How do Natural and Synthetic Dyes Interact with Natural and Synthetic Fabrics?

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Updated on Aug 31, 2012

Grade Level: 7th-9th; Type: Chemistry


To discover the interactions of synthetic dyes and natural dyes on natural and artificially-made fabrics.

Research Questions:

  • How do dyes adhere to certain fabrics?
  • Why are some dyes permanent on some fabrics and some wash off?

We are surrounded by textiles, from the clothes we wear to the sheets that keep us warm at night to the umbrellas we use when it rains. These fabrics come in all sorts of wonderful colors, but did you know they usually start out as white or beige? The dye is applied later during the production process. This experiment will help you understand how that works.


  • NATURAL DYES: Indigo, Ripe Blueberries, Ripe Beets
  • 100% Cotton Fabric (natural; a “fat quarter” will do)
  • 100% Wool Fabric (natural)
  • 100% Bamboo Fabric (natural)
  • 100% Polyester Fabric (synthetic)
  • 100% Rayon Fabric (synthetic)
  • 100% Nylon Fabric (synthetic)
  • Water
  • Several plastic containers to hold the dye and the fabric
  • Knife
  • Strainer
  • Stove
  • Pot
  • Spatula or stick to stir the fabric in the dye
  • Rubber gloves
  • Apron/smock

Experimental Procedure

  1. Designate a set of fabric samples for each kind of dye. Be sure to label the fabric with the type of dye, after it has been dyed.
  2. To prepare the natural dye, chop up each of the plants separately into small pieces.
  3. Place these pieces into a pot on a stove.
  4. Add water to the pot, twice the amount of the plants, and bring to a boil. Let simmer for about an hour.
  5. After an hour has passed, remove from heat and strain the mixture so that there are no little pieces of plant material swimming around.
  6. Place each of your fabric samples into the pot and let it sit for two to three hours.
  7. Take the fabric samples out and observe the results. Which fabric took in the most color? Are there any splotches or uneven coloring? Take photos.
  8. Wash the fabric samples in cold water and compare the results. Did any of the dye wash out?
  9. Repeat steps 2-8 for each of the natural dye plant materials.
  10. For the synthetic dye, you should follow the instuctions from the manufacturer. Rit Dye has many dye methods, but stick with the pot method for accurate results.
  11. Evaluate your results.Compare natural fabrics to synthetic ones, natural dyes to Rit Dye.

Terms/Concepts: textiles; fabric and fiber tech; fabric dyes, synthetic and natural

References: Wikipedia's Fabric Page; Joann Fabric and Craft Store; The Textile Book, by Colin Gale and Jasbir Kaur (Berg Publishers, 2002)

Sofia PC is currently a college student with a deep interest in science who is aspiring to become a writer. She writes about all sorts of things across all subjects including, but not limited to; science, crafts, and fashion. She hopes to become a good writer so she can share her thoughts and experiences with the world and future generations.

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