How to mix soda for tie-dye?

How to mix soda for tie-dye?

If you’re not familiar with the process of tie-dyeing a shirt, you must know that during the process we use a chemical called sodium carbonate to activate the dye reaction. You probably have heard this chemical under other names such as soda ash and washing soda, but how exactly is it used? Some people suggest soaking the shirt in a bath of soda water, others may tell you to mix the soda inside the dye bottles. We have tried both methods and more and we are here to explain to you exactly how to execute the crucial step of activating your dye reaction.

There is definitely more than one way to use sodium carbonate and all can be used with great success. The most common and easiest method is to add the soda at the bottle mixing stage, where you will mix the soda along with the dye in a 1:1 ratio in the bottle of warm water. Using the soda this way is easy and very straightforward. Another solution is to mix the soda ash in a large container of water in a ratio of one and a half teaspoon of soda ash per liter of warm water.

These are all the same molecule called sodium carbonate, which we use in tie-dye. Before we explain the different methods we need to clear a common misconception. The product we are talking about is called soda ash or sodium carbonate, but you can also use the common product called washing soda. If you were wondering how to activate the dye, it’s by using washing soda to increase the pH of the solution up to 10.5 to 11.

Washing soda is a household product that is often used to clean and freshen clothing. It is made of the same molecule as soda ash, only it is a hydrated version, meaning that it is a bit weaker per weight than pure soda ash. In practice, washing soda is just as effective and is safer to manipulate, you only need to add a bit more to reach the desired alkalinity.

How to mix soda ash in bottles?

Let’s go back to our bottles, we will be talking about adding soda ash directly with the dye. The reason we recommend that you do this, especially if you’re a beginner is that it’s a foolproof method of obtaining results. There are some considerations that you may want to keep in mind, but for the most part this is an upgraded version of the soda bath. Why soak the shirt in a bath of soda when you can bring the soda directly to the shirt?

If you decide to use this method, add the soda ash to your bottle mix when preparing your dyes. An equal amount of soda ash and dye powder is more than enough to give you great results. Once the soda is mixed with the dye, all you need to do is squirt the mix on a shirt. The mix will react as soon as it touches the fibers. It reacts so quickly in fact that the dye starts depleting rapidly, especially if the water is hot.

Water : 250 ml (1 cup)
Dye : 8g (1 tsp)
Soda : 8g (1 tsp)

Once  you have mixed the soda and the dye in the water, you cannot reuse the leftover dye water the next day because the dye will be exhausted and will give you a very pale and undesirable color. You making a bottle mix make sure to use the right quantity and have as few leftovers as possible. Make sure to always use fresh dye for best results.

How to add soda ash in a bath for soaking?

Now for soaking the shirt in a bath of water and soda. You can fill up a container with warm water and add a bit of soda to it at a concentration of 1 1/2 tsp of soda for every liter of water. You can reuse this water multiple times for soaking many shirts.

You will make sure that every fiber of the fabric has plenty of soda and will be ready to react with any dye that goes near. The advantage of using this technique is that you will save your leftover dye in the bottles. Since the dyes are mixed in water and there is no soda to make it react, the dye water will be able to be used even a few days later with minimal loss of strength. You can even extend the life of the leftover dye water by cooling it down in the refrigerator, which can keep them good for a few weeks.

If you decide to soak the shirt in a warm bath of water infused with
soda ash there are disadvantages that you need to know. First of all,
when you soak a shirt in a soda ash solution before folding it, you will
have to manipulate the shirt with gloves since soda ash is unpleasant
to touch.

Are there other ways to use soda ash in tie-dyeing?

There sure are! The most common alternative way to use soda ash is during the ice-dye process. As part of the ice-dye process, you will have to lay down dye and soda directly on the shirt in powder form. The whole process involves folding a shirt, covering it in dye and soda ash and then layering ice cubes on top of it.

Another way is the spraying method. This is when you fold and dye the shirt and you only had soda in the form of a spray that you use over the whole shirt. While this method can be quicker, one disadvantage of this technique is that is doesn’t do a good job of penetrating inside the creases and may leave you with less than desirable results. Good for mass production, bad for quality.

Why do we use soda ash?

The reason we use soda ash, out of every alkaline chemical, is because it’s readily available, safe, and does a great job for a low cost. There are other products that could give us the results we need, but they all have drawbacks. We love and absolutely recommend using washing soda, as it works perfectly and is readily available in bulk. Other ways to make the solution alkaline by increasing the pH could be tried. Experimentation could uncover interesting things, but this is not an area of interest for now.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are a few different way to use soda ash in tie-dye. Each of these ways has advantages and disadvantages. If you are a beginner, definitely stick with the well-known techniques, such as putting the soda ash directly in the bottles with the dyes. Soaking the shirt in a solution of soda works really well too and is a foolproof way to do it. The bottom line is that you need to increase the pH of the water for the dye to react with the fibers of the fabric.

One thing to keep in mind is that these are only basic instructions and while this is the most up-to-date knowledge, there is a lot left to be known about the way the reaction process occurs as the pH is increased to a suitable level. We already know that there is a substantial difference between starting the reaction the moment the dye touches the fibers and letting the dye penetrate the fibers deeply before starting the reaction. 

In immersion dying you typically will let the dye flow into the pores of the fibers before introducing the soda in the bath and starting the reaction. This lets you create very uniform and homogeneous colors. On the contrary, mixing the soda with the dye beforehand will make it so the dye reacts the moment it touches the fabric, and will “burn” really rapidly on contact with the surface of the fabric.

More experimentation needs to be made by looking into what happens as the dye is penetrating the fibers. It could let us better understand the way the dye propagates through the fabric and when to pinpoint the moment we need to increase the pH to activate the reaction. You can control the rate at which you change the pH of the water, you can also change the specific pH to alter the effects. There is a lot of research to be made about how the dye spreads, how the reaction takes place, and how it affects the final colors.

About us

We are Samuel and Francis. About two years ago we bought our first tools and supplies for tie-dyeing. Ever since then we’ve been learning the skills of folding and dyeing in intricate ways. We’ve learned from our experiences on the field about what techniques works and what doesn’t. This is the site were we share everything we’ve learned.

Samuel and Francis

We are the sole owners of this site, we live in Canada where we work everyday on making tie-dye more accessible to everyone. We are always looking forward to teaching you something new.