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You are here: Home > All About Hand Dyeing > FAQ > General Dyeing > Can I just use the dyes sold in the grocery store for dyeing?


All Purpose Dye:
not great on cotton
all purpose dye
Procion MX Fiber Reactive Dye
is the best type of dye for cotton or rayon

Acid Dye is best for Wool or Nylon
Acid Dye for Wool and Nylon

Can I just use the dyes sold in the grocery store for dyeing?

Many grocery stores in the US carry "all-purpose" or "union" dyes, such as Rit® brand dye. Can you use them for dyeing cotton?

Drawbacks of All-purpose Dye

Yes, you can use those dyes - if you don't mind having the garment fade a little with every washing, and you always sort your clothes so the dye run-off in the wash won't ruin everything else, and you don't mind not having beautifully bright colors, and you're happy with using very hot water to dye with, and you never want the option of dyeing with multiple colors on the same garment at once, and you don't mind wasting money on wasteful all-purpose dye.

Fiber Reactive Dye is easier to use, prettier, and lasts longer

If any of the above are not true, you should be using a different product, such as fiber reactive dyes. Fiber reactive dyes can be applied at room temperature, as many colors as you like per garment, and do not fade or run in the laundry. They produce brilliant colors, or subtle ones if you prefer, and last through a hundred washings. The most economical way to buy dye is by mail-order from one of the companies listed on Sources for Supplies.

Where to Buy Dye

Those who are in Canada or the UK will often find good fiber reactive dyes, under the brand name of "Dylon Cold Water Dye", to be as ubiquitous as RIT dye in the US. Prices are similar (small per package, high per garment), but results on cotton are much better. Beware: just because it says "Dylon" doesn't mean that it's the right sort of dye, as Dylon sells many types of dye. Look for either "Cold Water" or "Dylon Permanent" in the name on the label. "Dylon Washing Machine" dye is good, too.

The same dyes may be found in the US at some crafts stores, such as the Joann Fabrics store; they are harder to find than all-purpose dyes, however. Joann Fabrics also sells "Dylon Permanent" dye, which, again, works well but costs as much as all-purpose dye, per garment. Jars of Procion MX dye are a much better buy, especially if you get the jars that are at least two ounces each.

Also, you can often find excellent "Tie Dye Kits", with fiber reactive dyes (usually Procion MX type), in many US crafts stores. Beware of the tie-dye kits that contain all-purpose dye! Look for Jacquard tie-dyeing kits, or Dritz, Tulip, or Rainbow Rock brands.

Most serious dyers in the US prefer to use mail order, as the prices per ounce of dye are drastically lower; see Sources for Supplies.

By the way, if you are not dyeing cotton, all purpose dyes aren't so bad. They work well on wool. And, even on cotton, if you don't care that the colors in all-purpose dyes aren't so bright, an after-treatment such as Retayne® can solve the washfastness problem. However, you must still use hot or boiling water to get good results with all-purpose dye; stick to fiber reactive dyes for the easy squirt-bottle technique, or any time you don't want to use near-boiling water.

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Page created: August 11. 2002
Last updated: August 7. 2006
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