Category Archives: dyeing cellulose

Is there a way to dye a white rayon dress different colors without having them bleed into each other too much?

Name: Raileena

Country or region: USA

Message: I bought this white rayon dress that I thought might look really cool if it was all different colors. It also has small flowers that can be colored in, so I was just wondering if there is a way for me to dye it without having colors bleed into each other too much how would I do that? Would I add the sodium acetate to make the dye paint-like and apply it? Also would I have to add one color at a time, and wash it and everything before adding another color to avoid too much bleeding? Thank you!

You can easily dye a washable rayon dress many different colors, without the colors bleeding together, if you use the right kind of dye. If you use a good tie-dye type of dye, which is called fiber reactive dye, you can apply many colors at once. The key is to avoid all-purpose dyes. Don’t use Rit dye! All-purpose dyes, such as Rit, always bleed together every time the garment gets wet, for the life of the garment. Better quality dyes avoid this problem altogether by bonding tightly to the fabric where you put it.

Rayon is a reprocessed cellulose fiber. It can be dyed like any other cellulose fiber, such as cotton, as long as you are careful not to damage it. The one problem with rayon is that it is fragile when wet, so don’t let it get into a washload with something heavy like jeans, and do consider hand-washing or putting it in a mesh lingerie bag for washing. (The question of washing is relevant to your question because you will have to do a lot of washing after you dye the dress, to remove all of the unattached dye.)

What you need to do is get some good fiber reactive dye, such as Procion MX dye. You can find these dyes in any good tie-dye kit, such as the Jacquard tie dye kits, which are often available at local crafts stores and fabric stores. Avoid hot water dyes. If you want a wide choice of dye colors, and access to more helpful products, order online from a dye supply house such as Dharma Trading Company, Colorado Wholesale Dyes, or PRO Chemical & Dye. Dharma is also a good source for additional dyeable rayon dresses.

You will not need to use sodium acetate in dyeing your rayon dress. Sodium acetate is used when dyeing protein fibers, not when dyeing cellulose fibers like cotton and rayon. But I think actually you may be thinking of sodium alginate, which is a thickener. (See “Sodium alginate, Superclear, and other dye thickeners”.) Its use is completely optional, but it can be helpful depending on your style of dye painting. You can use a dye thickener if you want your dyes to have a more paint-like consistency and apply it with a brush or sponge, or you can use your dyes unthickened in a watercolor style and apply it directly from a squirt bottle; even unthickened colors will creep only a short distance along the fabric. Order alginate from a dye supplier such as Dharma Trading Company or PRO Chemical & Dye. (See “Sources for Dyeing Supplies Around the World”.)

Once you have your good Procion dyes, mix a cup of sodium carbonate (soda ash or washing soda) with a gallon of water and soak your rayon dress in it. After fifteen minutes to let the sodium carbonate soak into the fibers, remove the dress from the mix and squeeze out extra water. You can apply dye directly to the wet dress, or you can line-dry the dress, which will leave the dry soda ash in the fibers, ready to react with the dye.

DIssolve the dye in water, either following the directions on the package (for a tie-dye kit) or following instructions for how to tie dye (see “How to Tie Dye” and “Hand Dyeing – basic recipe for Procion MX dyes on cellulose or silk”). Put the dyes into the pointy-tipped squeeze bottles sold for use in tie-dyeing. Lay the dress out flat on a surface that won’t be damaged by the dyes (such as a plastic table protected by a plastic tablecloth with some old towels or paper towels on top), and dribble the different colors of dyes where you want them. If you only want bright colors, avoid placing opposite colors immediately adjacent to each other, such as purple next to yellow, red next to green, or blue next to orange, as these color combinations combine to make muddy browns.The wet dye on the dress should be darker in color than you want, because not all of the dye will attach; some will be washed away, which results in a lighter color than you see during dye application.

After you have thoroughly covered your rayon dress with as many colors as you want, cover it with plastic and leave it alone in a warm place (70 degrees F or above) at least overnight, for the dyes to react with the rayon in the presence of the soda ash. Covering it with plastic is to help keep it moist, since the dye reaction stops once all moisture has dried up. It is better to leave the dress to react longer than necessary, rather than less time than necessary, because the extra time makes sure that all of the dye molecules have reacted, either with the fabric or with the water. The means there will no longer be any active dye present to cause staining with colors in the wrong places, when you wash out the excess dye.

The next day, wash the dress once in cool water, to remove the soda ash and some of the dye, then wash two or three times in the hottest water available. To avoid unnecessarily abrading the rayon fiber, which is very weak when it is wet, you can soak the dress for a while in extremely hot water (even boiling water is okay for washing out Procion dyes), then wash out by hand and then repeat.

If you prefer, you could dye the entire dress in multiple colors for the background, wash it afterwards, and then start all over again, line-drying the dress after soaking it in soda ash again, applying just the colors inside the flower patterns. This will reduce the amount the colors small patterns blend with the background color, and is a particularly good idea if the background color you apply contrasts strongly with the colors you apply inside the flower patterns. If the dye seems inclined to spread much more than you like, either apply less dye, or thicken this dye with sodium alginate.

You can produce a really fantastic dress in a unique color pattern. Note that synthetic trim, such as the white stitching that holds the seams together, and any edging or lace, will almost always stay white, after washing out the excess dye, though sometimes a turquoise dye will stain it.

