Is clothing dyed with Procion MX dye safe to wear?

Name: Linda
Message: I'm a little concerned about using Procion dyes. My friend invited me to do some fabric dyeing. She is the one who mixes the dye from powder form. My concern is that I'm worried about the toxicity of the whole process. I have read that Procion dyes are only toxic in powder form and that one should always wear a mask and gloves to protect oneself. But I'm a little confused about once the dyeing process is complete. After the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or even 10th wash and beyond, is my dyed fabric or dyed clothing still toxic? Do I have any reason to be concerned and paranoid? Please help me feel confident again about dyeing. Also, do you know of any completely non-toxic fabric dyes on the market? I've heard of Deka dyes. Thank you for your time and expertise.

Procion MX dyes, like other fiber reactive dyes, form a permanent covalent bond with the cellulose fiber (cotton, rayon, linen, etc.). This is an extremely strong sort of molecular bond. Once the dye has properly reacted with your fabric, it is not going anywhere. Chlorine bleach will break it (and most other organic molecules) into pieces, thus changing its color, but will not detach it.

This means that fiber reactive dyes such as Procion MX are among the safest of all dyes, once they have been properly applied to fabric. Even people who are chemically sensitive report that clothing dyed with Procion MX dye is non-irritating. There is no permanent dye for use on cotton material that is safer to wear. Procion MX dye in powder form tends to produce allergic reactions in some of the people who unwisely breathe it repeatedly, which is why it is important to avoid breathing dye powder. There may also be a risk of toxicity if the dye is consumed internally; note that this is also true of many art products that are labeled as being 'non-toxic'. No dye should ever be consumed internally, by eating it or breathing it, except for certified food dye, which is safe to eat, but not safe to breathe.

Wool material can be dyed with food coloring, such as with Kool-aid drink mix or Jello brand gelatin desert mix; of course, food coloring is the safest of all dyes, since it is safe to eat. You cannot dye cellulose materials, such as cotton, rayon, or linen, with food dyes, however. Only animal fibers such as wool will attach to acid dyes such as those used to color food.

Deka dyes are certainly not safer than Procion dyes. Deka dyes include an all-purpose type of dye called Deka L Hot Water Dye (this dye is available in Europe and New Zealand, but cannot be purchased in the US, at the present time). All-purpose dye is certainly not safer than fiber reactive dye, and there is some small reason to suspect that it could be less safe. The dye found in all-purpose dye gradually continues to wash out of the fabric for the life of the garment, bleeding onto other garments in the laundry; one imagines that it might even bleed onto the skin in tiny quantities, under hot and humid conditions, thus exposing the wearer to larger doses of the dye. This is probably quite harmless; in fact, I have found no evidence anywhere in the medical literature of reactions to clothing dyed with direct dye, only to clothing dyed with disperse or basic dyes, which are used for polyester or acrylic. However, it seems clear that a type of dye which is more permanently bound to the fiber might be even safer.

When fiber is dyed with Procion MX dye, some of the dye reacts with the fiber, while some remains only loosely associated with it. In order to remove every trace of the unreacted dye, you should wash the fabric first in cold or lukewarm water, once, to remove the auxiliary chemicals such as salt and soda ash, since these can encourage the weaker association of unreacted dye with fiber. Then you should wash the dyed material in hot water, with either Synthrapol or ordinary detergent. Hot water is most efficient at removing excess unreacted dye. It may require more than one washing with hot water to remove all of the excess unattached dye. If you want to be quite sure that every last vestige of unreacted dye has been washed out (this is quite important in quilt making), use a hot iron to press the damp dyed fabric against some white cotton fabric; if dye transfers to the white, then you should wash again, but if no dye transfers, you have completed the removal of unattached dye.

Incidentally, once you have followed the above procedure, you may safely wash the clothing at any temperature with any color of clothing, even whites, without fear that the Procion MX dye will transfer onto any of the other clothing in the wash. If all of your clothing is dyed with Procion MX dyes, you need never bother to sort your regular laundry by color again.

Posted: Sunday - April 03, 2005 at 08:00 PM          

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