Hand Dyeing Safety Basics

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Whether you’re dyeing wool fiber, yarn, or fabric, one thing that is very important is dyeing safety. Today I wanted to share some tips for how you can stay safe AND still have lots of fun in the creative process of textile arts!

In the world of fabric and fiber dyes, there are a lot of different options. Some methods for dyeing wool are as about as hazardous as baking a cake. Other methods are as complex as having your own science lab.

Either way, it’s smart to be prepared and understand basic things that minimize your risks of being burned or injured. It’s also good to practice good safety habits to reduce your risk from long-term exposure to potential hazards.

safety tips for dyeing yarn fibers fabric

Make Safety a Habit!

If you are teaching a class to adults or teens who are new to dyeing, it’s always a good idea to go over safety in the beginning so they can begin with good habits.

Learning the correct and safe method from the beginning is much easier than trying to change old habits later down the road.

Dyeing Safety Basics: 9 Ways to Stay Safe

These safety tips aren’t meant to scare you – our goal is to keep you healthy and happy so you can continue dyeing for a long time to come! Most of these things do not require much extra effort and the benefits are many!

1. Know & Respect Your Materials

example of dye powder

Every dyer has their own preferences for what types of dyes they like to use. There are many types and brands of dye from different manufacturers.

If you are using formulated dyes that come in powder or liquid form, it is VERY important you take some time to read up on the manufacturer’s safety information first, before you start using the dye.

You can find the safety information you need by requesting the MSDS from the manufacturer and supplier, also known as the Materials Safety Data Sheet.

Reading the MSDS can give you all of the important information you need to know for each product you use. Companies can change their sources and formulations from time to time.

New health information is being learned every day. It is a good idea to regularly review this information at least once a year to ensure you are aware of any changes.

Before you begin, take some time to learn about the chemicals and/or substances used in formulating the dyes.

I have to admit, I was very intimidated at first by some of the dyes, especially ones that came with a whole sheet of hazards and precautions to take!

Still, even with food dye and vinegar or citric acid you still need to take some care – vinegar and citric acid both can cause you a lot of problems if you aren’t careful!

Fortunately, with the right precautions, you can enjoy dyeing safely without any trouble.

2. Protect Your Skin: Wear Gloves!

Vinyl gloves should be worn anytime you are mixing dyes. This can help protect your skin from experiencing chemical burns or reactions.

Working with prolonged exposure to any type of substance can cause allergies or even sensitivities, even if the item is “natural”.

If you are working with heat to set the dye, it’s also very important to have a very good set of oven mitts and potholders.

It can be a worthwhile investment to get long mitts that are rated for high temperatures, especially because sometimes the steam can burn just as much as a hot pan or lid.

Tongs are also a great tool to have, because they can help you avoid touching hot fibers or fabrics.

3. Protect Your Lungs

Most powder-based dyes have very fine particles that may not even be visible in the air. You definitely do not want to inhale these particles!

Dyes are most dangerous when they are in powdered form, before they are mixed with water, due to the very fine chemical particles. Even non-toxic dyes can cause respiratory issues after prolonged exposure.

Wearing a respirator is an easy way to stay safe when mixing up powdered dyes. Even if you don’t necessarily have issues when mixing now, using one now can help prevent any complications or sensitivities later down the road.

To ensure that nanoparticles are properly filtered out, it’s recommended to use a respirator that is approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health {NIOSH for short}.

4. Protect Your Eyes

Our eyes are just as important as our lungs, and equally as sensitive to tiny dust particles of dye.

Wearing safety glasses or even a pair of swimming goggles can help prevent dust from getting into your eyes. If you normally wear prescription glasses, you can even find safety goggles that fit over top!

5. Protect Your Clothes

Most dyers have dedicated “dyeing clothes” they wear when they dye clothes since it’s quite possible you might end up with a mess!

Just as tiny microscopic particles can get into your lungs and eyes, they can also get onto your clothes. Wearing an apron and taking precautions to change your clothes between dyeing and other activities is a smart idea.

6. Use Dedicated Equipment & Do Not Mix With Food

It’s important to use dedicated tools for fiber dyeing that will not come in contact with food. Beyond just the chemical risk factors, do you know where that sheep has been?

Keeping your equipment separate is a smart idea to help prevent any cross-contamination.

If you use a microwave, oven, or crockpot for dyeing yarn, you do NOT want to use that same item for food. You can usually get these things very inexpensively second-hand to use for dyeing purposes.

Just as you don’t want chemicals leaching into your food, you don’t want food leaching into your yarn. What if the person getting your yarn is allergic to nuts and you cooked something with peanut butter?

You also should not be eating, drinking, or cooking at the same time you are dyeing your fibers and yarns. Make sure any food containers in the area are moved and safely covered before mixing dyes.

7. Clean Up As You Go

After you mix the dyes and they are safely contained, you will want to immediately clean up the area where you were mixing powdered dyes to capture any potential dye particles that are floating around.

One simple way to do this is to spread damp paper towels or newspapers to pick up any dye particles that can then be safely discarded. Spritzing water in the area can help capture any invisible dye particles you may have missed.

Once in liquid form, be sure to clean up any spills right away. Particles can become airborne again after they dry, so its important to clean up any spills as soon as they happen.

Another benefit of keeping your work area neat and tidy is it can really minimize the risk for slipping and tripping hazards!

8. Label Everything!

It can be helpful to premix some dyes ahead of time for later use. You may also want to store ingredients and materials in reusable containers rather than relying on open packages that might leak or spill.

Don’t rely on your memory to remember what is what and when it is from: Label it! For everything I use, I keep track of the purchase & open date, as well as what it is and where I got it from.

Doing this prevents materials from being used incorrectly or accidentally. As a bonus, you’ll be a lot more organized too!

9. Be Sure to Dispose of Water Responsibly

When you are finished dyeing, it is VERY important that water runs clear before you drain and dispose of it. This is called “exhausting” the dye bath. {No, it’s not tired! It just means all of the dye has been absorbed!}

If you are using fiber-reactive dyes, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s specifications for disposal because these dyes actually bond with the water molecules.

With acid-based washes, you can typically neutralize the pH of the water with baking soda and by testing the acidity of the water with pH testing strips. Once balanced, it is generally safe to dispose of according to manufacturer specifications.

Disposing of dye water responsibly is very important. Failure to take care when dumping or flushing water can pollute groundwater and cause harm to people, animals, and plants that live in the environment.

Safety might seem boring, but it is very important to learn. If you have any specific safety questions, you should always directly contact the manufacturer of the dye you are using.

Different types of dyes require specialized precautions – reading up on the MSDS for that specific brand is your best bet for getting accurate and up-to-date information.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Do you have any tips for dyeing safety? Anything we should add to our list of precautions? Do you follow these safety rules when dyeing fibers, yarn or fabric? Share your tips and experiences with us in the comments section below!

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