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You are here: Home > All About Hand Dyeing > Dyeing Synthetic Fibers > How to Dye Acrylic Yarn and Fabric

How to Dye Acrylic Yarn and Fabric

Note: The predecessor to this page, "Dyeing Acrylic With Basic Dyes", has been split into two different pages: the one you are currently viewing, which is "How to Dye Acrylic Yarn and Fabric", and another page, "About Basic Dyes".

I'm very sorry to have to tell you this, but dyeing acrylic yarn at home is not necessarily a good idea. Dyeing wool yarn can be easy and safe, but dyeing acrylic is less so. For your first dyeing projects, please try natural fibers, instead.

There are two types of dye that can be used on acrylic: one is called disperse dye, and the other is called basic dye (also known as cationic dye). Disperse dye is safe enough to use, but it requires a large cooking pot, and it will produce only pale to medium shades. Basic dye will produce brilliant or dark colors, as well as paler ones, but I don't recommend that you use basic dye in your home.

Rit dye won't work!

Ordinary dyes used for wool or cotton will not color acrylic. Acrylic is an entirely synthetic material which will not hold on to the dyes that work for natural fibers. All-purpose dye, such as Rit, will not produce acceptable results. Neither will the fiber reactive dyes that work so well on cotton, such as Procion MX, nor the acid dyes that work well on wool, including food coloring. All of these dyes will just wash out, leaving at most a temporary stain.

Use disperse dye for pale to medium shades


Dye acrylic with disperse dye

Jacquard iDye

Jacquard iDye and iDye Poly

iDye Poly is disperse dye that can be used to immersion dye acrylic, acetate, or polyester. It is safer and easier to use than Basic dyes. (Note that regular iDye is a direct dye that works only on natural fibers such as cotton.)

easy to use

The safest way to dye acrylic at home is to use a kind of dye called disperse dye, such as iDye Poly. It's simple to use: heat water in a large cooking pot, dissolve the disperse dye in it, add the acrylic clothing or yarn that you want to dye, then heat it to a simmer, stirring constantly. After half an hour or an hour, turn off the heat and let the acrylic cool in the dyebath, stirring occasionally. When the water's no longer hot, just warm, pour away the dye (it's safe to dispose of disperse dye down the drain), and rinse in warm water, then wash to remove excess dye.

safe enough for home use

Disperse dyes are reasonably non-toxic—unlike the basic dyes that are needed for bright or dark colors on acrylic. However, you should never plan to reuse your dyeing pot for cooking food. The only dye that should be used in pots that will be used for cooking are the approved food coloring dyes; unfortunately, food coloring can be used only on wool and nylon, not on acrylic.

dissolving the dye

You can toss the iDye Poly right into the water (remove the paper envelope, but leave the dye in the water-soluble clear inner packet). Stir until the dye is completely dissolved. If you're using another brand of disperse dye, predissolve it in a cup or two of boiling water, strain it through a nylon stocking to be sure there are no undissolved bits that will make dots of darker color, then add it to the dyeing pot with the water. (You can do the same thing with iDye Poly if you want to be very sure to avoid uneven dots of color.)

don't use dye carrier or color intensifer

Throw away the "color intensifier" packet included with the iDye Poly: it will not work on acrylic, because it is good only for polyester. It smells horrible, it requires excellent ventilation and/or a repirator, and it does nothing useful for dyeing acrylic. The same advice applies for ProChem's Dye Carrier NSC, Aljo's Hi-Conc Polydeveloper, Batik Oetoro's Polysol Carrier, or Kraftkolour's Polydyol, which should be used for polyester but not for acrylic.

don't confuse "iDye" with "iDye Poly"

You can use iDye Poly to dye acrylic yarn or clothing, but you cannot use plain iDye. iDye Poly contains disperse dye, which works on synthetic fibers, but plain iDye (without "Poly" in the name) is direct dye, which works only on natural fibers.

color limitations

Disperse Dyes produce only light colors on acrylic yarn or fabrics. Expect only pale to medium shades. Don't try to dye acrylic a deep, intense color, such as black, navy, or red. Disperse dye is good for dyeing acrylic pale colors like pink, lavender, or baby blue.

