Use this method to dye fabric or clothing, made of natural fibers one uniform or solid color. Also called Garment Dyeing or Vat Dyeing, this method can also be done in a washing machine. Fiber Reactive Dye is the dye of choice for all cellulose (plant) fibers, like cotton, Rayon, hemp, linen, Tencel, Modal, bamboo, etc. (For dyeing silk, wool and other protein fibers, see Dyeing Wool and Silk with Fiber Reactive Dyes) The chemical bond of these dyes is permanent, so once all the excess dye is washed out an infant can chew on the fabric and it will not come off! Fiber Reactive Dyes work in lukewarm water so these directions can also be used to dye batik (waxed) fabrics in successive colors without fear of melting the wax.
- Fiber Reactive Dye
- Soda Ash
- Non-Iodized Salt
- Urea (optional)
- Calsolene Oil (optional)
- Synthrapol or Dharma Professional Textile Detergent (PTD)
- Milsoft (optional)
- A bucket large enough for your item to move around in or a top loading washing machine - for tips on front loading machines, click here.
- Pitcher & cup
- Dyer's Salt
- Measuring cups & spoons
Let's get started!
Pre-Wash your fabric. Use HOT water and 1/4 cup Synthrapol or Dharma Professional Textile Detergent (PTD) per machine load. This will remove any dirt, grease, or other gunk. Use Enzyme detergents to remove starch. Fabrics treated with permanent press, conditioners, sizing or water proofing, etc are not recommended. This is a very important step. Pre-washing really can make all the difference. We even recommend always pre-washing so called PFD (Prepared For Dyeing) fabrics, as you never know "where they've been". Even fingerprints can cause blotchy dyeing. Be sure the fabric is wet.
Dissolve your dye. Paste up the Fiber Reactive Dye with some warm water, smashing it with a spoon, like making gravy. Next, add about a cup of warm water (more if you are dissolving lots of dye, like with black) to the dye paste to make a well dissolved slurry. Finally, add to the tub or bucket and stir to mix evenly. (for dye measurements click here)
Note: Some colors can be harder to dissolve than others, especially some reds (including mixes with red in them, like purples, blacks, browns, etc.), as well as some of the darker yellows. Use approx. 1 TBS of Urea dissolved in 1 cup warm water to make your dye slurry as above. Urea is an excellent dissolving agent. To prevent "freckles" of undissolved red, you can even use some thin fabric like 5 or 8mm Habotai silk or something comparable in a funnel over your dye bath and filter your well thinned and dissolved dye. Re-paste up any dye caught in the filter so you don't end up skewing the final color.
Pour the required amount of the Non-Iodized Salt* into the dye bath. Add Calsolene Oil (Optional - breaks surface tension for more even, less streaky results; highly recommended for large loads).
Add your wet fabric. Stir gently, but frequently, for 20 minutes. In a washing machine, set it to agitate. Don't let it drain out! - with most machines you have to keep setting it back to the beginning of the cycle. Use a timer so you don't loose track - nothing worse than losing your dye down the drain before you're done! The washing machine is recommended for large loads, when you are too busy to stir frequently enough, or for the most even results.
Add the Soda Ash. Dissolve Soda Ash with warm water and add slowly, over about 15 minutes, to the dye bath while stirring. Don't pour it directly onto the fabric (concentrated Soda Ash solution touching the fabric can leave darker splotches!) When using a washing machine, turn it off and use something to move the fabric over to one side while adding the Soda Ash in to the otherside. Mix the soda ash solution into the water before stirring the fabric around or turning the machine back on. Stir frequently or set machine to agitate again - 30 min. for light colors, 1 hour for deep colors.
Rinse & wash out excess dye. Use cool running water until it runs almost clear, or put it through a couple of rinse cycles in the washing machine. Then wash in HOT water using Synthrapol or Professional Textile Detergent to finish washing out the excess dye. With some of the darker colors, like blacks or reds, a second wash may be necessary. Additionally, using Milsoft (a concentrated, professional fabric softener) according to its directions will restore a luxurious softness to fabrics that have been dyed.
Measurements / FAQs:
How much dye do I need?
The easy way: If you don't have a precise scale, and don't care about color matching or repeatability: for medium shades of most colors add 1 tablespoon of dye per 1 lb. of fabric (3 gallons of water), or 1/2 cup (two 2oz jars) of dye per 8 lb. washing machine load (20 gallons of water). Please note: Colors marked with * on the color card or jar label require double those amounts, and those marked with ** require 4x those amounts to get the depth of shade on our color card.
For more exact shades: check out our Procion Dye Yields & Estimator page. Weigh your dye with a small scale to get the correct amount, a percent of the dry weight of the fabric you are dyeing. Dye densities can vary from lot to lot, so weighing is much more accurate than measuring out tablespoons and cups. For repeatable shades, keep careful records of the proportions you end up using and keep track of any "tweaking" you do. Also, try to get enough of one dye lot for your whole project (hugely important as dye lots vary)!
For lighter shades: reduce the amount of dye, and for even deeper shades, increase the dye.
If color is really critical, always do a test before embarking on your main project! Keep in mind that colors can vary based on many different variables, and the color charts are only a guide (color chart printings and computer monitors aren't always accurate either). Colors can vary depending on fabric, water (ph, hardness, etc), dyelot, and many other things.
The amount of Non-Iodized Salt and Soda Ash are a function of the amount of water used. For each pound of dry fabric you will need about 3 gallons of warm water. The water must cover the fabric with enough room for thorough, tangle-free stirring; otherwise you get uneven dyeing and streaks. For each 1 1/2 gallons of water use 1 1/2 cup of Non-Iodized Salt and 1/6 cup of Soda Ash. For black dyes, use 2X the amount of Non-Iodized Salt.
What should I expect the dye to do?
Please read more about dye expectations here.