As with all things involving chemistry, there is a degree of precaution one should take. While tie-dye is generally safe, there are still things to consider for best health and safety.
In this post we’ll explore the risks associated with tie-dye and the chemicals used to perform it.
Read on to learn how to protect yourself, your kids, and your furniture.
- How to best protect yourself
- How to tie-dye safely
- Is tie-dye toxic?
- Is soda ash toxic?
- Does tie-dye contain chemicals?
- Is tie-dye bad for skin?
- Can tie-dye damage clothes?
- Can tie-dye damage my furniture?
- Is tie-dye fabric safe for babies?
- Is tie-dye fabric safe for pets?
- Do you need a mask for tie-dye?
- Do you need gloves for tie-dye?
- What age is good for tie-dye?
- Is tie-dye safe for a classroom?
- Can you tie-dye your pets?
- Can you tie-dye your hair?
- Is tie-dye harmful for the environment?
How to best protect yourself
While tie-dye is generally considered safe and non-toxic, some hazards still exist.
Fiber-reactive dyes are able to stain multiple surfaces, some temporarily and some permanently.
The key to safe dyeing is to protect yourself and your work environment. Wear gloves, cover unprotected surfaces, and use caution when handling materials.
How to tie-dye safely
Avoid contact with skin, eyes, and clothing.
Tie-dye is meant to only enter in contact with the desired fabric. Be careful not to touch the dye in any form. Dyes will stain your skin in liquid or powdered form.
Wear gloves when dyeing and rinsing. Do not eat, drink, or smoke when handling dye powders. Wear an apron, or wear old clothes or ones you don’t mind staining.
The biggest risk is getting dye in your eyes, which is pretty unlikely to happen.
Do not breathe in dye powder.
Dye powder is very fine and becomes airborne easily. If inhale in large quantity it can irritate the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth.
Wear a mask when mixing or handling dye powder. Do not blow on the powder, as it will get in the air and you will breathe it in.
Wear gloves when handling soda ash solutions
The harshest chemical used in tie-dye is actually soda ash. Dyes themselves are pretty harmless. But soda ash is quite alkaline and can affect your skin if handled too much.
Wear gloves when measuring soda ash. Make sure to wear gloves when soaking shirts in soda ash solutions or handling presoaked fabric.
You’re better off limiting all skin contact with powdered or liquid soda ash solutions.
For this reason, I prefer putting soda ash in my dye bottles instead of soaking my shirts in soda ash.
Is tie-dye toxic?
Most of the risks associated with tie-dye involve the staining properties of the dyes. There is a risk of staining fabric and furniture if you are not careful.
No, fiber-reactive dyes are not toxic. At the levels of exposure of tie-dye, fiber-reactive dyes are mostly harmless.
They can irritate the skin and mucous membranes if you get in contact with it, but they are not particularly dangerous.
If you breathe in too much dye powder you can also develop a sort of allergy to the dye, but this is extremely rare.
Is tie-dye toxic to touch?
No, the dyes are not toxic to the touch. They will only stain the top layer of your skin and will go away after a few hours to a couple of days.
They are not dangerous, but you’re better off wearing gloves if you don’t want to have colorful stains on your skin.
Is tie-dye toxic to breathe?
Dye powder is bad to breathe in. It is not toxic in itself, but can cause respiratory tract irritation. It can even give you a form of allergy if you’re exposed to large quantities of it.
Is tie-dye toxic to swallow?
You should never purposefully swallow tie-dye liquid. Swallowing liquid or powdered dye can prove dangerous. The poisonous ingredient in tie-dye is actually soda ash. It is mixed in tie-dye bottle to activate the dye reaction. Soda ash is a strong alkali and is corrosive to the esophagus.
Is soda ash toxic?
Soda ash is a strong alkali. Yes, it can prove dangerous if swallowed. You should take proper precautions when handling soda ash in powder or liquid form. It can also irritate the skin if you stay in contact too long with it.
Does tie-dye contain chemicals?