Instructions for using disperse dye to dye acrylic yarn or fabric

Always pre-wash anything you wish to dye, because invisible stains will prevent the dye from taking smoothly to make a solid color. Yarn must be wound into skeins and tied loosely to prevent tangling.

Aljo Mfg Acetate-Nylon Disperse Type Dye

Aljo Mfg. provides a separate set of dyes for use on acetate, nylon, Lycra, and acrylic, and their instructions are slightly different from their instructions for dyeing polyetser with higher-energy disperse dyes.

PRO Chemical & Dye

ProChem is an excellent source for reliable dye recipes.

Jacquard products' iDye Poly

Ignore the washing machine instructions that are provided for iDye. They are not suitable for using with iDye Poly. You do need to use the stovetop or a hot plate to heat your dyebath to a simmer. Jacquard Products' instructions for using the stovetop method dyeing synthetic fibers do not mention acrylic, but they are very short and easy to follow. Since, unlike other recipes for disperse dye, the Jacquard disperse dye recipe does not call for an acid, such as vinegar, in their recipe, it is possible to use an aluminum pot for dyeing in, but it's best to buy a non-aluminum dyeing pot, either stainless steel or enamel, so that you can later use it for other types of dyes, as well.

Other sources

Batik Oetoro does sell disperse dyes, but their instructions are very brief and are specific for polyester, not acrylic. Kraftkolour has more detailed instructions for immersion dyeing with disperse dye, but if you choose to follow them, be sure to skip using the polyester carrier, Polytex NOC. For more information on disperse dyes, see Dyeing Polyester with Disperse Dyes.

Basic dyes produce more intense colors, but are more toxic and dangerous

The type of dye which works best for acrylics is called Basic dye. The only dye that will color acrylic yarn or fabric to a deep, intense, or bright color is basic dye.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend that you use basic dye in your home. Some basic dyes are carcinogenic or mutagenic. Unlike reactive dyes, they are more easily absorbed throught the skin, if you happen to get any on you.

You MUST obtain the MSDS information for every Basic dye that you buy, and follow the safety precautions with great care. If your dye supplier does not provide MSDS information, find another supplier! Do not patronize companies that are willing to disregard your health and safety.

Basic dyes appear to be easy to use (aside from the possibly onerous health protections), can be used for hand-painting, and result in particularly brilliant colors, which are quite washfast on acrylic. However, they dye everything permanantly, including your containers, your sink, your counter, your floor, or anything else they get on to, unlike most other types of dye, and they may be much more hazardous than the other dye classes. They are not for use by the beginner, certainly, and not for use by many experts, either.

For more information on how to use Basic dyes to dye acrylic, see my page, About Basic Dyes.

Other names for acrylic fibers

Acrylic is sold under names such as Orlon, Courtelle, Dralon, Leacryl, Acrilan, and Nitron. It is composed of poly(propenonitrile)(polyacrylonitrile) with small amounts of a comonomer.

Modacrylic is sold under names such as BHS, Creslon, PAN, and Teklan, and also, according to Ingamells, as Lycra (which must have been a misprint). Modacrylic fibers are between 35% and 85% acrylonitrile, and are made from resins that are copolymers (combinations) of acrylonitrile and other materials such as vinyl chloride, vinylidene chloride or vinyl bromide. Modacrylic can probably be dyed just like acrylic.

Source for names: Wilfred Ingamells, Colour for Textiles: A User's Handbook, The Society of Dyers and Colourists, 1993, ISBN 0 901956 56 2.

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Last updated: January 24, 20012
Split from "About Basic Dyes" on January 24, 2012
"Dyeing Acrylic With Basic Dyes" page created: May 5, 2005
Downloaded: Sunday, July 14, 2024