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Paula

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.

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

-Paula

iDye plus iDye Poly didn’t work on cotton pants. What is my next step?

Name: Bernie
Country or region: Vancouver, Canada
Message: Hello Paula,

I have a quick question about dying.

I have two pairs of pants, one in black and one in a light beige colour. Both are of the same style and fit, just different colours. Now that I’ve worn the black pants for about a year, they’ve faded quite a bit. I only wore the light beige ones several times. Now I want to dye both of them to black. On the tag, it says they are 98% cotton and 2% polyester (followed by another line that says 100% cotton; I don’t know, I bought these pants in Korea).

I tried iDye today. I mixed both a regular pack of iDye and a single pack of iDye Poly together (two packs together) in 1L of boiling water, dumped it into my laundry machine, followed by a cup of table salt pre-dissolved in water, and then threw in my pre-soaked pants, and washed them for 1:30. Results were not very satisfying. The pants only darkened a little bit. However, I want to point out that:

1) The water may have not been hot enough in my washer as I ran the bathtub faucet a little bit too long soaking the pants and the washer’s hot water temperature might have been affected (in which case I might try out the stove-top method)
1A) If I do the stove-top method, won’t the intense heat cause my pants to shrink or the fibers to break down?

2) I have a front-loading washer. When I poured the pre-dissolved salt and iDye solution in the machine, it went through the holes in the washer drum and I’m not sure if some it got drained or not. But when I turned on the wash and came back 30 minutes later, the pants were all covered thoroughly in a black dye (which surprised me more when post-rinse and spin that the pants barely changed).

Now, Paula, I seek your assistance. From Googling and doing some research, it seems that you are one of the more knowledgeable people on this topic on the internet and I am curious what you would recommend as my next step.

Thank you!

Hi Bernie,

The problem is a combination of choosing the correct dye for the fiber, and using the correct temperature for the dye. The dye that I recommend for your project, Procion MX dye, will work well on cotton without having to use high heat.

The iDye Poly works only on synthetic fibers and only when boiled with the clothing, at least at a simmer but preferably at a good rolling boil, for at least half an hour. iDye Poly does not work in the washing machine, because it’s not hot enough. Even when used correctly, though, it will have little effect on clothing that contains only 2% polyester. Only one thread in fifty will even take the dye at all! Polyester dye does not color cotton at all; no matter how you apply it, it will wash out of the cotton. It’s great for clothing that contains, say, 50% polyester, when combined with the plain iDye for natural fibers to dye the non-polyester portion of the fibers in the fabric. However, you are right to be concerned about shrinkage when boiling cotton or cotton-blend fabric.

Seam stitching is nearly always made of polyester, which stays the original color when dyed with cotton dye. This may be a problem for you when you successfully dye your beige pants black with cotton dye. Did the iDye Poly color the threads at the seams of the beige pants? Probably not, because you were not heating the pants in the dye on the stovetop.

Clothing that is 98% cotton is best dyed with fiber reactive dye, such as Procion MX dye. Fiber reactive dye is better than direct dye (the type that is in iDye for natural fibers), because it lasts longer in the clothing, and because it can be applied at room temperature. Direct dye requires very hot water, preferably close to boiling, though it can work in the washing machine if the water temperature is at least 140°F (60°C). If, like many people, you have your water heater set to 120°F or below, to reduce the risk of scald injuries, you are less likely to have acceptable results with direct dye, unless your washing machine itself heats the water to a much higher temperature.

Unlike direct dye, Procion dye can be set with sodium carbonate (using either washing soda or soda ash, but not baking soda), instead of heat. It will work at temperatures as low as 70°F (21°C), though warmer temperatures are better. You can use a five- or ten-gallon plastic bucket, if you’re willing to stir it for an hour, or you can use a washing machine. Top-loading washers are better than front-loaders for dyeing, but there are instructions available for dyeing with Procion MX dye in a front-loader. Dharma Trading Company provides a recipe for “Garment Dyeing With a Front Load Washing Machine”, and Jacquard Products includes instructions for a front-loading washer near the bottom of their “Procion MX Instructions” PDF page. The fact that your pants did become visibly soaked with black dye is encouraging, even though that dye did not work.

When dyeing black, always be sure to use a lot of dye. It takes more dye powder to obtain a dark black than to obtain any other color, regardless of what type of dye you are using. For each pound of dry cotton fabric that you are dyeing, you will want to use 30 grams of black Procion MX dye powder. That’s a whole ounce! Paler colors can be obtained with much smaller quantities of dye.

In Vancouver, you can buy Procion MX dye from Maiwa Handprints. They have a shop on Granville Island, and they also sell online, as do Dharma Trading Company and other good dye suppliers. Another Canadian online source of Procion MX dyes is G&S Dye in Toronto. See my page of Sources for Dyeing Supplies Around the World.

I have to mention one other possible cause of your problem. If the pants were treated with a surface finish, such as stain-resistance or an anti-wrinkle finish, even Procion dye may not work for you. There is always a risk of failure when re-dyeing commercially-made clothing that isn’t sold specifically for dyeing. It usually works out okay, but there’s a small but real chance that it won’t work at all.

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

-Paula