You might be aware of some of the health problems and environmental concerns associated with traditional, synthetic clothes dyes. Health problems can include skin rashes, headaches, nausea, and more. And one of the major environmental issues with traditional synthetic clothes dyes is the amount of water used to process them, as well as the pollution of that water.
In this article, I outline a number of alternatives to the traditional (toxic) dyes that have been used on our clothes for so many years.
Some of these options are better than the others, but they are all better than conventional dyes that omit toxic chemicals into our bodies and into our waterways.
- Undyed clothes (wear clothes without dye). OK, before you tell me this isn’t a dye, let me explain. Yes, you could go without any color on your clothes. But you could also wear clothes that have been made from color-grown cottons or natural color wools and alpaca. This way, your clothes already have color applied - without needing to be dyed.
- Clay/dirt dyes. Clay dyes are made from the minerals and irons in the earth. This method has been used for centuries. New research/technology is improving the colorfastness of dirt dyes. Earth Creations is one company specializing in clay dye.
- Low-impact fiber-reactive dyes. These are synthetic dyes that chemically bond directly to the clothes fiber molecules. This results in less water run off due to the fixation rate being up to 70%. Although low-impact fiber-reactive dyes have been around since 1956, they have recently undergone some major advances, which have resulted in brighter colors and better colorfast properties. Unlike conventional dyes, these dyes contain no contain no heavy metals or other known toxic substances. The biggest drawback of low-impact fiber-reactive dyes is that they are still made from synthetic petrochemicals.
- Natural dyes. These are a class of colorant extracted from vegetative matter and animal residues. Although one might assume that natural dyes are better for the environment, in practice this is not always the case. Natural dyes typically require the inclusion of metallic salts such as aluminium, iron, chromium, and copper for ensuring colorfastness.
Many eco-friendly clothing companies choose low-impact fiber-reactive dyes. This allows them to offer a wide range of colors, while being environmentally conscience. If you are very sensitive to chemicals, you should try to buy undyed clothes or clothes made with natural colors (i.e. from color-grown plants).