How to Work with and Dispose of Dyes Safely
Dyeing is a fun, creative process, yet dyers must take safety seriously. Dye materials are safe to use as long as you follow the supplier’s instructions and some basic precautionary guidelines. The misuse or mishandling of dyes and materials used in dyeing could lead to harmful results such as allergic reactions if the dye comes in contact with your skin or if you inhale dye powder.
If you are pregnant or lactating, consult the dye supplier regarding safety.
Protect your skin: Wear rubber, latex, or nitrile gloves when mixing dye solutions or when adding substances like salt or acid crystals to a dye bath. When hand-painting yarn, protect your hands from direct contact with liquid dye. If you do get dye stains on your hands or fingernails, you can use a special hand cleanser called ReDuRan (available from dye suppliers) to remove it.
When working with a simmering dye bath, wear insulated thermal gloves designed especially for dyers. Use hot mitts when handling hot cooking tools.
If you soak fibers in a citric acid or alkaline solution before dyeing, wear long gloves to protect your hands and arms.
Protect your lungs: Wear a particle filter mask when handling dye powders or any powdered dye material. You should also wear a dual cartridge respirator mask filled with acid gas cartridges to protect your lungs from irritation caused by the acid vapors of simmering dye baths. Check with your dye supply company to be sure you use the correct type of mask.
When mixing dye powders, turn off fans and close windows to avoid air movement. Cover your work surface with paper towels, and lightly dampen the paper with water from a spray bottle to trap any loose dye particles that spill before they become airborne. You also can create a mixing box lined with dampened paper. When cooking your dye baths, good ventilation is important. Turn on vent fans and open a window.
Protect your Eyes. Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes whenever you are working in the dye studio.
Never eat, drink, or prepare food while you are working with dyes.
Dyes and materials associated with dyeing should be stored in a cool, dry space out of direct sunlight and out of reach of children. Use air-tight containers for storing all powders and liquids. Always replace lids tightly after using dye powders and chemicals.
Label all items clearly, and note the date purchased or mixed. Use plastic rather than glass jars for storing liquid dyes, since breakage would cause quite a mess. Dye solutions made from acid dye powders (such as PRO Chem’s WashFast or Cushing dyes) can be stored in plastic containers for up to six months, as long as acid has not been added to the dye solution.
Fiber-reactive dye solutions do not store well for long periods. It is important to prepare only as much dye as you will use. Leftover reactive dyes from hand-painting projects are usable within 5 days of mixing.
When you are completely finished with an acid dye bath, you should neutralize the bath. Add baking soda 1 tablespoon at a time and use pH test papers to verify that the exhausted bathwater is neutralized. Then pour the exhausted dye bath down the drain, flushing with plenty of water.
Disposing of unexhausted fiber-reactive dye baths is less simple. You can’t use any leftover dye that the yarn hasn’t absorbed because the dye molecules have actually hydrolized (bonded with the water molecules) and therefore can no longer bond with fiber.
If you have unexhausted dye in the pot, you must balance the pH. A fiber-reactive dye bath is basic; add citric acid crystals 1 tablespoon at a time until you have brought the bath to a neutral pH before disposal. Check the supplier’s instructions for the safest method of disposal. Some dye companies suggest pouring the neutralized bath down the drain, using plenty of water.
If you have a bath with a lot of leftover dye, another option is to store it in plastic jugs. Most communities have clean-up days where they will collect household chemicals. Be sure you label the contents of the containers.