Category Archives: Procion MX dye

Use a better dye to make a camouflage design on clothing

Name: Billy
Country or region: USA
Message: I bought a pair of white cotton bib overalls and dyed them tan with rit dye according to directions. The tan set, then I sprayed them with dark green, dark brown, and black from spray bottle to camoflauge them. When I washed them, all but the tan washed out. What happened?

This is pretty much what you would expect to happen. Rit All Purpose Dye is meant to be applied by boiling the garment in the dye in a big pot for an hour. Warm water is not as good for Rit as extremely hot water, but it will work to some extent, as you saw with your tan dye. It will not work at all well when simply sprayed on the garment at room temperature.

What you need is a better type of dye. Fiber reactive dyes, such as Procion MX dye, can be applied directly, by spraying them on. These are the dyes that are popular for tie-dyeing, because they work so much better than all-purpose dyes. Instead of being set with high heat, they are set with washing soda or soda ash, a common laundry chemical.

There are many advantages to using Procion MX dye instead of Rit dye. The dye is far more permanent, and won’t run in the laundry to ruin other clothing like Rit dye does. You don’t have to ruin a cooking pot by using dye in it (you should not plan to reuse a dyeing pot for food). You have many more options for how to apply the dye. It even tends to cost less, since Rit dye is packaged with a lot of salt and detergent in little boxes that will dye only up to one pound of clothing each.

To use the Procion dye for your camouflage project, first soak your cotton overalls in a gallon of water in which you have dissolved one cup of soda ash, then remove them from the water, squeezing out as much of the excess liquid as you can, and spread the overalls out on a waterproof surface. Dissolve Procion MX dye in water, using about four teaspoons of dye powder per cup of water for dark colors. Wear a dust mask while working with the dry dye, so you don’t breathe any of the dye dust, because it can cause allergies. you can apply the dye (wearing waterproof gloves) by dribbling it onto the fabric with a pointy-tipped squirt bottle, or by dipping a sponge in it and applying it to the fabric, or by placing the dye mixture into spray bottles and spraying (wear a dust mask so you don’t accidentally breathe any dye mist). Keeping in mind that the dye will be lighter in color after you wash out the excess, be sure to apply enough dye to make the garment much darker than you want.

The wet dyed items then need to remain damp overnight in a warm place, 70 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. If you live in a dry climate, you’ll need to do something to keep the overalls moist while the dye reacts overnight. You can place them inside a plastic bin with the lid on—a camouflage pattern will probably not be spoiled by having wet dye from one part of the garment bleed onto another part where they come into contact—or you can wrap them in plastic wrap, or, instead, you can mix urea into your dye mixture, because urea in the mixture attracts moisture and helps keep the garment damp enough for a long time, even if it feels pretty dry.

After you’ve left the dye to react, the next day (or a day after that, if it’s more convenient), you should wash the overalls once in cool water to remove the soda ash and the largest part of the unused dye, than wash it twice in the hottest water you can to remove the rest of the excess unattached dye. It’s best to turn up the water heater to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for this washing out step, but if you use cooler water you just have to take more care to wash the garment separately the first few times, since there will be some excess dye that can transfer onto other clothing if it is left lying around damp at some point in the wash. Of course the original tan Rit dye is apt to run when wet, and it will tend to wash completely out after a while. If all of your tan dye washes out, you will want to get some tan Procion dye to replace it with.

Where can you buy Procion MX dyes? Most people who do a lot of dyeing buy their dye by mail-order from dye suppliers such as Dharma Trading Company, which also sells soda ash and urea, but you can buy Procion dye from many different sources in the form of a tie-dye kit. Jacquard Products (a dye manufacturer) makes this especially easy for your project by producing a Camo Tie Dye kit, which you can buy from many different art and crafts suppliers, or from Amazon, or even, depending on the time of the year, from stores such as Walmart. It contains premixed dye powders in olive, black, and bronze.

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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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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.

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