Posted in Knitting
April 10, 2006

Dye safety

In response to Joanna‘s question about my Knitty dishwasher dyeing article: can the dye pot and colander be used for food after you’ve dyed with them?

Yes and no.

The 100% safe answer is no. You’ll notice in the sidebar I suggest buying a dyeing-only salad spinner if you do this a lot and want to cut your drying time. With a spinner, the dyed fiber is in direct contact with the plastic and who knows what might soak in? Don’t use it for food again!

When I put the plastic-wrapped fiber packs inside the metal pot, though, chances are pretty low that dye is going to touch it unless one leaks… I have a dedicated pot I use for dyeing, but given a thorough scrub, I’d probably be willing to put food in it. That’s me, though — I have an iron stomach, no pun intended! If you try this once, I don’t think you’re going to contaminate your metal pot permanently.

However, since this article’s photography was done, I have made the move over to using Ziploc bags and plastic takeout containers. Why? For one, you can dye a lot more stuff at once! With careful sealing and positioning, you can dye 20+ yarn or fiber packets in one dishwasher cycle instead of just a few. The point of the pot + lid was to keep excess water off the fiber and build up extra heat around the packets. Having multiple packets in one load creates the same effect.

You can use different sizes of Ziplocs — from sandwich-sized tester dye packs to 2-gallon superjumbo storage bags dyeing a sweater’s worth! Also, our local Chinese takeout uses supersturdy plastic containers that are even stronger than Gladware. They’re good for both the dishwasher and test-dyeing in the microwave. I’ve even used Reynolds oven bags to dye in the oven!

In short: I’d recommend the Ziplocs if you’re not willing to devote a dedicated pot to dyeing, and I’d give everything a good bleach-filled scrubdown afterwards (as I do).

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  • natasha

    i love the pic of you mushing the dye around with your lily white ungloved hands! wooot wooot! me too! i hate gloves. i wore them for work for 10 years and unless it is acid, like real acid, i don’t care. green hands? who cares?

    i am going to try the dyeing in the dishwasher, although, my big dye pot may not fit.

    as for safety, i don’t think it is a big big deal, but sheep have been known not to bathe, and have poop on them, so for that reason, and not the dye reason, i have cheapo stainless pots from either the thrift store or a dollar store, which work well. and are mega cheap. and salad spinners are about 20 bucks, so if you dye a lot, you might as well skip the middle man and buy one…your knitty photo is so cute!

    Reply to natasha
  • Shannon

    If I get dye on my hands, the bleach takes care of it nicely…never underestimate the power of plain old Clorox when it comes to such things!

    (Diluted Clorox is a good thing to wipe your countertops down with every so often even if you aren’t dyeing! Especially when certain small kittens like to leave their grubby paw prints on them…)

    Reply to Shannon
  • Melody

    Oooh, thanks for the tip on Clorox, I often plunge my hands into my dyeing efforts without remembering gloves–then go oooops as I wear purple fingers to pick up my daughter from day care!

    Fun idea.

    Reply to Melody
  • Tatyana

    I used to be a professional dyer/painter. While folks may not like to wear gloves, you always should. Dyes contain carcinogens. This is why you should have dedicated pots for use with dye, and why you should use gloves. There is a product that is called ReDuRan (available at most places where they sell dye, including Dharma Trading) that safely removes dye from your hands, should you get it on them. Using bleach to get dye off your hands is also bad for you. Read the warning label off the back of the bleach bottle. You’ll see why. I know I sound like a big freak, but you should take your health seriously. I never used to take any of these precautions until I started reading the warning labels and the Material Safety Data Sheets that accompany these products. It’s one of the reasons that Kool-Aid dyeing is so popular now – easy to get, plus non-toxic.

    Reply to Tatyana
  • Heather

    Warning labels depend more on local regulations than the actual hazards of the chemicals. Dharma Trading says right up front that California requires them to label everything that contains alcohol as a carcinogen. If you’re really concerned, you should be reading the MSDS. Such as this MSDS for one of my favorite colors of Washfast Acid Dye, from which I learned that the worst the stuff is going to do to me (unless I huff it straight out of the jar or apply the powdered form directly to my eyeball) is maybe cause skin irritation. No long-term exposure risks, no ingestion hazards. The precautions listed are just the standard precautions for any substance in powdered from. Would I follow them if I worked in the factory that makes this stuff? Of course. Does that mean I need a respirator to measure two tablespoons of it into a bottle? Hell no.

    Reply to Heather
  • Jenny

    The best all natural way to get dye off your hands, I have discovered, is to wash your hair. I don’t know why, it just works. If you *really* need them clean, use old-school “Prell” shampoo– that’s also the choice of shampoo for “oh my god I just dyed my hair and it looks awful make it go away” mistakes 😉

    Nothing beats the built in Brillo-pad on the top of your head!

    Reply to Jenny
  • Pingback: DYE-O-RAMA Swap » A few tips and some notes on safety (Edit)

  • Anne

    Ok, so where’s the best place to purchase Lanaset/Sabraset Dyes? And any tips for me? I’m hosting my knitting guild at my house (6 women at the most) to dye some yarn. Should I stick with Kool-Aid dying? (I’ve done that before…) I would love to try ‘the real thing’. Any advice would be helpful.

    Reply to Anne
  • Irene

    I’ve bought some powdered craft-grade food dye from an educational art supply shop that I plan on trying out, it also needs acidity and heat to set so I’m guessing it’s a similar dye?

    Reply to Irene
  • Pam

    After reading all the posts, I am even more confused than when I set out to find the answer to a question that has been bothering me about dyes in the dishwasher.

    Is it safe to use your dishwasher for cleaning dirty dishes after the dye pot has been in there?

  • Post authorShannon

    Absolutely, Pam — especially if you use Ziplocs for your fiber. The dye doesn’t actually get anywhere on the inside of the dishwasher.

    Reply to Shannon
  • Nancy

    I am so excited to read the dishwasher suggestion. I just got an old roaster from my husband’s great grandma. Hopefully plenty of room for a skein or maybe even multiples.

    Forgive me for asking, but I read some methods are worse about felting and a double boiler reduces the chance. Do you have much trouble with felting heating the fiber this way? I would think it works like the double boiler.

    Reply to Nancy
  • Cara

    Hi Shannon-love your article on dishwasher dyeing and after having been to yarn school this fall, I am taking the plunge into dyeing my own spinning fiber! I do have some questions about your method though. If you use the ziploc bags and put them in containers, do you put lids on them? Do you wrap the fiber in saran and then into the ziploc bags? Also, do you put it on the “drying” cycle or does the water run over it? If it does does this mean that you cannot use the dishwasher for dishes? Would love to know more about the process as I find it fascinating! Thanks so much!

    Reply to Cara
  • Post authorShannon

    I don’t even use containers at all anymore, Cara, just ziplocs. If you are careful and squeeze out the excess air, it’s rare to get a “blowout” — and even if you do, the running water takes it away right away.
    I only wrap in saran wrap when I am doing a colorway where I’m trying to keep certain colors specifically isolated from each other, a la rainbow progression, etc.
    The drying cycle is for extra heat, and I just let the ziplocs sit there and steam, though if I catch it in time I like to peek inside and make sure no bags have sagged through and ended up on one of the heating coils.

    Reply to Shannon

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