With the popularity of polyester fabric and it’s prevalence in the clothing industry and other fabric products it is no surprise many people want to know how to dye polyester. While polyester suits popular in the disco era may have fallen out favor thankfully, polyester is still an extremely popular material used in outdoor products and active-wear.
With so many benefits beyond just strength, it has great durability and its economical production make it a choice fabric for high-stress outdoor use. Polyester is also great for wet and damp environments due to it being hydrophobic and repelling water so well.
Besides the attributes that make it great for outdoor use, it is also a very washable fabric that retains its color wash after wash. Being stain and wrinkle resistant is also a huge benefit to clothing manufacturers. These are just a few reasons so many people own polyester items that they may be interested in changing the color with fabric dye. Let’s jump right in and learn more about dyeing polyester the right way.
Polyester Dyeing Process: Step-by-Step
The first thing you should know about dyeing polyester is until recent years, it used to be very difficult for anyone to dye polyester due to the availability of dyes, the use of auxiliary chemicals that can be noxious, as well as the process requiring incredibly high water temperatures. Thankfully dye recipes have improved and now several manufacturers offer dye specifically formulated for dyeing polyester at home.
Another very important thing you should be aware of when dyeing polyester is the results you can expect. Polyester is not a fabric that can be dyed to a dark deep color. I repeat, polyester fibers cannot be dyed dark and will usually only achieve a pastel like color or a shade darker. People incorrectly associate this as an issue with the dye performance but it is actually the fiber itself. Secondly, many polyester fabrics have a permanent press finish which must be removed before successful dyeing can be achieved, which will be discussed below.
The only easy method of dyeing polyester is immersion dyeing, sorry tie-dye fans, and this is due to the heat requirements. That said, a tie-dye-like result can be achieved with more difficulty but we will save that for another day. Due to the heat and water requirements, it is not advisable to dye any “dry-clean only” items. The washing machine method is also a form of immersion dyeing but it cannot be used on polyester due to the heat requirements.
There aren’t many steps involved but it is important to follow each step carefully. With care and attention to detail, you will be able to create dyed polyester fabrics with wonderful results and colors that are both light-fast and wash-fast.
RIT and Jacquard both offer a product that includes both the dye and auxiliary chemicals in one package. Pro Chemical offers disperse dyes that must be mixed with auxiliary chemicals like citric acid, dye carrier to aid in setting the dye, and dye activator or soda ash.
While RIT and Jacquard’s products are very convenient and easy to, it is possible to achieve slightly better results that are deeper in color when using a disperse dye offered by PRO Chem and mixed with the different auxiliary chemicals. This allows you to fine-tune the recipes for the absolute best performance. Check out our complete fabric dye guide and list best polyester dyes.
Step 1: Select the Polyester Fabric
When you have selected your polyester material, whether it is raw fabric or clothing items, one of the most important things to determine its fiber content. Every type of fabric fiber will achieve the best results using a specific type of dye. Determine if your material is a polyester blend or 100% polyester.
If your items or fabric is a blend, you can dye your items in two processes if necessary. Dyeing the item twice, each time using the appropriate dye type for the fiber types in the polyester blend.
Step 2: Select a Polyester Dye
As discussed above, select the appropriate dye for your needs. If you want a simple and easy process to dye your items stick with something like RIT DyeMore or Jacquard iDye Poly. Otherwise, Prosperse Disperse Dye by Pro Chemical is great for giving you more control over the recipe and results.
Step 3: Read the Manufacturers Instructions
The manufacturer’s instructions are the most important information you can have when dyeing fabric. Each dye manufacture has specific dye formulas and their instructions will ensure the best results possible when dyeing fabrics with their dye formulas and recipes. They will usually differ in both order of steps and ratios of the different chemicals and dye.
Step 4: Select a Dye-pot
When choosing a dye-pot to you should choose a pot that is large enough that you can fully submerge the fabric with enough room to stir the fabric in the water to ensure full coverage of the dye mixture. Another thing you need to keep in mind the dye-pot material.
Since the disperse dye process uses acid in the dye recipe, it can corrode the dye pot if it is made of a material that is affected by acid or other corrosive chemicals. Materials not affected are stainless steel and ceramic or enamel coated pots with no defects in the coating.
Step 5: Gather All of Your Dyeing Supplies
When dyeing polyester, you will need a thermometer, safety-wear, dye-pot, and the various chemicals to both pre-wash the polyester, dye the polyester, and post-dye treatment. Tongs, measuring cups, spoons, pipettes, long-handled plastic will also be very useful. I recommend pre-washing the polyester to eliminate any chance of issues from dirt or oils on the fabric you will need a textile detergent like Synthrapol.
You can also use Soda Ash instead of Synthrapol for the pre-wash which may help dye results by scouring the fabric. For the actual dyeing process, additional supplies depending on the dye used, for RIT DyeMore and Jacquard iDye Poly nothing else is needed other than the above and the dye itself. Note: iDye Poly should come with a small pre-measured packet of dye carrier which is also used to enhance dye setting onto polyester.
If using a disperse dye like Pro Chemical Prosperse which isn’t pre-mixed with auxiliary chemicals you will need the additional chemicals. In addition to everything above, you need the disperse dye, a dye carrier like PRO Dye Carrier NSC, citric acid crystals or white distilled vinegar, Synthrapol, and PRO Dye Activator or soda ash.
