I am looking to dye some fabrics for use making babies shoes and clothes. What would be the safest and least harmful dyes to use for this purpose? I need them to be safe for both the child and the environment, to fit in with my theme of using organic materials.(Miss tori wright, 21 October 2008)
This is a very good question, and one which many people overlook. You should be a lot more careful when dying baby clothes than clothes intended for adults. After all, adults rarely try to eat their clothing, never mind urinate on it. Some nervous mothers will tell you that there are no baby-safe dyes, but that’s simply not true. These days, anything sold commercially for babies’ use has to pass strict safety tests, and you’ll see all sorts of exciting brightly coloured baby clothes in the shops.
Given the nature of your business, you may be tempted to use naturally occurring organic dyes, but this can be a bad idea. Because of the way they are structured at a molecular level, all dyes that last (i.e. don’t fade significantly within just a couple of washes) must be ‘fixed’ by a heavy metal compound. This means that they can potentially expose a baby to lead, chrome or a similarly dangerous substance. However, commercial dyes are treated so that this risk is substantially reduced, meaning that they are usually the safer option.
Any dye which is safe for a baby is also a good choice from an environmental perspective, because its heavy metal components are bound in place and it won’t be shed from clothing after use.
The best commercial dyes to use are fibre reactive dyes in liquid form. These work by staining the fibres of the cloth you’re working with, rather than by ‘painting’ it, so they can’t be scraped or licked off. Dylon and Procion both make dyes of this type. You can write to either company (their addresses are on their products) and ask for a safety guide which will aid you in choosing the right options, or you can ask your local fabric store for advice. Both these companies sell their products in larger quantities to suit businesses.
No matter what dye you use to make babies’ clothing, you should always rinse thoroughly afterwards. Once the clothing has died, place it on an ironing board between two white sheets. Press on it with a hot iron and see if any colour has transferred to the sheets. If it has, you’ll need to rinse the clothing again, this time in hot water, and repeat the process until you’re sure there’s no excess dye present.
Never use powder dyes to make babies’ clothing as they’re far more volatile, harder to get rid of, and can easily escape into your work room where they can be transferred back onto clothing after you’ve washed it. They can potentially give you a wider range of colours,but they’re not worth the risk.