Natural dyes are different to modern synthetic dyes in many ways. They do not pollute or create toxic waste in the same way, they are beautiful to touch & they have a life and soul to them that cannot be compared to chemically derived dyes. Like most things worthwhile, they do require some care in order to maintain their beauty & increase their longevity.
Many dyes are pH sensitive, meaning they will respond to changes in pH, which can result in the colour of the dye changing. Some dyes are more sensitive to changes in pH than others. When working with natural dyes you can use this to your advantage, by adding either an acid or an alkali you can shift or change the colour. However this can also be a disadvantage if it happens accidentally, as it may change the colour in the area it has come in contact with, leaving a mark or spot. When this happens it is very difficult to go back, I find the best way to deal with this is to re-dye the entire piece in a slightly darker shade. (which is fine for me to say, may not be so easy for everyone! )
Not all dyes are pH sensitive but it is best to be careful when handling acidic liquids ( citrus, wine, vinegar, etc. ) or alkaline liquids ( alka seltzer, hydrogen peroxide, calcium, baking soda, etc. ) around your naturally dyed goods.
What Detergent Should I Use?
When it comes to washing your naturally dyed goods, I always recommend a fabric detergent that is eco-friendly/natural, free from chemicals & as pH neutral as possible. I tend to shy away from soaps that may be perfumed or contain lemon scents or oils, as these may change the colour of the dyes in the wash. I have found that Dr. Brommer's Unscented Pure Castile Soap is pH neutral & works as a wonderful detergent. In the studio I use Ecover laundry detergent and I never have any issues with colour changes in the wash. Most health shops or natural based stores carry a variety of eco friendly laundry soaps. You may need to experiment with a few before you find the one that works for you.
Chemical Based Detergents
If you are to take a risk and use a chemical based detergent it is quite possible that the ingredients will react with the plant dyes and potentially change the colour of your naturally dyed fabric. You may put your naturally dyed goods it in the machine one colour and take it out an entirely different shade.
When it comes to stains, if you treat stains on naturally dyed fabrics in the same way you treat synthetically dyed garments, by spot cleaning, it is very likely that you will permanently mark your item. If you put soap or detergent directly onto the stain & rub vigorously, it will leave a lighter patch in the stained area. Even if you remove the stain you might leave a bleached out looking mark in the rubbed area & it will be very difficult to correct this. If you do get a splash of food on your naturally dyed item, I would recommend running it under the cold water and gentle use your finger to try to encourage loosening the stain from the fibres. I would then fill a basin with 1-2 tsp of eco friendly dish soap, place your item the basin and let it soak for 1-2 hours, wash on a cold temp.
Washing Your Naturally Dyed Goods
- Machine wash cold at 30* or 40*
- Wash like colours together
- If you have two differently coloured items and both are naturally dyed, wash separately as the dyes may interact with each other & change colour.
- Once your items have been washed, remove from the machine and give them a shake to straighten out, then hang to dry.
Drying Your Naturally Dyed Goods:
When drying your pieces, ideally you would hang them outside to dry. Not all of us live in warm climates where this is possible year round. If you dry most of your items indoors, hang them to dry on a clothes rack, if you don't have a clothes rack a wooden hanger works well. Avoid laying flat or placing on radiators to dry, as they may develop marks where they are in contact with the metal of the radiators. Avoid drying your pieces in direct sunlight, if the sun is very harsh is may lighten or fade your colours considerably. If the sun is very strong, just make sure you turn the item frequently while its drying & take it out of the sun once it is dry.
With a little bit of care and the right detergent you can keep your naturally dyed textiles looking beautiful for years to come.