What exactly does salt do when you add it to the dye? Would regular table salt vs sea salt make any difference?

Name: Natalie 


Procion MX Fiber Reactive Cold Water Dye

Procion MX Dye

ideal for cotton, rayon, or silk

When mixed with soda ash, Procion dyes are permanent, colorfast, and very washable.


Canning and pickling salt

Popcorn salt

Kosher salt

Ice cream salt

Message: Hi my name is Natalie, I wanted to know what exactly does salt do when you add it to the dye? and if regular table salt vs sea salt would make any difference?

Table salt is fine for dyeing, especially if it's non-iodized, but sea salt is not a good choice because of the minerals in it, as well as the unnecessary expense. Pickling salt is better because it does not have additives.

What salt does, in high water ratio immersion dyeing, is reduce the tendency of the fabric to repel the dye. Since both the fabric and the dye are negatively charged they tend to repel each other. The addition of large quantities of salt reduces the electronegativity of both fiber and dye, making it easier for the dye to associate with the fiber so that it is located handy for the formation of a chemical bond.

In low water immersion dyeing, the purpose of salt is different. It reduces the solubility of the dye, which is probably why it results in somewhat different effects in the uneven coloration that results from the constriction of the fabric by the small size of the container it's in. Adding salt to low water immersion dyeing can increase the crystal-like patterns produced by this method of dyeing.

We do not normally use salt in mixing our dyes for use in tie-dyeing, because the high concentration of dyes in the tie-dye mixtures, as well as the close direct application of the dye to the fiber, makes salt unnecessary. It can also cause problems by making the dye less soluble. If you add too much salt to a bottle of dye mixed for tie-dyeing, some of the dye will precipitate, falling out of solution, so that it is not available for dyeing, and can cause problems with clogged spouts on the plastic squeeze bottles.

Some dyers are certain that it is important to use non-iodized salt for dyeing, claiming that the used of iodized salt causes streaking. However, it appears that there is actually no visible difference between fabric dyed with iodized salt, rather than iodized salt, if all other factors are kept exactly the same. I buy non-iodized salt for my dyeing, but you can use regular table salt, if that's what you have on hand.

I find that pickling salt is most convenient for dyeing, because it is sold in a fine granular form which dissolves quickly, unlike larger crystalline forms such as kosher salt or water softener salt, it is supplied in inexpensive four-pound boxes at my local grocery store, and it is free of additives of any sort. Any granulated salt that is pure sodium chloride is suitable for use in dyeing.

Sea salt is supposed to be less pure than other salts, and is therefore not as suitable for dyeing. Some sea salts are supposed to be rich in other mineral ions, such as calcium and magnesium. Calcium and magnesium are the minerals found in hard water that interfere with dyeing by forming insoluble soap scum and by forming complexes with some of the dyes. You don't want to use any substance that contains these minerals in your dyeing; in fact, if you have hard water, it is important to use a phosphate-containing water softener in your dye mixtures and wash water, in order to remove them. Unrefined sea salt is also considerably more expensive, an unnecessary expense for dyeing. If a sea salt has been processed to remove all minerals other than sodium chloride, it is perfectly suitable for dyeing, though less interesting for cooking purposes. I do not recommend the use of unpurified sea salt for dyeing. It does not matter whether the salt used in ordinary refined salt was originally obtained from the sea or from mines, however; the refining process makes it perfectly suitable.

For more information, see "Do I need to use salt, in dyeing?" and "How do you use Silk Salt or other large salt crystals in fabric painting?"

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Posted: Thursday - August 21, 2008 at 07:24 AM          

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