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DIY Natural Fabric Dyes

Date
Mar, 29, 2018

Here on Green Mom, we’ve discussed the dangers of food dyes and some brilliant natural alternatives to chemical food dyes. Today, let’s cover natural fabric dyes. From those unnaturally neon-bright colors to the dangers of added flame retardants, there are many good reasons to try dyeing your fabrics at home.
A 2014 study conducted by the Environmental Working Group and Duke University found evidence of exposure to TDCIPP, a cancer-causing flame retardant, in the bodies of all 22 mothers and 26 children tested. In the children, the average concentration of a chemical biomarker was nearly five times higher than the average concentration in the mothers. Young children are particularly susceptible to the toxicity of flame retardant chemicals.
Do you have any idea what’s in a typical bottle of Rit dye? They’re not sharing, but it does have this ominous warning:
“Eye irritant. Contains salt (sodium chloride). Avoid contact with eyes. Wash thoroughly after handling. First aid: in case of eye contact immediately flush with water for 15 minutes. Call physician. Keep out of reach of children.”
Read enough? Let’s get started! First, you’ll need clean, untreated fabric. Natural fabrics like cotton, silk, linen or wool absorb dyes far better than synthetics do. Soak the fabric overnight so it is fully saturated. This helps the fabric pick up color evenly.
Next, decide on your color(s) of choice and gather your dye ingredients. Onion skins are a very common and easy-to-use dye, and you’re repurposing something that would otherwise be discarded (unless you’re composting). Onion skins release their color easily and produce lovely shades of pale yellow to deep amber. Here are some other options you can try:

  • Yellow/Orange: Yellow onion skin, Turmeric, Marigolds, Zinnias, Calendula, Carrot peelings, Lemon peels
  • Red/Pink: Avocado pits, Prickly Pear, Annatto Seeds, Strawberries, Beets, Pomegranates, Cranberries, Cherries, Hibiscus flowers
  • Blue/Purple: Purple cabbage, Blackberries, Blueberries, Purple grapes, Purple iris
  • Green: Frozen spinach, Artichokes, Nettle
  • Beige/Brown: Coffee grinds, Boiled acorns, Walnut hulls
  • Grey/Black: Red onion skin, Sumac leaves, Walnut hulls, Meadowsweet

Now, place one part chopped ingredient to two parts water in a large stainless steel pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for one hour. Then add one part vinegar and four parts water to the pot. Use a strainer to remove the solids. Bring dye back to a boil, add wet fabric, and reduce heat to simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. After an hour, if you’re happy with the color, you can remove the fabric; or for deeper color, remove the pot from the heat and let it soak overnight. Rinse fabric in clear cool water. Hang to dry.

Fredrika Syren

Fredrika Syren is an environmental activist and writer. In 2016, she founded the website Green-Mom.com where she shared her family’s journey of living zero waste. She lives in San Diego, California with her husband James and their children Bella, Noah, and Liam. Fredrika and her family were recently featured in the documentary Zero Time to Waste. Fredrika is also the author of Zero Waste for Families - A Practical Guidebook (which you can buy on this site)

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