The fashion industry contributes severely to environmental harm through synthetic dyeing processes. To put things into perspective, about 10-15% of dye used for fabrics contaminates wastewater.1 The wastewater has the potential to pollute runoff and negatively affect wildlife and human health. Luckily, there are many ways to dye fabrics completely naturally without the use of harmful synthetics.
Many fabrics can be dyed with vegetables. For example, grabbing one pound of beets from the store is just enough to get started. All you have to do is put the veggies in a big pot, fill it with water to just cover the beets, and let it simmer. Once the beets are soft, add the whole mix from the pot to a blender and blend until there are no large beet chunks. After straining the mixture to remove the solid beet parts, grab some clean white clothes and dye them using the leftover liquid just like you’re doing regular tie dye.2 This is a great way to get soft, pink hues in your clothes, and would be a super addition to a Spring wardrobe.
“Dyeing” for more of a summer-y look? Marigold flowers can be used to dye fabrics brilliant hues of yellow.3 This is a little trickier than dyeing with beets because mordant fabrics are required for the best results. Mordants are usually polyvalent metal ions that react with a dye to form a coordination complex. In other words, the chemical is added to the fabric to fix and intensify the color through creating a “bridge” between the dye and the fabric.4 An even more sustainable option is to use bio-mordants, or natural alternatives to metal-containing mordants. Turmeric, pomegranate, and acacia are available bio-mordants which fix natural dyes into fabrics.5 Using equal weights of fabric to the marigolds, you can place the marigolds into a pot of warm water similarly to the method for the beets. Instead of blending, the pot should be covered with a lid and the mixture should be allowed to steep for one hour. Once the hour is up, strain the mixture and add the fabric to the leftover liquid. After stirring the fabric with the liquid for one hour on low heat, the heat can be turned off so that the fabric can steep. Once a satisfactory color is achieved, you have finished dyeing your new favorite yellow piece.3
Coffee is coveted by most people, but it can make for some nasty stains. Luckily for the environment and your favorite white Fall sweater, coffee can be used to dye fabrics various shades of tan to brown. Clean, soaked fabric and a pitcher of coffee is basically all you need for this process. The darker the roast and the longer the dyeing time, the darker the dye, so be sure to keep that in mind if you try this out. However, the fabric will still look darker after dyeing and before washing. Once the fabric is placed in a bowl, the pitcher of coffee can be poured over it. A wooden spoon should be used to mix the solution as it will make the color spread evenly. Once the desired brown hue is reached, the fabric should be wrung and placed into a bowl of hot water and a few tablespoons of vinegar to set the color. After 10 min. of soaking, rinse the fabric until no excess coffee remains, and heat set it using either a dryer or an iron once the fabric dries.6 Your stained sweater is now a super cool shade of brown, and is still perfect for the Fall.
Who doesn’t love a good pop of red in a Winter outfit? As Fall comes to an end, instead of raking away all of the fallen leaves, save a few red ones! Just like the other processes, make a bath consisting of water and red leaves in a pot, and bring it to a boil. This mixture should be allowed to steep for a few hours to get the best color, and the solid leaves should be strained out of the mixture before the dyeing process. Take your white jeans, sweater, scarf, cozy socks, etc., and place them into the dyebath. After the desired color is reached, the fabric should be rinsed with salt water to assure that the dye is set well. Now you have a lovely red piece for the start of the holiday season.7
As these procedures have shown, natural dyeing is really easy to do at home, and can give a wide range of colors for every season. Happy dyeing!
1. Periyasamy, A. P.; Militky, J., Sustainability in Textile Dyeing: Recent Developments.
Springer International Publishing: 2020; pp 37-79.
2. Dye hard: Beet and turmeric tie dye at home https://discovernewfields.org/newsroom/dye
hard-beet-and-turmeric-tie-dye-home (accessed Dec 5, 2021).
3. DuFault, A. How to dye with marigold flowers https://botanicalcolors.com/2021/07/06/how
to-dye-with-marigold-flowers/ (accessed Dec 5, 2021).
4. Helmenstine, A. What is a mordant? Definition and examples https://sciencenotes.org/what-is
a-mordant-definition-and-examples/ (accessed Dec 5, 2021).
5. Adeel, S.; Salman, M.; Usama, M.; Rehman, F.-u.; Ahmad, T.; Amin, N., Sustainable
Isolation and Application of Rose Petals Based Anthocyanin Natural Dye for Coloration of
Bio-Mordanted Wool Fabric. J. Nat. Fibers 2021, Ahead of Print. (accessed 2021-10-14).
6. Johanson, M. How to naturally dye fabric with coffee https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/how
to-dye-clothes-with-coffee-1106372 (accessed Dec 5, 2021).
7. Leverette, M. M. Make your own natural red fabric dye
https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/make-natural-fabric-red-dyes-2145745 (accessed Dec 5,