Caring for Your Dyes

 
 

Aniline dyes, unlike natural dyes, tend to need minimal care and can be kept for many years. But dyes can develop all sorts of problems, many of which render them useless for dyeing.  What are these potential problems?  How can they be corrected?  And when is it better simply to pitch the dye and brew up a new batch?



Powdery material on surface of dye

Cause: mold.  Mold spores are present in the air, and can settle onto open containers of dye.  Even though the chemicals in the dye are not a human foodstuff, various microbes (and especially molds) seem to thrive in them. If a dye has been undisturbed for a while, the mold can grow on the surface of the dye and form a round, powdery-looking patch.

Prevention: keep dyes closed tightly when not in use.

Solution: strain the dye through a coffee filter (twice), and thoroughly scrub out your dye jar with soap and bleach (lid, too).  Boil it for several minutes, either in a saucepan or in the microwave.  If microwaving, make sure your dye container is microwave-safe; if it isn’t, pour the dye off into a container that is.  Let it cool and add 1-2 T white vinegar before using.


Foul-smelling dye

Cause: your dye has become a microbial culture.  Microbes of all sorts are present in the air, and can settle onto open containers of dye.  Even though the chemicals in the dye are not a human foodstuff, various microbes (bacteria and molds) seem to thrive in them.

Prevention: keep dyes closed tightly when not in use, do not share spoons with other dyes.

Solution: throw it out and make a new batch.  You could treat as above, but it’s just not worth it, as you may not be able to get rid of the nasty smell.


Stringy, gelatinous material in the dye

Cause: mold.  Some molds will produce a powdery surface plate, others will grow in the dye itself, producing what appears to be mutant seaweed.

Prevention: keep dyes closed tightly when not in use, do not share spoons with other dyes.

Solution: strain the dye through a coffee filter (twice), and thoroughly scrub out your dye jar with soap and bleach (lid, too).  Boil it for several minutes, either in a saucepan or in the microwave.  If microwaving, make sure your dye container is microwave-safe; if it isn’t, pour the dye off into a container that is.  Let it cool and add 1-2 T white vinegar before using. Or, if there is a huge amount of mold, just throw the mess out and make a new batch of dye.


Simple granular sediment

Cause: rust.  Many people use metal jars lids, and metal jar lids are prone to rust, particularly when they are exposed to water and acid (e.g. vinegar).  Oxidation of the exposed metal causes rust, and the rust will detach and fall into the dye solution.   

Prevention: use only non-metal jar lids.  Even painted metal will rust, as tiny breaks in the paint will admit the water and acid vapors. If you use canning jars, there are plastic replacement lids now available.  I found that switching to plastic jars solved this problem.

Solution: strain the dye and replace the lids.


Muddy or granular sediment (non-orange/gold dyes)

Cause: your dye has precipitated out of solution.  Aniline dyes dissolve best in hot water, and are used that way when dyeing fabrics.  The dyes sold as pysanka dyes have generally been chosen for their better performance at cooler temperatures, but even they can sometimes come out of solution and form a muddy, powdery residue at the bottom of the jar.  Since it is actual dye particles in that residue, the remaining solution will be too weak to dye properly. Certain dyes (e.g. golds, browns) are particularly prone to this.

Prevention: keep dyes at room temperature if possible should this problem occur.

Solution: boil the dye solution and sediment for several minutes, either in a saucepan or in the microwave.  Make sure your dye container is microwave-safe; if not, pour the dye off into a container that is.  Stir well so that the dye will de-dissolve. Let it cool and add 1-2 T white vinegar before using. Consider adding a bit of extra water to decrease the concentration of the dye.


Muddy or granular sediment (gold dye)

Cause: your dye has precipitated out of solution. It may simply be that there was too much dye for the amount of water, and the dye has re-crystalized.  It might also be that the dye ions have formed new compounds with other ions, such as vinegar (acetic acid), and that these new compounds are insoluble.  

Aniline dyes are fabric dyes, and dissolve best in hot water (they are used that way when dyeing fabrics).  The dyes sold as pysanka dyes have assumedly been chosen for their better performance at cooler temperatures, but even they can sometimes come out of solution and form a muddy, powdery residue at the bottom of the jar.  Since it is actual dye particles in that residue, the remaining solution will be too weak to dye properly. Certain dyes (e.g.  browns) are particularly prone to this.

UGS Gold aniline dye has a propensity to form a precipitate after after a week or less of use.  This precipitate is probably a different compound, as it does not re-dissolve upon heating.

Prevention: keep dyes at room temperature if possible (do not let them cool too much) and use enough water to dissolve the dyes properly. 

Solution: boil the dye solution and sediment for several minutes, either in a saucepan or in the microwave.  Make sure your dye container is microwave-safe; if not, pour the dye off into a container that is.  Stir well so that the dye will de-dissolve. Let it cool and add 1-2 T white vinegar before using. Consider adding a bit of extra water to decrease the concentration of the dye.  This may or may not help, depending on what the precipitate is (dye crystals or new compound).

In the case of the UGS Gold, it is a marvelous color, but very unstable.  Professional pysankary I know will wait until they have a large number of eggs that need gold, and only then then mix the dye up and dye them all at once.  They consider this dye “disposable.”


Muddy, gelatinous or granular sediment (orange dye)

Cause: vinegar contamination.  Most aniline dyes require vinegar (or some other acid, like citric acid/setting powder) to make them adhere optimally, but there are a few that react with vinegar to form a gelatinous sludge.  I suspect this is a chemical reaction with the acetyl moiety of the acetic acid, but am not sure.

Prevention: check the dye packet carefully before mixing up the dye, and do not add vinegar unless called for. (Dyes that should not have vinegar added usually have BOLD WARNINGS printed on them.)  Label the jars with a “NO VINEGAR” warning, and use separate spoons for those dyes to avoid cross contamination.

Solution: the dye often will still work even though it looks horrible, but you have to deal with a slimy coat that needs to be wiped off.  It is usually easier to throw it out and make a new batch. 




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Dye Problems and Their Solutions