sure the first rinse is not hot. Do not use hot water for washing until after the soda ash or TSP has been removed with cool water. After the high-pH dyebath water has been rinsed out, it is then safe to wash out the unattached excess dye with hot water. With all of the fiber reactive dyes, including both Procion and Remazol dyes, it is necessary to use very hot water if you want to be as thorough as possible in washing out the excess dye.

Here are some examples of pieces I’ve dyed with Remazol dyes, using LWI techniques (which I am quoting from the old Dye Forum)….

1. LWI with Jacquard Red Label yellow and orange on cotton

Here’s a cotton shirt dyed with Jacquard Red Label dyes, yellow and apricot, by low water immersion. First a detail:

For a total of one liter of hot tap water, I used 1/3 cup soda ash (80 ml) and 1/2 cup salt (120 ml), each dissolved separately first. (Both are probably excessive.) I used 45 ml of Red Label Yellow (possibly only 30, as I lost track) and 15 ml of Red Label Apricot.

As you can see, after folding it in half vertically (which is why half of the shirt is sharper in detail than the other half), I loosely pleated the shirt horizontally before placing it in the glass container I used for the LWI. I pressed it quite a bit with a spoon after adding the yellow, before adding the apricot, since I wanted a yellow background, not a white one, but the tight confining of the cotton in the glass container caused the background to be quite a pale yellow, anyway.

(posted by pburch on the Dye Forum on 2007-03-02)

2. Purple/black/blue remazol LWI dress

Here’s another piece I dyed with remazol (vinyl sulfone) dyes, a long rayon dress.

I crumpled the dress tightly, making very rough horizontal pleats, and fitted it tightly into a glass container. Then I poured three cups of dye over different parts of the dress: 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of PRO Black 50% LR604 Liquid Reactive Dye in one cup (250 ml) of water; 1 teaspoon of PRO Intense Blue 50% LR406 Liquid Reactive Dye in one cup of water; and 1 teaspoon of PRO Fuchsia 50% LR308 Liquid Reactive Dye in one cup of water. Finally, I added 5 teaspoons (25 ml) of soda ash, dissolved in yet another cup of water, and microwaved to set the dye rapidly.

(posted by pburch on the Dye Forum on 2006-08-03 10:32)

3. Remazol dyes are so much less trouble to use!

Just lately I’ve been experimenting with remazol dyes, which are a kind of fiber reactive dye known as vinyl sulfone dye. After using Procion MX dyes, these are so easy to use! Not that Procion MX dyes are at all difficult, it’s just that measuring out the dye powders can be a bit of a pain. Since I am buying the remazol dyes in liquid form, I don’t have to mess with the inconvenience of dye powder. No need to turn off the A/C and fans and wear a dust mask to measure them out. Since I’m dyeing in my kitchen, this is a huge convenience….

When measuring out the remazol dye, all I have to do is wear gloves. I measure out a teaspoon of dye into a cup, add water, give a single quick stir, and it’s ready to use. There is no need to expend any effort on dissolving! The liquid concentrate stays good for at least a year. The dyes I’m using right now are PRO Chemical & Dye’s Liquid Fiber Reactive Dyes.

When measuring out dye powder, such as my original favorite, Procion MX dye, I have to remove every food item, every cutting board, the garlic press, anything that could have an errant particle of dye powder land upon it, from the entire room. Even though most of the dyes we use are reasonably non-toxic, it is important to act as though they are dangerous, just in case we someday discover that one of them is. And, a few of our acid dyes are somewhat toxic.

The drawback of Remazol dye is that it is a little pickier about reaction temperature than even the pickiest of the Procion MX dyes, which is turquoise MX-G. (Turquoise MX-G likes its batching temperature to be 95°F (35°C), though it can work at lower temperatures. A cool 70° studio may not be enough, which makes it important to find sources of additional heat, such as putting items to be batch-cured outside the door during an air-conditioned summer, or on top of the water heater for a little warmth during cooler weather, or on top of an electric blanket which has been protected by a sheet of plastic.)

