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FYI on DYE

by: Kent Schneider 4/04/08


Several years ago (beginning with DOBAG project in Turkey) the term natural or "vegetable" dye began to creep back into the lexicon of international carpet buyers. Over the last few years we have seen more and more consumers, as well as producers, using this term as a mark of superiority when buying or selling a rug. As a "green" store many of our customers come to us in search of these "healthier" naturally dyed rugs. The truth is however, that very few rugs that claim to be naturally dyed actually are. And those that are, are not necessarily better than there synthetically dyed counterparts.


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Recently the term vegetable dye seems to have passed from a small group of buyers "in the know" along to the general public and in the process, become a buzz word that could be marketed on. Many producers have jumped on this tend and quickly boasted "vegetable dyed" product in order to charge premiums.  With the rise in popularity of all things "green" this trend has only increased.  However, there is no third party certification or other industry standard that exists to certify these claims. So how can one be sure? The truth is that you probably cannot know for sure aside from asking a lot of questions and buying from a reputable source. But there are a few signs that can tip you that someone is making a false claim. Vegetable dyed rug colors are inherently difficult to control (more on that below). If someone is selling you, what they are referring to as, a 100% naturally dyed rug and you see another exactly like it in the showroom (or they assure you it can be made to look exactly alike) chances are that this rug is at least partially dyed with synthetics. Pay particular attention to soft shades like reds and yellows.  If these colors are consistent from piece to piece it is probably the work of synthetic dyes.


Before you go and discount every consistently colored rug on the market as a nasty "Synthetic" dyed rug you need to consider the second myth about Natural Dyes; that they are "greener" than "Synthetic" dyes. While natural ingredients such as walnut husk and madder make great shades of brown and red, they do not inherently want to bond with fibers in order to produce colored yarn. In order to do so a mordant must be used to bound the dye stuff to the fiber. Many of the common mordants use varying concentrations of chromium (very toxic) or alum (less but still toxic) as a catalyst to assist in the bonding. Even with these agents, Natural dye (in general) does not absorb efficiently into the fiber requiring extremely large quantities of dye stuff and mordant (typically twice the weight of the fiber. This absorption fluctuation is also what makes controlling the shades of vegetable dyed colors so hard). All of this can result in a tremendous amount of waste water run off and contamination. Contrast this with low impact synthetic dyes (sometimes referred to as Swiss Dyes) or Fibre-reactive dyes. Low impact dyes are manufactured pigments which are designed with a greater absorption rate into the wool (typically at least 70% of the dye must be absorbed to be considered low impact). Generally these dyes do not contain toxic chemicals or require mordants resulting in less rinsing.  Higher absorption rates and less rinsing result in less waste water and therefore less contamination.


At Verde Home we carry Tibetan Rugs colored primarily with low impact dye (although we do have access to 100% naturally dyed rug if desired).  This choice allows us to offer a customizable, consistent product that is also beautiful and long lasting.   If you are interested in seeing some of the great rugs we have to offer please contact us.


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