Staining Science: Making the Boldest, Brightest Tie-Dye!
Have you ever wondered about the materials that your clothes are made out of? The clothes you wear are made of fibers that come from many different sources. Some fabrics are made from natural fibers, and some from manufactured or totally synthetic fibers. In this activity, you’ll explore how well different fiber types are dyed using fiber-reactive dye. Aren’t you just dye-ing to find out which fabric works best?
This activity is not appropriate for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.
From the shrouds of mummies in ancient Egypt, to the ball gowns of ladies in the Victorian era, to the tie-dyed shirts of modern hippies, dyed cloth has played an important role in human society. Its production has also changed over time. Early dyes were made using natural resources, like plants, berries, minerals, and seeds. The cloths, just like the dyes, were made from a natural resource – natural fibers, like cotton, linen, wool, and silk. Cotton and linen fibers are formed from cellulose, the main component of plant cell walls. Wool and silk are animal-protein-based fibers.
Extra: In this activity, you tested how well linen, cotton-polyester, and polyester samples were dyed using a fiber-reactive dye. But there are many other types of fabric you could test dyeing, such as cotton, wool, rayon, silk, and nylon, and they may react differently. How well do other types of fabric become dyed with a fiber-reactive dye?
Extra: Before synthetic dyes were created, humans used natural dyes. Do some background research and pick one or more natural dyes to try in this activity. You will probably want to use relatively safe dyes, like turmeric or berries. Do some natural dyes work better than others? Does it depend on the type of fabric used?
Extra: Some dyeing methods suggest pre-soaking the fabric in soda ash solution, and then adding dye (the reverse of what is done in this activity). Does the order of these steps make a difference in the color of the dyed fabric?
Observations and Results
Did the linen fabric become dyed the darkest shade? Did the polyester fabric remain nearly white? Did the cotton-polyester fabric become noticeably dyed, but not quite as dark as the linen fabric?
Cotton and linen fibers are both natural fibers made from cellulose, a compound found in plant cell walls. Fiber-reactive dyes form permanent covalent chemical bonds with cellulose, making this dyeing process a relatively permanent one. Polyester, however, is a synthetic fiber that does not react with fiber-reactive dyes in this way and cannot be effectively dyed using them. For polyester to be successfully dyed a different category of dyes must be used, specifically dispersion dyes, and a great deal of heat applied during the dyeing process. In this activity, you probably saw that the polyester fabric was not effectively dyed, remaining nearly white, while the linen fabric was dyed the darkest shade, and the cotton-polyester fabric was not quite as dark as the linen fabric (depending on the percentage of cotton and polyester in the fabric).
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Teisha Rowland, PhD, Science Buddies
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