I’ve been in a hurry, and I’ve been using LWI techniques, so I’ve been heating in the microwave for a minute or two, instead of batch-curing overnight. Here is the recipe I used to make the blue/turquoise LWI shirt shown above….

• Crumple one PFD rayon blouse, prewashed, pleating loosely.
• Place crumpled blouse into glass container that is small enough to hold it tightly, with all fabric below the top of the container (I used a 7 cup (1.75 L) Pyrex bowl.
• Stir into two cups (500 ml) of water:
2 teaspoons (10 ml) PRO Intense Blue 50% LR406 Liquid Reactive Dye
• Pour blue dye mixture over blouse in container.
• Stir into one cup (250 ml) of water:
1 teaspoon (5 ml) PRO Turquoise LR410 Liquid Reactive Dye
• Pour turquoise dye mixture over blouse, being sure to cover any areas left white by the blue dye in the previous step.
• Let rest twenty minutes for colors to blend and move on the fabric.
• Dissolve 4 teaspoons (20 ml) soda ash in one cup of warm (not hot) water and pour evenly over blouse.
Since I was in a hurry, I proceeded to microwave the project, instead of leaving it outside in the summer heat overnight:
• Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave for two to three minutes, until water is very hot but plastic wrap is not bulging upwards very far.
• Allow to cool until merely warm to the touch.
• Wash at least twice in hot water, with detergent, until color no longer bleeds into the rinse water.

(posted by pburch on the Dye Forum on 2006-08-02)

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I want to dye sheets in a front loader with Dylon Permanent Dye

Name: Barbara

Country or region: Australia

Message: I want to dye sheets in a front loader. the colour I love is your china blue. just called permanent dye on packet. as I want the result to look patchy..would this be ok. my question is really I suppose. ..Will the dye wreck my washer as it not the machine dye variety. I am not at all fussy on the end color. thanks Barbara

The “China Blue” dye you’re talking about, Dylon Permanent dye, would not wreck your machine, but using the machine would be a mistake for your project.

In order to get the patchy appearance you’re looking for, you should use a small amount of water without stirring, in a plastic bucket, not the large amount of water and agitation involved in washing machine dyeing. Dyeing in the washing machine is only for when you want a single smooth solid color. The method you want is called Low Water Immersion Dyeing, which uses no stirring at all.

Dylon Permanent fabric dye comes in small packets suitable for dyeing a single garment in a small bucket. A single packet would not work at all in the large amount of water in a washing machine load. Diluting that quantity of dye with so much water would result in very pale colors. In addition, since the dye fixative is already mixed in with the dye, the fixative would be far too dilute to produce the high pH needed to work to fix the dye. Dylon Machine Dye, which is sold mainly in Europe, contains the same type of dye that is in Dylon Permanent Dye, but packaged with the dye fixative chemicals in quantities more suitable for use in a front-loading washing machine.

You can use the instructions on the package of Dylon Permanent dye, with some alterations so that the color will be patchy rather than smooth. The biggest change is that you will not want to stir your fabric in the dye bath. Instead, you should put the sheets in a bucket (wet them first with water, and wring out any excess), mix the dye with the right amount of water, and pour it over the sheets.

I think it would make more sense to order some Procion MX dye and soda ash (Australian suppliers include Kraftkolour, Batik Oetoro, Silksational, and The Thread Studio), but if you find it easier to access Dylon Machine Dye, you can alter their recipe to work. Dylon Permanent Dye contains mostly Drimarene K type dyes, which are good permanent fiber reactive dyes, very similar to Procion MX dyes except for requiring more warmth during dyeing.

