Who doesn’t love transforming old clothes into something you really want to wear again? I can’t tell you how many times old whites have had to be trashed because of stains or other discoloration. Instead of getting rid of them, dye them! Natural dyeing is fun and easy and a much better alternative to synthetic dyes you can buy at the store.
While modern day synthetic dyes often come in any color you can imagine and end u being very bright, the chemicals used to produce them are often extremely toxic, often flammable and some are even possible carcinogens. These chemicals are dangerous for anyone handling them; workers manufacturing the dyes are especially at risk. Dye factories and businesses using dyes often experience large fires (one happened right here in Rhode Island in 2003). In these dye factories, the water used to dye fabrics is cheaper to dump than to clean and re-use and has therefore become the preferred option for these companies. Although most countries require this industry to treat the water before dumping, the result is a separated extremely toxic sludge and a less toxic (but still slightly) water that is often dumped into natural waterways. The problem then becomes what do we do with the toxic sludge? Currently, much of it is stored in facilities and accumulating.
Aside from environmental consequences of synthetic dyes, many people are sensitive to chemicals used and have problems with skin irritation to them when they inevitably rub off on your skin after continued wear. Much of the above information was found on the Green Cotton, a company that takes pride in selling only unbleached, undyed cotton products, blog. The link to their site can be found at the end of this post.
The dangers of synthetic dyes made me question why we ever strayed away from the natural dying processes of antiquity. I’ve met several artists and fellow homesteaders who rave about their experiments with natural dyes so my roommate and I were excited to try it using beets. Follow these steps for a great result!
1. Whatever whites you’re using need to be prepped to absorb the dye. The way I did this was by combining 1/2 cup of salt and 8 cups of water in a large pot. Bring to a boil then add your clothes and reduce to a simmer. I had one large men’s t-shirt and a small tank top. The fabric should simmer in the water for at least an hour
2. While the clothes simmer, prepare the beets. I used 3 fairly large beets in order to get a deeper color. These beets were hidden in our refrigerator for about a month and were extremely soft so probably would have been tossed when we finally remembered them. I chopped them into approximately one inch cubes and left the skin on.
3. After an hour in the salt bath, remove the clothes and wring them out thoroughly. Be sure to let them cool off sufficiently first.
4. I cleaned the original pot and then placed the wrung out shirts back in and proceeded covered them with cold water and threw in the beets. Bring this pot to a simmer and leave for at least an hour. If left for longer, the color will get slightly darker. You’ll be able to see the color being released into the fabric.
5. Remove the clothing from the pot and wring out after letting cool. Hang to dry. That’s it!
We ended up with a very beautiful peachy orangey color and the beet water that went down the drain was much better than its synthetic dye equivalent.