How to get dye to set in clothing?
May 28, 2011 6:59 AM   Subscribe

Is there anything I can soak clothing in to get the dye to set instead of rinsing away?

I bought some dresses in Cuba back in September that are dyed in some vibrant colors, no idea what kind of dyes. When I tried to wash one of them (just by hand, with some Woolite) a lot of the color ran out in the water, leaving the clothing still dyed but not evenly and not as dark. When I bought them, one of the sellers apologized for the clothing not being washed, she said they didn't want people thinking that the clothing was used. At the time, I didn't think anything of it, since I knew I'd have to wash everything myself once I got home. But now I assume it means that all of the dyes are un-set. I gave up after that first try, but, now that the summer weather is here I want to get them out of the to-be-hand-washed hamper and into my closet.

Is there something I can soak them in that would get the dyes to set evenly? Or do I have to just keep rinsing them out until the water runs clear even if it means the colors will fade?
posted by oh yeah! to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Brine is the traditional dye fix.
posted by scruss at 7:03 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Vinegar, or salt.
posted by bettafish at 7:07 AM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

You want a "mordant" -- salt's common -- you can check your local big-box arts-n-crafts shop for something in a packet, too.
posted by kmennie at 7:08 AM on May 28, 2011

bettafish is correct.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:23 AM on May 28, 2011

Yep, cooking salt works a treat. A cup in the wash cycle will do the trick.
posted by honey-barbara at 7:24 AM on May 28, 2011

Dissolve as much cheap cooking salt as possible in a bucket of hot water. Let it cool to whatever temperature you'd normally use for that kind of handwashing, and stick the dress in it to soak for a while. There will probably still be quite a lot of loose dye, and the colours may never be what you were expecting, but the salt should help some of it stick.
posted by Lebannen at 7:32 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try this. "...used, in the case of tie-dye, batik, or other situations where multiple colors are involved, to hold the dye out in suspension so it doesn't re-deposit where it isn't wanted. Gets out excess dye..."
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:41 AM on May 28, 2011

I've always used soda ash.
posted by juniperesque at 7:43 AM on May 28, 2011

Best answer: There are a lot of different mordants out there. While salt and vinegar are common, soda ash is definitely more effective. It's available at the same place TWinbrooks linked to, Dharma Trading. They have instructions and hints on the site too.

If they didn't use a mordant while dying, you will get some fading of colors even if you use one now. That's because the mordant makes the material being dyed open up to receive the color. It;s sort of like lightly sanding a surface before painting it. So, when you add the mordant in after dying, the concentration of color in the dye bath is lower.

Some art supply places carry this kind of stuff for fiber artists, so you might not have to use mail order.
posted by annsunny at 9:16 AM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

My grandmother always used distilled white vinegar - a cup of it in a kitchen sink full of cold water.
posted by hms71 at 11:21 AM on May 28, 2011

Best answer: How to make clothes colorfast.
posted by misha at 12:56 PM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't bother with salt or vinegar. Salt will not fix the dye in your clothing, and neither will vinegar. The only good they do is by encouraging you to wash the badly-dyed garments more, which will remove more of the unfixed dye.

Instead, get a real dye fixative. It's hard to find a good dye fixative locally, but easy to order it online. The most commonly available brand is Retayne. Dharma Trading Company sells both Retayne and their own brand, Dharma Dye Fixative.

Mordants are metal ions, such as alum, which are used with natural dyes. They won't help fix the dyes in a commercial garment.

Soda ash works only for reactive dyes, probably not the type of dye used in your dresses.
posted by Ery at 10:25 AM on May 30, 2011

Response by poster: Ery, the bottom of that dye fixative FAQ says "the items must be capable of at least a single immersion without running very badly" so I think that rules out mine. I'm going to try salt on one item and vinegar on another and see what happens -- I'm more concerned with the dye fading evenly than not fading at all.
posted by oh yeah! at 3:13 PM on May 30, 2011

How on earth are you going to apply salt or vinegar without immersing the items?
posted by Ery at 4:58 PM on May 30, 2011

Response by poster: I would immerse them in saltwater or vinegar-water, obviously -- my confusion with your suggestion is just that the Retayne FAQ seems to say that if the dye is already running very badly then Retayne can't be used. Am I reading it wrong?
posted by oh yeah! at 6:12 PM on May 30, 2011

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