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To Dye For: Rust And Acorns Perfect For Eco Tie-Dying Says Study

Using renewable resources, fashion fans can enjoy tie-dying their clothes in safe conditions with minimal supervision.

Scientists have revealed that acorns and rust could be perfect, green and renewable substitutes for tie-dying cotton clothes.

Although many kits are available for people to brighten up their clothes with colorful tie-dye patterns, Julian Silverman, an expert at Manhattan College, says even common garden finds could help get the same results.

In the peer-reviewed Journal of Chemical Education – published by the American Chemical Society (ACS) – researchers said acorns, rust and vinegar can all be used to achieve colorful tie-dye patterns.

Using renewable resources, fashion fans can enjoy tie-dying their clothes in safe conditions with minimal supervision.

Natural materials have been used to create dyes and mordants to fix compounds on different fibers for thousands of years.

In one example, researchers said acorns can be used to achieve a brown-colored tannin that can bind with orange-colored iron mordants to create a dark blue color on fabrics.

Silverman, who specializes in green chemistry, education, biomass, materials and sustainability, said that similar natural dyes can create patterns in brown, orange, white, and blue-black when applied to cotton napkins.

The patterns will depend on how the napkins are wrapped in elastic bands and the order they are soaked in the natural dyes of acorn, rust and vinegar solution.

Tie-dyeing cotton fabric with acorn and rust solutions turns it brown, orange, blue and black. (Adapted from Journal of Chemical Education 2022, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.2c00086/Zenger)

Even though the natural dyes are safe to dispose of down the drain, researchers advised wearing gloves, goggles and a lab coat to prevent them from staining the hobbyist’s clothes or skin.

The ACS is a non-profit organization chartered by Congress that aims to advance broader chemistry enterprise for the benefit of the planet. The ACS says that its mission is “to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and all its people.”

The research was also funded by the Manhattan College School of Science in New York City.

Using chemistry-related research and information, the ACS is a leading force in promoting science education through its peer-reviewed journals, eBooks, and scientific conferences.

Artificial, non-green dyes that are often used in the clothing production industry and in fashion are detrimental to the environment as they cause water waste and can lead to dangerous chemicals ending up in groundwater.

A man from the Bai ethnic minority group dyes tie-dyed cotton cloths at a folk tie-dye workshop at Zhoucheng Village on December 28, 2007 in the suburb Dali Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan Province, China.  (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)

The United Nations says that about 7,500 liters of water are used to produce a single pair of jeans, for example, with the denim being treated in various chemical baths to give it a softer texture. Even the faded denim look requires chemical baths.

About 2,000 different chemicals are regularly used to process conventional textiles. Using climate-friendly alternatives can help reduce the impact the clothing and fashion industries have on the planet.

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