Dye Safety

This is not meant to scare you out of dyeing but is meant to prevent you and loved ones from really dying! Enjoy this wonderful craft by not getting careless. Always be prepared to deal with accidents. Call 911 if victim has a hard time breathing, is not breathing, cannot wake up, or has convulsions.

This is the most important dye information you will ever need!

“Most accidents are the direct result of arrant stupidity; they don’t always happen to the stupidee, but just as often to innocent bystanders.” — FIRST AID TEACHER, Los Angeles Fire Department

Nobody plans on an accident, but bad things can happen all too fast. Never assume that lack of warning means the material is safe. Practice dyeing safety so it becomes automatic.

Safety Gear

FIRST AID BOOK & KIT: Read a First Aid book – you do have one, right? — before you need it. Make a dye workshop first aid kit with various sizes of waterproof bandages, gauze patches, burn ointment, eyewash,
good tweezers, antiseptic, adhesive tape, and sharp scissors.
SAFETY GLASSES: Eyeglasses or contact lenses will NOT protect eyes from splashes and flying powder. Wear safety goggles when using chemicals. If anything splashes into the eyes, wash them gently with water (nothing else) and get medical treatment immediately.
MASK: All powders are dangerous if inhaled, including cosmetics. Sawdust is dangerous because it is really microscopic splinters, which is not good to inhale. Wear a dust or paint mask. However, dust masks are not a substitute for good ventilation, and are no help against fumes. If mixing a lot of powders, get a NIOSH-approved mask.
MIXING POWDERS: Cover work surface with dampened newspapers. Don’t mix near air conditioner or furnace intake pipes that can spread powders into the air. Dissolve powdered chemicals in water, then carefully pour into the dyepot. Toxic fumes result from mixing very strong alkalis and acids, even such seemingly harmless household materials such as bleach and ammonia. PRO-Chemical Company’s excellent website suggests filling a shoebox with damp newspaper cut to size. Keep powdered materials
inside mixing box while measuring or transferring from bottle or package. When powder is mixed or contained, carefully roll up the soiled newspapers and discard.
WHEN TO CALL 911: If an emergency of any kind happens don’t hesitate to call for professional help. They can call the Poison Control Center while the victim is being transported. Post veterinarian’s number in case a pet licks dye or chemicals. The vet can call the National Animal Poison Control Center and have an antidote ready.
CHILD SAFETY: Keep everything well out of children’s reach. Small bodies have less ability to metabolize toxic substances than large bodies. Thousands of children are poisoned every year, some fatally. Children will taste anything: bleach, insecticide, peroxide – you name it! Dyeing is a valuable learning experience, so children old enough to obey can participate if they are watched very carefully.
PETS: As with children, a pet will eat anything it can reach. Thousands of animals are accidentally poisoned every year. One of our pups got into our indigo and ate some. Not enough to harm him, but he pooped bright blue for a couple of days. It was a lesson: what if he’d eaten something far more dangerous?
INSECT BITES: Perfume, food and soft drinks attract insects that get annoyed because you aren’t a flower. Draw their attention away from the dye area with a jar-lid full of sugar-water place well out of the way. In case of bites or stings, follow these hints:

  • Bee stings are acid; put baking soda (alkali) on them
  • Hornet stings are alkaline, put vinegar (acid) on them.
    FIRES: There is not much in a dye workshop that is a fire hazard. However, a sleeve or an apron string too near a dyepot fire can catch fire. If working in an area where there are dry grasses or lots of fallen leaves, be aware of that fire danger. Besides having a fully charged fire extinguisher on hand, also keep a garden hose nearby. A final resort is to overturn a lukewarm dyepot on the fire. The results will be colorful but the fire will be put out.
    BURNS, SCALDS: There is always a danger of burns and scalds if someone is careless around pots of hot liquid. Never put butter on a burn because the fat traps heat and tissue damage continues. Put the burned area in ice water until it can be treated. Aloe gel is good for light burns if not allergic to aloe. For a bad burn, put baking soda on a clean wet cloth and place lightly over burn. If a blister forms or the wound weeps call the doctor.
    FINGER-LICKIN’ GOOD? Place all food, bottles, and cups well away from the dye area. It’s easy to stir your coffee with a spoon used to measure mordant, and that thoroughly ruins the coffee flavor. If your fiber is not thoroughly rinsed it may still have a small amount of unabsorbed mordant on its surface. So don’t handle that fiber, then lick your fingers! This strange warning turns out to be a very necessary caution for adults, not children. Go figure!
    CHEMICAL TOXICITY: Though most natural dyes and mordants are harmless, repeated or prolonged exposure to any materials – including talcum powder — can cause sensitivity and ultimately nervous system damage to some people. These materials can also potentially harm a fetus or nursing child, even though you may have used the same material for years. If you have any adverse reactionsto anything,stop using that material and call your physician.
    LABEL! LABEL! LABEL! Toxic materials in unlabeled bottles causes 75% of all poisonings. Keep the original label and MSDS information with each item on your dye shelf. Never leave any container unlabeled for ‘just a minute.’ Teach children to report skull-and-crossbones if they find something so marked. Don’t remove supplier’s name or hazard warnings. Some chemicals degrade with age, so write date of purchase and when it was made into a solution.
    STORAGE: Replace all plastic or paper packaging by putting the dye or mordant in labeled containers with tight lids. Don’t use metal lids on mordant jars. Some chemicals dissipate in heat or light so keep storage area cool and dark. Make sure glass jars can’t fall off shelves and break – this is very important in earthquake country.
    CLEAN UP: Powders can be wiped up with damp rags; never blow on powders as they may disperse all over the place and contaminate your work area. Liquids can be cleaned with a soapy sponge and paper towels. Dispose of all cleaning rags and paper towels in a tightly-tied plastic bag.
    CALIFORNIA PROPOSITION 65: This regulation requires special label on products that contain even trace amounts of potential carcinogenic material. Household items such as rubbing alcohol are on the list, as well as copper, cigarette smoke and bracken fern. So a Prop 65 notice on your dye or mordant package is no cause for alarm but merely to create awareness of a possible danger.
    DISPOSAL: Most mordants are not environmentally harmful, but they are minerals and their safe disposal should be considered. Alum solution can be poured down the sink or on any plant in your garden. Copper mordant can be poured on copper-loving plants such as azaleas and rhododendrons. Iron solution can be poured on trees but not on smaller plants. Ask your local nursery about which plants will welcome these mineral. If in doubt ask a waste disposal agency for neutralizing and disposal information.