Step 6: Pre-Mix the Dye
You should prepare a concentrated dye mix that will be added to the larger dye bath later. To do this, measure the desired amount of dye powder using the manufactures shade chart or instructions. Paste up the dye with a little cold water, then finish dissolving the dye with 1 cup of boiling water. Stir thoroughly and set aside to cool while making the dye bath.
You will also need to prepare a diluted solution of the dye carrier. Measure out the appropriate amount of carrier solution based on the manufacturer’s directions and add this to 1 cup of boiling water.
Step 7: Pre-Wash the Polyester
After you have gathered your dye supplies and are ready to start preparing the polyester material, you can begin by washing it in a very hot bath with Synthrapol or soda ash. This will remove all dirt and oils that will negatively affect the dyes bond with the fibers. Soda ash will also have the added benefit of scouring the fabric for enhancing dye set.
After washing and rinsing the fabric you can set the fabric aside soaking it to keep it wet.
Step 8: Prepare the Dye-Pot and Rinse Pot
Now that your fabric and dye are prepped and ready for the dye bath, add enough hot (up to 200°F/95°C and greater depending on the dye type) water to the dye pot to allow the polyester fabric to move freely. Next, you will add the dye and any necessary auxiliary chemicals to the water.
- Pre-mixed concentrate (iDye Poly/DyeMore): Typically you will add about 2 tsp (2.5 ml) of Synthrapol per 2.5 gallons of water. Next, add the pre-mixed concentrate in the manufacturer recommended amounts. For the Jacquard iDye Poly, you will also add the dye carrier as well.
- Disperse Dye (not premixed with auxiliary chemicals): Typically you will add the chemicals in following order and amounts per 2.5 gallons of water stirring thoroughly after each addition. Add 2 tsp (2.5 ml) of Synthrapol, 1 tsp (5 ml) citric acid crystals or 11 tsp (55 ml) white distilled vinegar, diluted dye carrier NSC from Step 6, and finally the mixed dye from step 6.
If the dye recipe uses dye carrier in the process you need to prepare a rinse pot. For your rinse pot, all you need to do is add enough water to a pot that will allow you to plunge the fabric into and agitate it after it is removed from the dye-bath. Bring this pot of water up to 180F. The purpose of the hot rinse to remove any residual dye carrier from the fabric and the foul odor it brings.
Now that you have added all of the dye concentrate and necessary auxiliary chemicals if the recipes call for such, you can begin heating the dye bath.
Step 9: Add Polyester to Dye Bath
Now you can add your polyester items to the dye bath while continually stirring everything as the water temperature rises to a rapid boil. Continual stirring will help to prevent streaking and produce even dye result.
The boiling process should last a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 1 hour for darker shades and during the boil, you should stir intermittently. After you have boiled the fabric for the desired amount of time if you have used a dye carrier you would then immediately move the fabric to rinse-pot.
Step 10: Rinse and Wash the Fabric
After the dye has set into the fabric from the dye bath you move the fabric to the rinse-pot and stir the fabric around in the rinse-pot for a few moments then proceed to wash. Next, ash the fabric in hot water to remove any excess dye that hasn’t set into the fabric.
To wash the fabric, you can discard the dye-bath, rinse the pot, and prepare another hot water pot consisting of only water and synthrapol. Another method is to use a washing machine on the hot water setting and synthrapol or comparable textile detergent to wash the newly dyed and rinsed fabric.
Give the fabric a final rinse if you did not use a washing machine. After you have rinsed and washed the fabric if you still detect any odor you will need to repeat the rinse and wash step above.
For the final and easiest step, dry your fabric! Once dry you can treat your newly dyed polyester fabric just like any store-bought item as the dye is permanent and should be very wash-fast.
Other Methods of Applying Disperse Dyes to Polyester
There are other more novel ways that one can apply disperse dyes to polyester. For instance, you can paint it on, stamp it on, and even tie-dye polyester fabric. Below are a few methods and a quick summary of how each method works.
- Crayons: Crayola Crayon makes a fabric crayon that can used to draw designs directly onto fabric or first to paper then transferred to the fabric. You then use an iron to set the crayons, which contain disperse dye, into the fabric.
- Stamping: There are dispersed based stamping inks that are known as heat set inks. These combined with large fabric stamps can easily and efficiently transfer designs on to shirts which can then be heat set with irons. Though I haven’t tried it myself, I have heard of others mixing a dye concentrate like the one in step 6 and using it on stamping pads and iron heat setting with success.
- Hand Painting: Disperse dyes can easily be mixed with a bit of fabric paint to then be painted on providing a more opaque finish depending on the pain used. Another method is mixing up a dye concentrate in step 6 and painting it on to polyester fabric. You can even dilute the concentrate to provide a more water-color like effect. You can also make paper transfers much like transfer printing. All designs must be heat set with an iron.
- Polyester Tie-Dye: Create tie-dye designs on polyester is much more complicated than on other fabrics but it can be done. In short, you will apply dye concentrate directly to the fabric. Due to the fact that typically direct dye application uses a thicker dye concentrate it a different process altogether. I have read if crafters mixing up a concentrated dye bath and applying the dye in traditional tie-dye methods with some success as well. All of this, of course, needs to be heat set which is where it gets complicated. One method is pressure steaming the fabric to set the dye. Check out Pro chemical’s steam setting directions.
As you have read, the process to dye polyester can be cumbersome and involves the use of foul-smelling chemicals in some of the dye recipes used. That said if you just have to dye the polyester items you now have the knowledge to do it the right way. As always, you always risk the chance of ruining your personal items when dyeing so always do test pieces if possible.
If you have any questions or tips leave us a comment. Good luck with your next polyester dyeing project!