Before you buy your dye, first weigh your sheets, while they are dry, so that you can decide how much dye you need to buy. Be sure to use only sheets which are 100% cotton (or another 100% cellulose fiber, such as linen or viscose rayon, but no polyester or nylon), and do not use stain-resistant or wrinkle-resistant sheets, as these treatments will tend to repel the dye. Prewash the sheets in extremely hot water to remove as much as possible of the sizing and other finishes. Almost all sheets are sold with surface finishes that can interfere with dyeing, but pre-washing helps.

One packet of Dylon Permanent Dye will permanently color up to one-half pound (or about 500 grams) of fabric. This means that, for example, if you are going to dye six pounds of sheets, you will need twelve packets of dye. You will also need a sturdy plastic bucket or heavyweight plastic bin large enough to hold your sheets. The bucket does not need to be nearly as large, for the variegated results of low water immersion, as it does for dyeing a single smooth solid color, since far less water will be used, and you will not be stirring the sheets during the dyeing process, as you would need to do continuously for a solid color.

The instructions for using Dylon Permanent Dye to produce a solid color are as follows (please check the label for whichever dye you have purchased):

“1. Weigh dry fabric. Wash thoroughly – leave damp.
2. Using rubber gloves – dissolve dye in 4 cups warm water – stirring thoroughly.
3. Fill bowl/stainless steel sink with enough warm water for fabric to move freely. [Fabric does not need to move freely for LWI.]
4. Stir in 4 Tbsp salt. Add dye and stir well.
5. Submerge fabric in water.
6. Stir for 15 mins – then stir regularly for 45 mins. [Omit the stirring for Low Water Immersion dyeing.]
7. Rinse fabric in cold water. Wash in warm water and dry away from direct heat and sunlight. ”

For Low Water Immersion dyeing with Dylon Permanent Dye, dissolve each packet in about half a liter of warm or hot water, using enough packets for the dry weight of your sheets. Wet the sheets by washing them and letting them spin in the machine to remove excess water. Crumple the wet sheets evenly and place them inside a large plastic bucket. The tighter the fit of the fabric in the bucket, the greater the resulting degree of variegation. Dissolve the salt in hot water and pour it evenly over the sheets. Pour the dissolved dye over the sheets so that the level of the dye just barely covers the sheets, adding extra water as needed. Do not stir at all. Leave the bucket in the warmest place available for at least an hour; for the maximum use of the dye you have added, leave it overnight so that the dye reaction has time to go fully to completion. The dye-fiber reaction requires warmth, so do not leave the bucket in a cold room to react.

After you have allowed enough time in a warm place for the dye reaction, pour the dye out (it is safe to dispose of in septic systems or sewer systems) and wash the fabric first in cool water and then two or three times in the hottest water available. It is most effective to wash out the unattached excess dye in extremely hot water, preferable over 60 degrees C (140 degrees F). Permanent fiber reactive dyes such as Dylon Permanent or Procion MX dye are not affected by hot water, even by boiling water, and hot water is best for removing the excess dye that has not bonded to the fabric.

You can use different colors of dye in Low Water Immersion dyeing. You can mix them all together and allow them to separate in the fiber, or you can pour the different colors over different parts of the sheets. The colors will both mix and separate in an unpredictable manner. Mixing two colors that go well together, such as a clear lemon yellow with a medium blue color, will produce a many-colored result; for example, using a clear lemony yellow with a medium blue will produce some areas that are yellow, some blue, and some green. If you combine opposite colors, such as red with green, you will get browns and neutrals where the colors blend.

For more information see my page “How to Do Low Water Immersion Dyeing”. For more ideas on how to warm a dye reaction in a bucket, see “What is the effect of temperature on fiber reactive dyes?”.

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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.


Procion MX Fiber Reactive Dye

Permanent, colorfast, and very washable. You can easily create a palette of brilliant colors ranging from light pastels to deep, vibrant hues. Perfect for all natural fibers–cotton, rayon, linen, silk, wool, paper, reeds, and wood. 

Buy from Mister Art

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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