3 Tips to Lower Water Use When Natural Dyeing


Growing Blue reports that 2.5 billion people (36% of the world population) live in water-scarce regions and more than 20% of the global GDP is already produced in risky, water-stressed areas. Given today’s accelerated pace of human development and the slow pace of managing issues as complex as water resources, tomorrow’s challenges are already at our door.

For this year’s Water Quality Month, whether individual, collective, agriculturally focused or industrially inclined, addressing water scarcity begins with you. We’ll call it (cough) the ripple effect. While you work on some possible real-life scenarios for making change, we’ve created 3 tips to lower your water use when natural dyeing.

Recharge your mordant baths

If you are mordanting with aluminum sulfate or aluminum acetate, your mordant bath may be reused between 2 and 7 times. For example, if we used 10 grams (2 teaspoons) of aluminum sulfate to mordant 100 grams of fabric, we would recharge the alum bath with 5 grams (1 teaspoon) for the second bath, and another teaspoon for the third bath. When the alum bath looks milky or cloudy, or has a lot of clumpy things floating in it, it’s time to draw a fresh mordant bath.

Don’t overfill your dye pots, and reuse your dye bath water

When drawing water for a dye bath, use the least amount of water possible so that the fibers can move in the dye bath. This reduces both water and heating requirements. Plan on using your exhausted dye baths to dye additional fabrics, and if the dye bath is nearly clear, consider using the dye water for your next color.

Dry fibers before washing

Let fibers get bone dry prior to rinsing and much of the dyestuff remains in the fiber instead of rinsing down the drain. With this trick, you rinse less and use less water. Be aware that protein fibers dipped in indigo vats should be rinsed fairly soon after their final dip as the alkaline indigo vat can damage protein fibers if not rinsed off.

Try Dye Inks

Bypass all the excess water use and try your hand at painting with Biohue’s dye inks! Each ink is foraged, purchased, or grown as mindfully and sustainably as possible and requires very little water to paint or block print on fabric.

(To expand your natural ink adventures, we also recommend Make Ink: A Forager’s Guide to Natural Inkmaking by Jason Logan and Botanical Inks: Plant-to-Print Dyes, Techniques and Projects by Babs Behan)