How to Dye Acrylic Fabric

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Use disperse dyes to color acrylic fabric.
Use disperse dyes to color acrylic fabric. (Image: cream-white fabric image by GeoM from Fotolia.com)

Acrylic's popularity is based on its versatility. It is lightweight, warm, dries quickly and retains its shape. Pioneered by Dupont in 1944, it was originally produced for outdoor use. Acrylic is commonly known as Orlon, Dralon, Nitron, Leacryl and Courtelle and is produced from a petrochemical known as acrylontrile. Immersion dyeing with disperse dyes is required for coloring acrylic fabric as the synthetic fibers will not hold conventional dyes used on cotton or wool. Other types of dye will provide little or no result. The process requires high temperatures and the use of a carrier chemical in order to get the disperse dye into the fiber. Beginners should review the steps necessary to use disperse dye successfully.

Things You'll Need

  • Washing machine
  • Disperse dye
  • Dye carrier
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Soda ash
  • Neutral pH or mild detergent
  • Nylon stockings
  • Rubber gloves
  • Hot water
  • 1 small pot
  • 2 large stainless steel or enamel pots
  • Apron
  • Stove
  • Large wooden spoon
  • Measuring cups
  • Water thermometer

Open windows or provide other ventilation for your work area.

Set washing machine at hottest temperature and wash fabric with 1/2 teaspoon soda ash and 1/2 teaspoon detergent per pound of fabric. All dirt, oil or sizing is removed by this step.

Put on rubber gloves and an apron to protect your skin and clothing.

Add the disperse dye to one cup of boiling water. Consult the dye manufacturer's directions for the correct amount of dye needed for the total weight of your fabric. Use 1/2 teaspoon of dye to obtain a pale color on one pound of fabric and 3 teaspoons of dye to obtain a dark color on one pound of fabric. Stir well with a wooden spoon.

Stir the dye solution again after allowing it to cool to room temperature. Strain the solution through two layers of nylon stockings.

Add 2 1/2 gallons hot water, at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit, into a stainless steel or enamel pot. Add the strained dye, 1/2 teaspoon detergent, 11 teaspoons of white distilled vinegar, the dissolved dye and the dye carrier. Stir the solution thoroughly.

Place the pot on the stove and add the acrylic fabric. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil while stirring constantly with the wooden spoon. Allow the mixture to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring intermittently Place another stainless steel or enamel pot of fresh water on the stove and heat to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove the fabric from the dye solution and place in the pot of clean heated water. It is important that the water temperature be 180 degrees Fahrenheit as cooler water fails to remove all dye carrier crystals and leaves an unpleasant odor in your fabric.

Pour out the dye bath and fill with clean water. Add 1/2 teaspoon detergent and heat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the fabric in the new pot and stir for 10 minutes. Rinse the fabric in hot water to remove all chemical components of the dye process. If you detect the unpleasant odor of the dye carrier, repeat steps 8 and 9. You may dry the fabric if no odor is detected.

Tips & Warnings

  • The dye carrier must be used to obtain dark shades and is optional for light to medium shades.
  • Do test samples before beginning a large project.
  • Never use aluminum pots.
  • The dyes can stain sinks not made of stainless steel or fireclay ceramic.

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