According to Chemical & Engineering News, “the textile industry uses more than 8,000 chemicals to make the 400 billion m2 of fabric sold annually around the world.” On a related note, the industry is also responsible for 20 percent of global water pollution. If the thought of releasing all these potentially hazardous chemicals—including heavy-metal-laden dyes—into the environment gives you pause, you might want to try dyeing your clothing naturally with turmeric!
Turmeric is a spice derived from the root of Curcuma longa, which hails from the ginger family. Its main component, curcumin, gives turmeric its bright yellow color. Curcumin also boasts anti-inflammatory properties, and therefore, turmeric may be used to treat a range of health conditions. It is also a common ingredient in many recipes, ranging from golden milk (a blend of turmeric, warm milk and other spices) and smoothies to eggs, salad, hummus and, of course, curry.
If you have ever handled turmeric, you are probably aware that the bold yellow spice can stain, well, practically everything. The good news is, this makes it a natural choice for dyeing clothing naturally (see what we did there?). Just be sure to wear protective gear, like a smock and gloves—and safeguard household items and surfaces—when you do so!
Before you begin
It’s best to stick with natural fibers (think cotton, hemp, linen, silk or wool) when using natural dyes, so forget about synthetic options, such as nylon and polyester. And before you get started, you must clean or scour the fabric to remove any dirt or residue. Scouring varies by fabric type, but a quick internet search should yield directions for scouring whichever type of fabric you have chosen.
After the fabric has been scoured, it is time to mordant. Mordanting is a process in which fibers are soaked in a metal salt to increase the longevity of the colors after repeated washing (a.k.a. colorfastness) and allow dye molecules to bond permanently with the fibers. The safest and most common of the metal mordants is a powder made of aluminum acetate (a.k.a. alum).
If you’re ready to try your hand at dyeing fabric with turmeric, we’ve got you covered. We’ll take this opportunity to remind you, once again, that turmeric can stain, so be sure to handle the spice carefully and protect your clothes, skin and household items and surfaces during the dyeing process.
How to Naturally Dye Fabric with Turmeric
Equipment & Materials
- Fabric with natural fibers
- Large mordant pot
- Large pot for simmering turmeric
- ¼ cup turmeric
- Alum mordant
- Water to fill pot
Mordant the fabric according to the directions on the alum. This will generally involve filling the mordant pot with warm water, mixing in a certain amount of alum and submerging the garment(s) for a specific length of time (e.g., one hour). Tip: If you plan to create a pattern in your clothing, you can apply rubber bands to the fabric before mordanting, in much the same way you would when tie dyeing clothing.
Fill large pot with water and add in turmeric. Set it on the stove and heat to simmering. Allow the “turmeric tea” to simmer for approximately 30 to 60 minutes.
After turmeric tea seems ready, wring out the mordanted fabric and place it into the pot. Allow the fabric to soak on low heat for at least 15 to 30 minutes.
Take the fabric out of the pot, squeeze to drain and carefully remove any rubber bands.
Transfer fabric to your (empty) washing machine and choose the spin and drain cycle. When the cycle is finished, move the fabric to a drying rack so it can air dry.
- After step five, use a wet cloth to wipe down the cavity of the washing machine to ensure the turmeric color did not transfer.
- Wash turmeric-dyed fabrics by themselves until you are certain the color won’t transfer to other garments.
- Keep in mind that some fading is inevitable over time.