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Natural dyes are dyes or colorants derived from plants, invertebrates,
or minerals. The majority of natural dyes are vegetable dyes from plant
sources, for example:- Indigo. The dyes that are obtained from animal
sources are called Cochineal, and those that are got from minerals are
Historically, natural dyes were used to color clothing or other textiles,
and by the mid-1800's chemists began producing synthetic substitutes for
them. By the early part of this century only a small percentage of textile
dyes were extracted from plants. Lately there has been increasing interest
in natural dyes, as the public becomes aware of ecological and environmental
problems related to the use of synthetic dyes. Use of natural dyes cuts down
significantly on the amount of toxic effluent resulting from the synthetic
Natural dyes can provide the much needed alternative to the complex world
of chemical dyes. These dyes are environmentally sound and can be grown by
organic methods. They are inherently carbon neutral. Vibrant colors can be
produced from natural dyes.
Advantages of Natural Dyes
The advantages of the new colors were ease and
simplicity of use, general reliability with regard to strength and
composition, and certainty in reproducing the same color again without
The interest in natural dyes is growing and these dyes are being perceived
to provide an environment-friendly dyed fabrics and garments. Natural dyes
can give us the feel of a superior quality "sensory" experience.
The five classic and popular natural dyestuffs are indigo, madder,
cochineal, weld, and cutch. These can give rise to almost any color with the
exception of a few colors like fluorescent and electric blues. Natural dyes
show the properties of very strong yields, resistance to fading, relatively
fast colors along with easy availability.
Natural Dyes can make textile industries more competitive, by reducing
production costs and eliminating the huge expenses of chemical imports.
Drawbacks of the Natural Dyes
- Dependency on chemicals- There is still a reliance on
chemicals for bonding the color to the fabric. For example the colorful
mercerized cotton that we get to see is the result of treatment with
harmful caustic soda.
- Ecological Aspect- Just as the dye is natural that does not guarantee
that it is also environmentally sustainable. For example pesticides may
have been used to grow the crops etc.
- Effluents- Some of the effluent from the processes using
natural dyes can be as harmful as the ones of synthetic dyes.
- Inherent Weakness- Some Uncomfortable questions regarding
permanency, application methods and color fastness.
- Need for a huge amount of water- Huge amount of water is
wasted. Typically, the dye material is put in a pot of water and then
the textiles to be dyed are added to the pot, which is heated and
stirred until the color is transferred.
Ecologically Sustainable Indigo Dyeing
Indigo dye is an organic compound with a
distinctive blue color. Historically, indigo was a natural dye extracted
from plants, and this process was important economically because blue dyes
were once rare.
In a news that would delight the environmental watchers, there is a Natural
dyeing unit that specializes in indigo dyeing. This dyeing process utilizes
a vegetable dyeing process and is totally focused on being environmental
The primary use for indigo is as a dye for cotton yarn, which is mainly for
the production of denim cloth for blue jeans. The yarn is first treated with
high alkaline soaps instead of the usual caustic soda. It also uses plant
extracts that doesn't pose harm to humans, but may actually improve their
health. Like the tannin used as a mordant can be a source for powerful
antiseptic too. Turmeric rejuvenates the skin and indigo aids in relaxing.
The water in each stage gets treated before being recycled for agricultural
use. With further development and active support from government, this
dyeing process could well be applied in medium sized industrial productions.