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You are here: Home > All About Hand Dyeing > About Dyes > Naphthol Dyes


Richard Proctor and Jennifer Lew's book
Surface Design for Fabric
includes instructions for using Naphthol dyes to dye cotton fabric




Nitrile Gloves

About Naphthol Dyes

Cotton, rayon, and other cellulosic fibers, as well as silk, can also be dyed with azoic or naphthol dyes. (Naphthol is sometimes also spelled as 'napthol' or 'naphtol'; the latter is the German spelling.) Naphthol dyes are true cold water dyes. The "cold" water used in fiber reactive dyes such as Procion MX dyes should, ideally, be between 95° and 105°F (35° to 41°C), although temperatures as low as 70°F (21°C) may be used. In contrast, naphthol dyes may be used in ice water. Both fiber reactive and naphthol dyes are suitable for use in batik, since they do not require heat that would melt the wax to set the dye.

Naphthol dyes include more hazardous chemicals than fiber reactive dyes, which makes them less appropriate for home use. We suspect that it is the dangers of using these dyes that make them unavailable from art and craft suppliers in the US and Europe. The dyes are used by craftspeople in Australia, Indonesia, and India, however. Use only with extreme caution, to avoid the risk of bladder cancer and other deadly diseases.

The way naphthol dyes are used is fascinating. Two different types of chemicals are mixed in the fiber, the diazo salt and the naphthol; the specific combination determines the color obtained. An advantage of this sort of dye is that contrasting colors may be placed adjacent to each other on fabric without color bleeding from one to the other. As with vat dyes, the final color is provided by insoluble particles of dye that are stuck within the fiber; only the components that react together to form these compounds are themselves soluble in water.

Richard Proctor and Jennifer Lew's chart, below, shows how diazo salts can be mixed with naphthol bases to make different colors, from their book, Surface Design for Fabric.

Table I. Mixing different colors with Naphthol dyes.

 Base A
Naphthol AS
Base B
Naphthol AS.G
Base C
Naphthol AS.GR
Base D
Naphthol AS.LB
Base E
Naphthol AS.BO
Salt "1"
(Fast yellow GC)
red-orange pink red bright blue blue-violet
Salt "2"
(Fast Scarlet R)
lemon bright yellow saffron gold ochre
Salt "3"
(Fast Red B)
magenta red-violet purple blue-green green
Salt "4"
(Fast Blue BB)
tan chocolate red-brown purple deep violet
Salt "5"
(Fast Blue B)
bright red deep red maroon blue blue-black

Although naphthol dyes are manufactured in the US as well as elsewhere, I do not know of any North American or European source of these dyes that is suitable for use by artists or crafters; the only good source I know about is Batik Oetoro, in Australia. They are quite expensive, at about $30 for 100 grams of each color of many of the naphthol bases or diazo salts. (Compare this to $5 per 60 grams of Procion MX dyes at several US suppliers.)

Instructions for Use

For instructions in how to use naphthol and diazo components in dyeing fabric, see Richard Proctor and Jennifer Lew's book, Surface Design for Fabric; also see the instructions provided online by Batik Oetoro on their Naphtol & Diazo Dyes page.


Since many of the components used in naphthol dyeing are known or suspected carcinogens, they should not be used in your kitchen. They should be used only in a lab, or in a dye studio in which good laboratory practices are invariably followed. These include strict cleanliness, and strict use of protective clothing such as goggles, face masks, gloves, and lab coats (none of which are to be worn outside of the lab). Dye powder must not be allowed to become airborne, and should be handled in a fume hood. Dye powders and solutions must never be allowed to contact the skin. Food and drink must never be consumed at any time in the laboratory. If you do use naphthol dyes at home, you must be sure to follow all of these precautions, and use the dyes out-of-doors only, never inside the home. Do not use around children.

Unlike many other potential carcinogens, some of the carcinogenic diazonium salts can be can be absorbed directly through even unbroken skin. This makes it critical to avoid ALL skin contact! Disposable latex gloves are not suitable because they are too short, and they frequently develop holes during use.

For each component you purchase for use in naphthol dyeing, be sure to obtain an MSDS (material safety data sheet) in order to determine appropriate safety measures. If this is not available, you must obtain the full chemical name for each component and determine its safety hazards from other sources.

Table II. Examples of warnings about some potentially hazardous naphthol dye components

chemical hazards
Fast Yellow GC base tumorigen; mutagen; toxic; dangerous for the environment
Fast Blue B diazonium salt suspected carcinogen; eye irritant; toxic when inhaled or ingested; in solution can be absorbed through the skin*; very toxic**
Fast Blue salt R carcinogen**
Fast Red diazonium salt combustible powder - keep away from heat or naked flame; suspected carcinogen; eye and respiratory tract irritant*
Fast Red Salt B diazonium salt potential carcinogen; irritant to eyes and the respiratory tract*; very toxic**
Fast Red Violet diazonium salt combustible powder - keep away from heat or naked flame; suspected carcinogen; eye and respiratory tract irritant*
Fast Ponceau disazo dye mutagen and a potential carcinogen; highly toxic; skin and eye irritant; must never be handled during pregnancy*
Black K salt (Brenthamine K) may be harmful by inhalation, if swallowed or if absorbed through skin; may cause irreversible effects; irritating to eyes; limited evidence of a carcinogenic effect***
Fast Red A1 salt may be harmful or act as an irritant; toxicology not fully investigated***
Sources: *Roy Ellis's laboratory histology; **ABC of Safe Practices Ellis and Perry 2001 ; ***The Physical and Theoretical Chemistry Laboratory, Oxford University; Chemical Dictionary

For information about other types of dye, see About Dyes.


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