    POISON IS: Any substance that causes unintended symptoms: (1) Solids; (2) Liquids; (3) Sprays; (4) Gases or vapors. Dyers need to worry about (1), (2), (4): Never leave an unattended stove, especially if children or pets are in the area.

    ACCIDENTS: Millions of people are poisoned every year; most of these accidents could have been prevented. Even talcum powder can be fatal if inhaled; sawdust can be deadly to human lungs.

    CHILDREN AND PETS: Teach children to recognize the skull and crossbones symbol and to report finding such labels. If you suspect a poisoning, call 911. Prompt attention is crucial to save a life.

    SKIN: Never touch chemicals with bare hands Prevent skin contact with impervious protective clothing, closed shoes (no open-toed sandals!), gloves, lab coat, apron or coveralls.

    EYES: Use chemical safety goggles and/or full face shield where dusting or splashing is possible. Do not work with unprotected eyes; do not wear contact lenses around chemicals. Corrosive chemicals can work inside, permanently damaging cornea.
    EYE CONTACT: Check for and remove contact lenses. Gently flush eyes with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes. Lift upper and lower eyelids occasionally while water is flowing into eyes.
    VENTILATION: If working indoors, including in the garage, have a good ventilation system to keep chemical dust as low as possible. A ventilation hood can prevent dispersion into work area. Failing that, place an electric fan on floor or in window where it can’t blow across your work table, with the fan blowing out of (away from) the work area.

    RESPIRATORS: For occasional handling of powders, a paper dust mask will suffice; if handling a quantity of powders, a half-face dust/mist NIOSH-approved respirator is best. These respirators do not protect in oxygen-deficient atmospheres.

    FIRST AID: Stay calm! Call 911 so help is on the way. Call doctor and Poison Control Center to find what to do next. Do not induce vomiting unless told to do so by a medical authority. Never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person.

    INHALATION: Remove victim to fresh air while someone calls for medical assistance. If not breathing, give artificial respiration. Rinse affected parts with water.

    INGESTION: Loosen tight clothing. Wash mouth out with water or milk.

    SKIN CONTACT: Alkali can burn long before symptoms appear. Flush skin with water 15+ minutes. If acid, apply paste of baking soda. Remove contaminated clothing or shoes and thoroughly clean before reuse.

    FIRE: While most dyes and many chemicals are not a fire hazard, some can flare in combination with other materials. Gas can be released from a chemical fire.

    EXPLOSION: Some chemicals can explode if handled carelessly, stored near heat or mixed with an opposite type of chemical. If there is danger of a chemical explosion, get out of area quickly.

    EXTINGUISHERS: Always have a fully-charged fire extinguisher and functioning water hose with cut-off faucet valve in easy reach of work area. Use any means suitable to extinguish fire.

    SURVIVAL: Call 911 to report a fire and give address before hanging up. If possible to fight the fire without personal danger, do so; otherwise, get out of area.

    IF POISONING OCCURS: Have the following information ready to give:

    1. Your name, phone number and address (do not hang up without giving this information!)
    2. Victim’s current condition
    3. Age of victim
    4. Weight (if child or pet was poisoned)
    5. Name of product and ingredients (if listed)
    6. How much of the product was ingested or inhaled
    7. Time that exposure or ingestion occurred
    8. Vital signs (temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, muccous membrane color)

    Post these in work area, and near household telephone:

    1. Your fire department
    2. Family doctor
    3. Your veterinarian
    4. Regional poison control center (see inside cover of any phone directory)
    5. Poisoning emergency: 1-800-222-1222 if victim is conscious
    6. National Animal Poison Control Center: 1-800-548-2423 or 1-900-680-0000
    7. Chemical Emergency numbers, 24-hours, 7 days: Infotrac: 1-800-535-5053 or Chemtrec: 1-800-424-9300; International Chemtrec assistance: 703-527-3887

    KEEP IT SAFE & FUN: Don’t let this long list scare you! It is only to tell you how to deal with dyeing in
    general. Safety precautions are just common sense, once you learn to apply them. Keep an eye on
    everything in the dye area, and enjoy the day!