DIY Fabric Dyeing Infodump

I wasn’t able to get exactly the true red I wanted (it came out more reddish-brown), and might have been able to if I stripped my fabric to a lighter color first. But because color removers are unpredictable and damaging to many fabric types, I stuck with overdyeing on my base color.


Types of fiber

  • Synthetic fibers: polyester, nylon, lycra/spandex
  • Natural protein fibers: silk, wool, cashmere
  • Natural plant fibers: cotton, rayon, bamboo, linen, viscose, modal / lyocell / tencel
    (Although rayon, viscose, and modal fibers are artificially extruded, they are still natural fibers, made from cellulose.)
  • Fabrics described as “satin” or “silk” can often be synthetic imitations, so check the material content tag.

Dyes (adding color)

  • Fiber-reactive dye is a type of permanent dye that works best on plant-based fibers, and will also work well on protein fibers.
    Procion MX is supposedly highly colorfast, and can be used at temperatures that won’t damage fabric (105F / 41C).
  • Acid dye works best on protein fibers. (It’s not the caustic variety of acid; the solution is about as acidic as vinegar.) It requires hot temperatures near boiling, so your fabric will shrink if you use it.
    Jacquard Acid Dye
  • Disperse dye will work on many synthetics, but look up your specific material to see what the recommended options are.
    Jacquard iDye, RIT DyeMore
  • All-purpose dye is easy to use, but may not give as vibrant/colorfast results.
    RIT All-Purpose Dye (works on blends which are less than 35% synthetic)
Some dyes are anionic in water. In an immersion dye context, there is some electrostatic repulsion between the fabric and dye. (Ever rubbed balloons on your head to negatively charge them?) Salts are cationic, and help reduce the electronegativity of the fabric.As for the choice of table salt, it is simply a nontoxic and common household ingredient that happens to work well. [doi:10.1038/s41598–018–31501–7]However, if there is too high a ratio of salt to water, as in low-immersion dyeing to deliberately achieve unexpected patterns, salt can have a very different effect by reducing the dye’s solubility.

Removing color

  • Based on how they’re manufactured, some commercial fabrics can be difficult or impossible to remove the color from. You won’t know until you try.
  • If the color is removable, you probably won’t be able to strip color all the way back to pure white. This can be fine if you plan to dye afterward or if you’re happy with off-white.
  • The color results will be unpredictable unless you have prior experience with this exact fabric/dye/remover combo.
  • All color removal processes will damage spandex. Anecdotally, you can get away with your fabric intact if your material has a spandex content under 5%, but spandex heat damage will still change the shape and drape of the fabric, so you might not want to use it on existing clothes that fit you really well. [1][2]
  • Chlorine bleach: Often damaging to fabric.
  • RIT Color Remover (sodium hydrosulfite), Thiox (thiourea dioxide): both require near-boiling temperatures. Overall, supposed to be less damaging than bleach, but note that boiling will damage spandex and shrink many natural fibers. (Check if your garment is pre-shrunk.)

Materials & methods

Color prediction

Quick review of color theory

image via Wikipedia

Want a better color prediction?

  • Make a base layer that matches your existing fabric color as closely as possible.
  • Add a layer on top with a dye color you want to use, and set the blend mode to “Multiply”.
  • Tweak the dye layer using Saturation adjustments or the color picker until the end result matches your desired color. It may not be possible to get the color you want without first removing some base color.
Photoshop example, with base color on the left and projected result on the right. Sadly, my base color is too far off to get the exact shade of true red I want, but I can achieve a very dark burgundy by overdyeing with a bright orangey-red.
Oh no!! Spectra are real!

Calibrating the physical process

Dye amount

Blending dyes

Procion MX fiber-reactive dye samples on cotton using <sun yellow, fuschia, turquoise> | Tien Chiu




autotelic polymath with an overwhelming compulsion to reverse engineer things I’ve never tried before

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