Category Archives: dye auxiliaries

Does chlorinated tap water affect the fibre reactive dye process?

I’m currently doing a lot of Fibre reactive dyeing, and trying to improve my results by fine tuning all the variables.

I’ve looked everywhere for this info, not having any luck. Does chlorinated tap water have any appreciable effect on the fibre reactive dye process? Our water at home is very good well water, but at my studio it’s pretty stinky, yellowish, chlorine filled stuff.

I have a lot of reading to do by the looks of your very informative site! I’m some glad to have found it, and your wealth of knowledge.

Cheers from Atlantic Canada,


Water quality does make a difference. Chlorine’s not the only contaminant involved, if your water is stinky and yellowish. Some contaminants are much more important than others.

Chlorine for disinfecting water supplies can be added as chlorine gas or as hypochlorite (which we call household bleach), or the chlorine compound chloramine can be added instead. Chloramine is more difficult to remove. Chlorine can be removed with hydrogen peroxide, or by evaporation, but chloramine cannot. Both chlorine and chloramine can be removed with Anti-chlor (sodium metabisulfite), which is readily available from dye suppliers, as well as from sellers of supplies for home beer-making and for photography. The same chemicals used for neutralizing chlorinated water are also used for neutralizing chlorine bleach used as a discharge agent; see How can I neutralize the damaging effects of chlorine bleach?.

When my area’s public water supply changed from chlorine to chloramine, we began to notice more fading of clothing, even clothing dyed with good Procion dyes. The colors still last a long time, but a garment that has been washed a hundred times is noticeably paler in color than when it was new. It would help if we were to always add anti-chlor to every washload, but, since our problem is not very severe, we haven’t felt it to be worth the bother.

Dyers often need to be aware of hard water, which is water that contains calcium and/or magnesium ions. (See Dyeing with hard water: water softeners, distilled water, and spring water). These ions are what combine with soap to make soap scum, which has to be scrubbed off of surfaces. Hard water has more than one consequence in dyeing. It can result in colors that are not as bright, it can make it seem as though your soda ash is not dissolving completely even when it is (because of the formation of insoluble calcium carbonate), and it can result in the formation of dye/calcium complexes that are more difficult to wash out of the fabric, resulting in later color bleeding that makes it seem that the dyes are not washfast, when in fact it is only incompletely-washed-out unbound dye. The solution for hard water is easy. Buy sodium hexametaphosphate, also known as water softener. Sometimes sodium hexametaphosphate is sold under the name of Calgon (Jacquard Products still uses the Calgon name on their water softener for dyeing), but beware of other products also sold under the Calgon name, which contain carboxylates rather than phosphates; carboxylates which are not desirable for dyeing. Do not buy any liquid form of Calgon, since these generally contain carboxylates rather than phosphates. Mix sodium hexametaphosphate in the water you use to dissolve your dyes, and in the water you use in your dyebaths; also add it to your wash and rinse water, when washing out excess unattached dye after dyeing. The amount needed varies according to the hardness of your water supply; I can tell you more about this if needed.

Neither chlorine nor hardness will make water yellow. If your water is yellowish in color, it has additional contaminants, which can be a big problem. I’m concerned that you may also have iron. Iron is one of the worst water contaminants for dyeing, though it is safe to consume in the quantities likely to be present. Iron tends to “sadden” many dye colors. It’s used as a mordant with natural dyes to produce dark, dull colors, but it can also affect the colors of synthetic dyes. If your water is contaminated with iron, you probably won’t want to use it for dyeing bright colors. You cannot remove iron with phosphates or with anti-chlor. Water softening systems work well for removing hardness minerals from water, but they do not generally remove large amounts of iron. Specialized water purification systems that can remove iron are more expensive than ordinary water softening systems. A reverse osmosis system would work. You can use distilled or deionized water. Otherwise you may be reduced to bringing water to your studio from home.

To see how severe your problem is in practice, you should do some small scale tests of dyes you like, using only distilled water in one set, while using the stinky yellowish tap water available at your studio in a second set. Perhaps in a third set you could use tap water that you have treated with anti-chlor and hexametaphosphate. I would be interested in knowing how significant the difference turns out to be for you.

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Stains created more intense colors—how can I repeat this effect deliberately?

Name: David
Country or region: Connecticut
Message: Dr. Burch,
I have stumbled onto something I like and would like to know how to recreate it. I recently tie-dyed a bunch of shirts that I had considered just rags and am happy to have brought life back into them. Most of these shirts were stained. The stains appear to have taken the color better then the rest of the shirt; so stains are still visible but more vibrant if color contacted them. I like this look but would like to recreate it more so it does not look so accidental. I am not sure what the stains originally were but I think any grease type stains would make the color not want to bond so I am looking for some other staining ideas. Any ideas on how to add stains to a shirt that I can then tie dye to add another depth of color?

You’re in luck. There is a convenient product, introduced just a couple of years ago, that will do exactly that. Jacquard Color Magnet can be painted, stenciled, or stamped onto fabric. It is also available in the form of a broad-tip marking pen. After you let it dry, you can then dye as usual with Procion MX dyes. The areas where you have applied Color Magic will show the same colors as other parts of the fabric, but much more intensely. Results are best when you dye with dilute, pale colors; you won’t see that much difference in the Color Magnet-treated areas if you are already using very intense colors.

Jacquard Color Magnet Jacquard Color Magnet, Pint (16 oz)

I believe that Jacquard Color Magnet is a positively charged polymer. Both the cellulose fibers in cotton, and the Procion MX dyes themselves, are negatively charged molecules. Since a large amount of any dye that you apply to fabric normally fails to attach, a positively charged formula that attracts both dye and fiber can lead to a much greater intensity of color.

Here are some videos from the manufacturer, demonstrating the use of Jacquard Color Magnet….

This first one shows washing machine dyeing with iDye :

(Personally I much prefer Procion MX dye, whether applied directly or in the washing machine; Procion dyes work just as well with Color Magnet.)

This one shows the Color Magnet pen with a spray application of dilute Procion MX dyes, mixed in the bottles with soda ash:

Here the demo shirt is 50% polyester/50% cotton, dyed with iDye Poly to color just the polyester fiber in the blend. Dyeing just the cotton would make more sense, since it is much easier (Procion dye doesn’t require cooking, but polyester dye does), but would give about the same effect; this one’s nice just because it points out that Color Magnet works even with iDye Poly:

This slide show gives a lot of different examples of what can be done with Color Magnet:

Some of these designs could be made just as well by stamping or stenciling with fabric paint, but fabric paint always leaves at least a little bit of rough feeling on the fabric. Color Magnet does not.

Here’s a link to a non-embeddable video with an interesting idea, adding dry dye to Color Magnet right after applying it, while it is still wet on the fabric. (Be careful not to breathe any dry dye powder! Always wear a dust mask, and work outdoors if possible so you don’t get loose dye powder in your work area!)

This is more of a hard-sell advertising video, but it gives a good intro:

I’d love to see some of the results you get, when you try it.

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Can urea solution be stored?

Hey Paula and dye friends, I have a question: can urea solution be stored? I’m going to be doing some fiber reactive periodically over the next month, and it would be nice not to have to mix it every day I need it. Thanks!
— Tracy Benton [on Facebook]

Urea can go bad. When it does, it smells like ammonia. Store urea solution in the refrigerator, and always give it a sniff before using. If it smells like ammonia, do not use it, because it can mess up the pH of your dyeing reactions and have unpredictable effects. In contrast, you can store soda ash solution forever; it never goes bad.
— Paula