The process of dying fabrics can be great fun when you want to breathe new life into some old clothes or create a garment in a particular color. However, some materials are notoriously more difficult to use than others. One of the worst is polyester. There are some real horror stories out there of bad reactions and I have had my fair share of disasters. So, why is polyester so difficult and how do you dye polyester at home
How to dye polyester.
What you need to remember here is that polyester is not like other materials. The properties of this synthetic material mean that it isn’t well suited to dying processes. Therefore, you have to be careful to use the right dyes, follow the instructions carefully, and prepare yourself for failed attempts. You can get some good results when all the right elements come together, but I know how frustrating it is to work with.
Why is polyester so difficult to work with?
The best results when dying material at home come with natural fibers. The structure of these materials, such as cotton and linen, means that the color takes quite well and you can get a nice uniform or mottled look depending on your process. A good cotton shirt is open to great experimentation, tie-dye effects, and more.
Polyester, on the other hand, is a synthetic material. It is created using crude oil and, as the “poly” prefix suggests, is actually a form of plastic adapted into a light, flexible material. It is why it is so durable. This also means that the fibers are hydrophobic, so they repel water. When you put 100% polyester in water to dye it, the water isn’t going to have the same effect and you won’t see the same results with the dye. That is why so many people use polyester blends rather than 100% polyester when creating garments. This brings in natural fibers like cotton or linen.
How to dye polyester fabric at home.
1) Choose the right fabric.
These issues with 100% polyester and the preference towards blends mean that you need to be careful when choosing the right material for your project. It is best to look for a polyester blend where there is a good amount of natural fibers to take the due more effectively. At the same time, that material needs to be the right size and have the right properties for your sewing project.
2) Choose the right dye.
There are some companies that provide dyes that are specially formulated for working with synthetic materials. These should say Synthetic on the bottle and should be fin for use on materials like acrylic. This means that they are able to bond with the plastics in the polyester material as well as any natural fabrics. Therefore, you should get a more uniform look and reliable process. You can then follow the specific guidelines from the manufacture on adding the right amount of dye for the weight of the fabric.
3) Set up your equipment.
Next, you need to make sure that you have all the right equipment for the job. This all starts with a hotplate or stovetop surface where you can create a high, consistent heat for the process. You also need a large pot that will hold the material and enough water to submerge it. You may also want to use a thermometer to regulate the temperature and some long-handled tongs to move and retrieve the material afterward.
It is crucial to note at this point that you shouldn’t use a washing machine or bathtub for this process. The dyes could stain your tub or cause damage to the machine. You will also have a hard time regulating the right temperature for 30 minutes.
4) Remember to use boiling water for the best effects.
The biggest issue with this dying process is the temperature of the water. It needs to stay at a steady 180 degrees Fahrenheit for the dye to take. Bring to water to the boil and try to maintain this high temperature as best you can. Remember to always follow the instructions on the bottle when it comes to handling the dye and the material. Later on, you will need to rinse the garment again to get rid of excess dye and then wash the material. This can be done at a more normal temperature.
5) Always follow appropriate safety guidelines when dying polyester at home.
Because this process requires such hot water, it is important to stay safe at all times. You don’t want to get burned by the water when stirring the garment, removing it, or squeezing out the dye. It is also important to keep kids away during this process. Gloves and safety tongs help here, and they also protect from the dye. This substance could stain your clothes or your skin.
Can you use natural dyes instead when learning how to dye polyester?
This is something that I see asked a lot online. There is a growing trend towards using natural dyes and substances on fabrics to avoid the use of chemicals. This is understandable when we want to create garments that are a little safer for the family and that don’t have such a negative impact on the environment. However, you are likely to find that most natural alternatives don’t take very well. For example, some people will try dying fabric in coffee and while this can work well for some natural fibers, you still need that boiling water and a strong reaction for polyester.
Can you dye polyester, or should you just use other fabrics?
At this point, you might wonder why you should even bother using polyester when there are such inconsistent results and the process is so hard. Personally, I would advise against using 100% polyester because of those hydrophobic properties. But, it can be worth your time working with the right polyester blend if you choose an effective dye and keep an eye on the water temperature. Weigh up the pros and cons of dying the material in question and be prepared for some experimental dying sessions.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my toddler however, that is typically a challenge with her limited attention span, messiness, and desire to always have clean hands. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and fond memory for the both of us.