How to Dye Linen Fabric in Cold Water

24th Jun 2021

How to Dye Linen Fabric in Cold Water

Linen is my go to fabric in the summer. It is light, comfortable, and easy to wear. Yes, it wrinkles - but that comes with wearing natural fabrics. My mother calls them "status wrinkles" and I don't mind them at all. Linen seems to be the only fabric that can look even better when wrinkled.

One of my favorite qualities of linen is that being a natural fiber, linen takes dyes beautifully. So, you can easily customize the color of the fabric right at home. But, most dyes require hot water which can shrink linen. This post will explain all you need to know to dye linen fabric at home using cold water.

The Almost Perfect Dress

I found this adorable dress at Saks Off Fifth for less than $50 and knew it would be perfect for our trip to The Breakers. I loved everything about it - except the color.

The fit is loose, so it is super comfortable for the hot summer temps in the Deep South. Plus, the length hits below the knee which is much more flattering on this over 40 mama.

I had tried on some similar tiered dresses that stopped above the knee. They pretty much made me look like I had raided a toddlers closet.

So, the fit was great. The fabric was great. The dress was perfect except for one thing.

Stark white really doesn't do much looks awful on this fair-skinned redhead.

Time to get creative.

What Is Fiber Reactive Dye?

I have dyed fabrics in the past using RIT dye with great results. RIT comes in hundreds of colors (plus you can mix your own) and is readily available at most craft stores. However, you must use extremely hot water to set the dye and I was concerned about the dress shrinking. I needed a way to dye linen fabric without heat.

Enter Procion MX Fiber Reactive Dye by Jacquard.

Fiber-reactive dyes are fixed chemically, instead of with heat. That means the dyes form a strong covalent bond with the fabric fibers. So fiber reactive dye is the most permanent colorant you can buy. The dye does need to be used with a Soda Ash Dye Fixer, which I explain later.

I picked up all the supplies (except the salt) at Blick Art Materials. Procion MX comes in over 40 colors, plus you can find recipes for custom colors on the Jacquard website.

Supplies You Need To Dye Linen Fabric in Cold Water

Dye recipes are based on the weight of the fabric, so you will need to weigh your fabric before you get started. I used our kitchen scale to weigh my dress, but you can use any scale.

  • Linen Fabric (or other 100% natural fiber such as cotton)
  • Synthrapol
  • Fiber Reactive Dye such as Jacquard Procion MX Dye
  • Soda Ash
  • Salt
  • Warm Water (105ยบ F) - 3 gallons for the recipes below
  • Dye Vat - Choose a large stainless steel, enamel, or plastic container. I don't recommend a kitchen or bathroom sink as it will likely stain.
  • Gloves
  • Large Spoon

How To Customize The Dye Shade

One of the benefits of dyeing your own fabric is that you can completely customize the color and the shade.

This chart gives you the amounts of Dye, Salt, and Soda Ash needed for lighter or darker shades of color.

The measurements are based on ONE POUND of fabric. Adjust the measurements if you are dyeing more or less fabric.

Step 1: Scour (or Prewash) Fabric

All dirt, oils, and sizing must be stripped out of the fabric for the dye to be able to penetrate evenly. Sizing is a coating added to fabrics during manufacturing to help the finished garments maintain their shape better and is easily washed out.

You know how that new shirt or dress never looks quite as crisp after its washed? That's because the sizing has been washed out.

To remove the sizing, prewash your garment in cool water with a small amount of Synthrapol. Refer to the directions on the bottle for exact measurements. I used less than a tablespoon to prewash my dress in our front load washing machine.

Synthrapol is a ph neutral detergent that helps prep fabric for dye. It is not cheap, but a tiny bit goes a very long way. If you don't want to invest in a bottle of Synthrapol, you can wash your fabric with regular detergent.

Step 2: Prepare Dyebath

Fill the large dyebath container with 3 gallons of warm water (per pound of fabric) and set aside while you measure the dye and salt.

Using the chart above, measure out the desired amounts of dye and salt.

Don't be surprised if the powered dye does not look like the final color you are going for. 

I chose a teal dye, but it looked like a pretty gross mustardy- baby-poop-greenish color when dry.

PRO TIP: I added the dye & salt directly to the water, but I don't think it dissolved evenly enough. I ended up with a few small dots of dark dye on the dress. So, I recommend dissolving the dye and salt in a separate container of warm water before adding it to the dyebath.

Step 3: Add Fabric to Dyebath

Submerge your fabric in the dyebath completely and stir frequently for 10 - 15 minutes. Be sure to cover all parts of the fabric. 

Step 5: Add Soda Ash

Dissolve the required amount of Soda Ash into a small amount of warm water. Stir well until it is completely dissolved.

Remove the fabric from the dyebath and pour in the dissolved Soda Ash mixture. Stir until combined with the dye and put the fabric back in the water.

Leave the fabric in the bath another 30 - 60 minutes, depending on color intensity desired. Stir frequently for even dye coverage. For this part, I set an alarm on my phone for 5 minutes so I wouldn't forget to stir. Each time the alarm went off, I rearranged the fabric in the dyebath and set the alarm for another 5 minutes.

Step 6: Rinse Fabric

When the fabric has reached the color intensity you like, it is time to rinse! Remember that the color will look darker when the fabric is wet, so expect it to dry lighter.

Carefully remove the fabric from the dyebath and rinse 4 - 5 times until the water runs clean. Start with cold water and increase the temperature slightly with each rinse.

Step 7: Soap Bath

Once the fabric rinses clean, you will set the color with a soap bath. Fill the cleaned dye bucket or a utility sink with warm water and add 1T of Synthranol. Soak your fabric in the soap bath for about 30 minutes.

Step 8: Final Wash

To remove all remaining soap and dye residue, run your finished fabric through the washing machine with a small amount of Synthrapol. Again, see the directions on the bottle for exact measurements.

Put the fabric in the dryer for about 5 minutes on low - just enough to remove the excess water. Then, hang to dry completely.

How It Turned Out

The finished color is beautiful and I absolutely love how the dress turned out! You can see that the thread used for top-stitching did not take the dye as well. It must be a polyester (which does not take dye well). But, I actually like the contrast of the lighter stitching. Just be aware that you may have a similar issue.

Using the Procion MX Fiber Reactive Dye made it so easy to dye linen fabric at home. I am already planning to try some napkins and pillow covers.