Yes, tie-dye involves a variety of chemicals. They are all mostly harmless. The two most common chemicals are the dyes themselves, which are Procion type fiber-reactive dyes and soda ash (sodium carbonate).
Other chemicals we sometimes use are urea and calsolene oil, both used for mixing more advanced dye mixtures.
Is tie-dye bad for skin?
Tie-dye is not bad for skin. Yes, it can stain skin but will not cause an injury and the stain is not permanent.
Hands may become stained from the reactive dye. The dyes are not easily washed off and will take at most two days to wear off from your hands and skin.
Can tie-dye damage clothes?
Yes, tie-dye can stain clothing permanently. You should be careful when tie-dyeing so you don’t spill dye over your good clothes. For this you should wear old clothes and shoes.
Once reactive dyes make contact with fabric it will stick to it. Clothes can become permanently stained if a spill or other accident occurs.
Can tie-dye damage my furniture?
Yes, tie-dye can stain unprotected furniture. Wood that is not varnished nor painted can become stained by tie-dye. Since wood is made of cellulose fibers (the same as cotton fabric) it can be stained permanently.
Tie-dye can also stain fabric that is part of your furniture. You should always tie-dye away from unprotected furniture. Alternatively, you can cover up susceptible objects.
Is tie-dye fabric safe for babies?
Yes, once dyed and properly washed, tie-dye fabric is safe for babies. They can chew and play with the fabric safely. Once set the dye is permanently affixed to the fabric and is safe to the touch.
Is tie-dye fabric safe for pets?
Yes, pets can safely play with and be in contact with dyed fabric. Tie-dye fabric is safe for pets after it has been properly washed a first time. You can make tie-dye clothing for your pets. Tie-dye is safe for pets to sleep on too.
Do you need a mask for tie-dye?
No, you should only wear a mask when mixing dyes. When handling powdered dyes, such as mixing them, the dye particles can get airborne and enter your respiratory system. This can cause irritation.
Once in liquid form, there is no more danger of breathing in the dye. You can safely tie-dye garments without wearing a mask.
Do you need gloves for tie-dye?
No, you don’t strictly need gloves for tie-dye. But it is a good idea, especially if you don’t want dye on your hands. Personally, I don’t mind a bit of color on my skin and prefer not wearing gloves when folding or dyeing the fabric. I prefer to keep the dexterity in my fingers.
The only time I would recommend gloves is when you have to directly enter in contact with the dye. Wear gloves when flipping the shirt to dye the underside or wear them when rinsing your tie-dye.
What age is good for tie-dye?
Tie-dye is kids friendly, but they should not tie-dye without supervision under the age of 8 years old.
At 8 years old or older a kid is able to tie-dye safely. It’s always better to keep an eye on them or to assist young children with the most difficult parts such as mixing the dyes.
When the kid gains experience in the tie-dye process, they are able to do it on their own.
Is tie-dye safe for a classroom?
Yes, tie-dye is safe for use in a classroom by the students.
Make sure the students wear the appropriate safety attire. Protective clothing such as goggles, gloves, and masks are the best way to make is safer.
Tell your students to wear clothes they don’t mind staining of give them splash resistant aprons.
Can you tie-dye your pets?
No, you should never use tie-dye to color your pets fur. Tie-dye is not appropriate for coloring animals. Try food coloring instead which is tested for human consumption and is not permanent.
Can you tie-dye your hair?
No, you should never use tie-dye to color your hair. Use appropriate hair dyes only. Tie-dye is not made to color hair. While it will stain hair, you should not use it for this purpose. Fiber-reactive dyes are not tested for human application.
Is tie-dye harmful for the environment?
No, in quantities used for home dyeing, tie-dye is not harmful.
You should always pour out your leftover dyes in the sink or other drain connected to either city utilities or septic tank.
You should never throw out dyes in the environment. While they are mostly harmless, they can stain and bother wild plant and animal life.
In large quantities, wastewater from dye plants need to be filtered and cleansed before they can be treated.
In normal use tie-dye will safely get diluted down in the sewage system and won’t pose any problem for the city’s water treatment plant.