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When in Drought

How To Save Water While Using Fiber Reactive Dyes

California is in the middle of yet another terrible drought, as are other parts of the West. Some other states are getting TOO much rain. But any way you look at it, dyeing with Fiber Reactive Dyes has always been a somewhat water intensive craft, partly depending on which technique you are using.

To dye a solid color, you need large amounts of water for the fabric to swim freely in. Also the dyes do not "exhaust" or get all used up the way Acid Dyes do on silks and wool. With tie-dye, you normally use super concentrated dye mixes, and not all of it "fixes". So with all techniques, getting all the excess dye out of the item, when you are finished dyeing, can use a lot of water. This is a critical step so that the dyes don't bleed in the future, either on you or on your other laundry. The beauty of this dye is that what is left is totally permanent, so much so a baby can chew on fabric properly dyed and washed out and it will not come off! But you have to get out the excess dye first, no matter which technique you are using. .

In the interest of conserving our precious water resources, here are some suggestions for water conservation to try. Many ideas are from our fantastic, information sharing Dharma customers:

  • Mixing pastelsOne option is to use less dye - less dye takes less wash out. Pastel colors can be just as beautiful! Plus, you can always dye it again with the same color to achieve a darker shade, if necessary.
  • If you're tie-dyeing or using a low water immersion technique like bag dyeing, try letting the item batch longer, from 12 to 24 hours. This allows the excess dye to bond with the water molecules, and to wash away more easily.
  • Switch at least temporarily to low water immersion techniques (scrunch, crystal wash, ice dyeing, baggie, bread bag dyeing, etc.), dye painting or more "careful" tie-dye techniques (where you apply weaker dye more sparingly and leave more white areas) as opposed to tub and wash machine dyeing or super saturated tie-dyes.
  • Some of our customers have said that if they do a quick rinse in cold water to remove the Soda Ash, then a long long soak (overnight!) in COLD water, they are then able to get the excess dye out with only one super HOT (the hotter the better!) wash in the washing machine (with Dharma Dyer's Detergent). During the long soaking period, the dye will gradually diffuse out into the water. This eliminates a lot of "running water type rinsing" before the wash. It is all the rinsing, especially if tie-dyeing with normally supersaturated dye solutions, that uses the most water.
  • Ice dyeOther customers have recommended, again, the first quick cold rinse to remove the soda ash, but soaking in HOT water instead of cold. With multi-color tie-dyes and similar dye jobs, this could be riskier for back staining than a cold soak. Hot water gets dye out faster, so you may not have to soak as long. Soak similar colored items together, and don't soak items with a lot of yellow on them with anything else. Rainbows of colors can be problematic because of the yellow. Then HOT wash with the detergent. As a rule, always use the hottest water available for washing out, as hot water is much more efficient than cooler water for removing unfixed dye, so less water is required.
  • Try leaving your garments or fabrics still tied up (the tighter the ties are, the better) and do a first COLD water rinse in a washing machine with everything still tied up. This will help preserve your whites, and your washing machine is going to do a more water efficient rinsing job than you can under running water. Again though, we don't recommend mixing garments with lots of different colors. Then fill the machine back up with HOT water while you untie your garments, add them to the filled machine for a super hot wash with the textile detergent.
  • Some have recommended a line of successive "rinse buckets" where you untie the garments and dip and rinse in one bucket after another. The water gets dark with dye fast at the beginning bucket, so you have to change it out with fresh frequently, and then put that bucket at "the end of the line". We are out to lunch on how much water this method actually saves. Not having constantly running water would save some, but the water needs to be changed frequently. No soaking is done, so this would be a method for folks who are in more of a hurry. Cold water for the first bucket for sure, then cold or warm for successive buckets, keeping in mind that warmer water gets dyes out faster.
  • Customer: we recycle water from our A/C. The drain empties to two 5-gallon buckets that are connected by 1/2" plastic hose (giving us 10 gallons total), with another 1/2" hose from the second bucket to the drain to prevent overflow messes. During the summer (which is our busy season anyway) we'll get 10 gallons overnight. We use the water for rinsing, making soda ash and dye solutions, for cleaning equipment.
  • Save your shower/bath warm up water (you know all that stuff that goes down the drain while you wait for the water to get hot) and use that for your rinse water. When you are not dyeing and rinsing you can use it to wash dishes or water houseplants.
  • Customer: I don't waste any water when I dye fabrics. I just collect the dye bath and all the rinse water in 5-gallon buckets and use it to flush my toilets. Sometimes I put some bleach in the buckets to lighten the color.
  • Water softening chemicalIf you suspect that your water is even a little hard, add some water softener to your washing-out water. Many dyers do this as a matter of course. Softer water is more efficient at removing excess dye.
  • Now if you have some money you want to use to solve this in a far superior way, the absolute ideal situation is to install a system for your dyeing that filters and re-uses the water. These kind of systems have become much more common and affordable than they used to be. Reverse Osmosis filtration is the best. There are also far cheaper systems that do a very good job of filtering the water and getting the salts out so that the water is safe to irrigate your plants with. With some web research, if you are serious about filtering and re-using your water, you should be able to find a good system.

We invite you to please write to us with any more suggestions you have for conserving water while dyeing so we can share them. Water is a precious resource and all of us could benefit from more "water wise" techniques.

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