When I first started on my dyeing journey I chose to use natural dyes that I would source from my local markets and environment.
While this sounded like the best plan for an eco-friendly solution to dyeing I quickly realised that part of the natural dyeing process was to firstly mordant the yarn with a metal such as, alum, chrome, tin, copper or iron, most of which are highly toxic.
Of course there are always some exceptions to the rule and some natural dyes contain their own mordant or tannins and an additional mordant is not required for the dye particles to adhere to the yarn. I still enjoy natural dyeing from time to time but these days it is mostly for personal use and I usually only use food grade Alum as a mordant.
When I changed over to using acid dyes, I chose the popular tried and true brands as most dyers do. The colours are reliable, they are easy to use and some brands already contain the acid component that is needed to fix the dye to the fibre which makes it even easier.
It wasn't long before I realised that I always felt really exhausted after a dye day. Not just tired from a days work but completely drained of energy. Sometimes I also had a headache after a day in the dye pots despite using masks, gloves and other safely practices like having good ventilation, placing a wet cloth on the table or bench to draw dye particles down to it rather than floating through the air etc.
One day after a visit to my doctor I had a blood test done which came back as being really high in heavy metals. My doctor was not surprised when I told him that I was a dyer and actually advised me to give it up.
I really didn't think that was an option for me at the time so I started to research what other types of dyes were out there, which is when I came across the Greener Shades dyes.
Part of my research was to also read through discussions on dyer groups about different dyes and I had read a few comments that some were concerned that the Greener Shades dyes were not colour fast but I decided that I would try them anyway and after using these for about 5 years now I can say from experience and with confidence that they are of the highest quality, are definitely colourfast over time and do not leave me exhausted or with the headaches that I was having previously.
Greener Shades Dyes only come in 9 colours (a blue, purple, green, teal, yellow, orange, 2 reds and black) so all our colourways are mixed to create the gorgeous shades and blends that you see on our yarns. This is achieved by a confident knowledge of colour theory.
The only time we use other dyes now is for some of our speckles if the speckle we want is not an available Greener Shades colour, lime green, fuchsia or brown for example, as these colours have to be mixed and don't come in the dry dye powder for speckling.
The following information has been sourced from the 'Greener Shades' website and 'Non Toxic Print - Health in the Arts'.
*Greener Shades Dyes
While Greener Shades Dyes are not 'certified organic' they do comply with the Global Organic Textile Standard 6.0 criteria for organic processing. This means that you can have the dyed yarn certified as an organic product if it is dyed with Greener Shades dyes. The yarn will comply to organic standards and can be labeled as such.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) was developed through collaboration by leading standard setters with the aim of defining requirements that are recognised world-wide and that ensure the organic status of textiles from harvesting of the raw materials through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing all the way to labeling in order to provide credible assurance to the consumer.
Greener Shades dyes are non-toxic primarily because they contain no heavy metals.
The other ingredients used to make Greener Shades dyes are non-toxic as well.
Chromium, specifically, in its various forms can be used to make some of the colors in other manufacturer’s dyes. This metal can be quite toxic to humans and animals when inhaled or ingested. Inhalation can occur when measuring out the powder and if you dye your skin, the dye goes directly into your blood stream.
If dye is rinsed down the drain, it is possibly polluting ground water with a water soluble version of chromium. Effects of chromium on living animals range from skin irritation and breathing problems to digestive issues and cancer.
Click here to go to the organic test results for each Greener Shades Dye colour.
Greener Shades Dyes are also environmentally friendly.
There are several benefits from using these dyes over others:
- The effluent or wastewater from the manufacturing process is heavy metal free and not classified as hazardous waste!
- During the dyeing process, heavy metals are not going into ground water.
- The garments you make and wear do not contain heavy metals.
- When a garment eventually ends up in landfill, there are no heavy metals going back into the ground.
In comparison here is an excerpt from the 'Non Toxic Hub' on two other popular types of dyes used to dye yarn.
Acid dyes are used for wool, silk, and sometimes nylon. Sulfuric acid, vinegar, or diluted glacial acetic acid, and sometimes common salt or Glauber's salt (sodium sulfate), are used as dyeing assistants. The temperature of the dye bath can be simmering (140 F or 60 C), or at a boil. Acid dyeing is also done at 90-100 F (32-38 C).
1. In general, the long-term hazards of many of these dyes are unknown. Many acid dyes used to be food dyes, which have been shown to cause liver cancer in animal studies.
2. Glacial acetic acid and concentrated sulfuric acid are highly corrosive by skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion. Vinegar and dilute sulfuric acid are only slightly irritating by skin contact; repeat and long-term inhalation of the acetic acid and sulfuric acid vapors may cause chronic bronchitis. Splashing hot or boiling dye bath containing acid into the eyes could be extremely hazardous.
3. Glauber's salt (sodium sulfate) is only slightly toxic by ingestion, causing diarrhea.
1. Use vinegar as a dyeing assistant rather than diluting glacial acetic acid or using sulfuric acid.
2. If you dilute concentrated acids, always add the acid to the water. Wear gloves, goggles, and a protective apron. An eyewash fountain and emergency shower should be available.
3. Wear goggles when dyeing at high temperatures to avoid splashing hot liquid in your eyes.
4. Boiling dye baths should be exhausted with a canopy hood, since the steam can carry dye with it into the air.
**Natural DyesNatural dyes are mordant dyes prepared from plants, insects, algae, and any other likely material. Most of these natural dyes are prepared by soaking plant, bark, or other material in water, or simmering for 1-2 hours. In some cases, such as with indigo, these dyes are also available synthetically.
Natural dyes are used to dye cotton and silk fibers and fabric, and usually require the use of mordants to fix the dye to the fiber. Mordanting is usually done by simmering the fibers or other material in a mordant bath for 30-45 minutes. After mordanting, the material is dyed.
Common mordants are alum (potassium aluminum sulfate), ammonia, blue vitriol (copper sulfate), copperas or green vitriol (ferrous sulfate), cream of tartar (potassium acid tartrate), chrome (potassium dichromate), oxalic acid, tannin (tannic acid), tin (stannous chloride), and urea.
1. The hazards of natural and synthetic mordant dyes are mostly unknown, particularly with respect to their carcinogenic effects. Usually there is no hazard due to inhalation, and the only problem is possible skin contact and absorption. Some plant materials, however, can release irritating vapors (e.g. eucalyptus).
2. Chrome (ammonium or potassium dichromate) is highly toxic. It is a probable human carcinogen, and can cause skin ulceration and allergic reactions.
3. Oxalic acid is highly toxic. It is corrosive, and can cause acid burns, ulcers, and gangrene in extreme case. It is hazardous by skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion.
4. Ammonium hydroxide is moderately to highly toxic. It is a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant. Mixing it with chlorine bleach produces a poisonous gas.
5. Copper sulfate (blue vitriol) is moderately to highly toxic. It may cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation and allergies and possible ulceration. Acute ingestion usually causes vomiting; if vomiting does not occur, more serious poisoning can occur.
6. Alum (potassium aluminum sulfate), ammonium alum, cream of tartar (potassium acid tartrate), stannous chloride (tin chloride), tannic acid (tannin), and ferrous sulfate (copperas) are slightly toxic and may cause skin irritation or allergies in some people. Ferrous sulfate can cause iron poisoning in children. Urea has no significant hazards.
* Information on the Greener Shades Dyes is direct from Greener Shades here.
** Credit for the above information is given to Non Toxic Hub. Click the link to read more about these and other types of dye.