Washing indigo fabric – a DIY tutorial for hand-dyed fabric

Washing indigo fabric - shibori, Synthrapol - CSews.com

Hi, I wrote a post earlier this month about the indigo dyeing workshop I organized for the Bay Area Sewists, which you can read here. However, that post just focused on the dyeing part. That post got really long and then I realized that I didn’t discuss washing indigo fabric after it has finished oxidizing. So here’s that important bit of information.

Indigo dyed fabric - Bay Area Sewists meetup - CSews.com

When you take your fabric out of the indigo dye bath, it starts turning blue when it’s exposed to oxygen. It takes about 20 minutes for indigo dye to oxidize. When I took the Craftcation indigo dyeing workshop, we were told to rinse the fabric and then launder it. This will prevent the dye from “crocking” or transferring to something else, such as a white couch. 😉 You may need to wash your indigo dyed fabric more than once to prevent crocking.

I’m going to make a skirt with some of my indigo-dyed fabric and I don’t want to worry about ruining someone’s furniture when I sit down. So I called Dharma Trading, which sells a wide range of their own fabric dyes, including indigo and the Jacquard indigo dye kits. I was told to rinse the indigo-dyed fabric for 20 minutes under running water and then I could try washing it with hot water with Retayne. Well, it turns out Retayne is for commercially dyed fabrics and when I called my local fabric store Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics, to see if they carried Retayne, I discovered that it not only carries Retayne but Synthrapol, which removes excess dye from hand dyed fabrics,” according to the label.

Synthrapol - for hand dyed fabric - CSews.com

So I needed Synthrapol. I got this 16 oz. bottle for $6.95 from Stonemountain. You can also buy a 16 oz. bottle on Amazon for $13.75 (affiliate link here). There’s also a 4 oz. bottle available as well.

The directions on the label says that when you wash your hand dyed fabric for the first time, wear gloves, add 1 teaspoon of Synthrapol per gallon of very hot water, wash for 5 minutes, rinse well and dry. You can also machine wash in the hot cycle and add 1-2 teaspoons per load to form 1/4″ of suds, run 8 to 10 minutes. Then run through complete warm rinse.

After that initial laundering, wash with warm water, not hot.

To recap, here’s the process for washing your hand dyed fabric for the first time.

Step 1: Rinse hand-dyed indigo fabric under running water for 20 minutes. I rinsed it in the bathtub but I didn’t want to run the water that long. We’ve been dealing with drought in California so I couldn’t bring my self to run the water that long. I rinsed for about 5 minutes. Squeezed out the excess water and then rinsed for another 5 minutes.

Washing indigo fabric - rinse for 20 min. under running water - CSews.com

Step 2: Washing indigo fabric in hot water with 1 teaspoon of Synthrapol. I use a Rubbermaid dish tub I got at a hardware store (15.25 quarts, 14.43 liters). It has convenient handles on the sides. You can get it on Amazon, too (affiliate link here).

Washing indigo fabric - for first wash, wash in hot water with Synthrapol - CSews.com

Step 3: Rinse in warm water.

If you want to machine wash your indigo dyed garment after this initial hot wash, I would recommend washing it with a color catcher – a dye-trapping sheet you throw in with your wash. It picks up stray color and prevents dye from depositing from one garment to another. I use the Shout color catcher, which you can find in the grocery store sold near the laundry detergent and dryer sheets. (Amazon affiliate link here.)

Keep in mind that the indigo color will fade as you wash it so wash with care. I think I’ll wash in cold water and line dry.

For a more in-depth explanation of how to prevent color transfer, bleeding, and fading, check out this post from the home and garden website Dengarden.

I still need to write Part 2 of my Indigo dyeing experiments. I’ll do that in September so stay tuned!

Tutorial - How to treat indigo-dyed fabric - hand dyed, Synthrapol, DIY - CSews.com

Author: Chuleenan

Chuleenan sews, collects hats and shoes, and is a fabric addict. She is also the organizer for the Bay Area Sewists Meetup group.

10 thoughts on “Washing indigo fabric – a DIY tutorial for hand-dyed fabric”

  1. Hey, C!
    Love your blog! ❤️
    Super late on this, but wanted to chime in with something that I wasn’t sure anyone had discussed…
    I’m a huge fan of India Flint-an encyclopedic Dyer-and have been natural dyeing for almost a decade now.
    India has a great expression: “Chlorine kills color.” Most people have chlorinated water, and it’s deadly for naturally dyed fibers. I put out tubs and buckets to catch rainwater, which I filter and save for dyeing, rinsing and washing. I also tend to ‘age’ my mordanted and dyed fabric (both steps) for about a month before rinsing. It really seems to help ‘set’ the dye. Also, I don’t really wash-wash my pieces; more like use a Tblsp. of mild shampoo in a bucket of warmed rainwater, swish it around for a few minutes, then rinse. We rarely get our clothes actually dirty anymore; it’s more like they just need freshened up.
    Hope this is helpful. Happy dyeing!

  2. very helpful – after collecting instructions and blocks of indigo for 3 years I did my first pot the last couple of days.. thrilled with that part of it but finishing has MULTIPLE different conflicting instructions. Yours and clear and to the point and I am going to give it a go. As i have 10 yards of fabric in 3 pieces I am going to cold water rinse in the machine a couple of times and then use synthropol in the machine with hot water. There are still unresolved issues – some of these lengths I may want to dip again to get a darker color but I see it all as a “process” – every one is a prototype!

  3. Did this help the color not transfer? I just bought my first hand-dyed indigo dress and I’m afraid of it transferring everywhere! Will try this treatment if you’ve found that it works.

    1. Yes, it does help with setting the color but for a finished garment, you should first soak it in Retayne and then wash it with Synthrapol. See what they say here https://www.dharmatrading.com/chemicals/retayne.html

      If it was a high-quality dye, then it treating it with these two products should work. BUT if you use hot water and garment says to wash it in cool, then your fabric could shink and then your dress won’t fit. If your garments says to wash it in warm, use warm water. I don’t know how effective Retayne and Synthrapol will be if you don’t use hot water but it’s worth a shot. After you’ve soaked and washed your garment, let it dry. Then gently rub the fabric on something white and see if the color transfers. If it transfers, you may need to wash it a few more times. If the dye is unstable, then it may just continue to transfer.

      Once you get all the excess dye out, you can wash as usual. But I would recommend washing it with a color catcher, such as the one I mentioned in my blog post.

  4. Help! I made the mistake of not rinsing my fabric before cutting the ties. Will washing it now make the color bleed into the white areas and ruin it?

    1. It should be fine. You can follow the instructions in this post and it should be OK. I cut my bindings, let it dry and then rinsed and washed with synthrapol.

  5. Thank you. Question: with shibori dying and then creating garments: do you dye first then sew, or the other way around. I.e. a simple silk scarf: put in the edging first or dye first and then sew? Help!

    1. It’s up to you. I would dye first because then you can decide which part of the design goes in a particular area. For example, if you had a section of the fabric that you really liked, you could put that in front. If you dye a completed garment, you have much less control – unless you have a lot of experience. You may not like the results. Good luck and have fun with it!

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