Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why you should wash on cold

Customers frequently ask me why I do things certain ways or why I make certain recommendations.

This morning I am sending an email to my club members recommending that the newest color be washed in cold water for the first wash. As I was writing the email, I realized that 1) I am way way more interested in why dye behaves certain ways than the average person; 2) I think some of you are, too; and 3) this is what my friends call "blog worthy".

There are several reasons I recommend washing Caucus Race, and other colors like it, on cold for the first wash.
  • The colors in Caucus Race were achieved using twice my normal amount of dye. It is super saturated. This means that there will inevitably be a few excess dye molecules hanging around for a few washes. No matter who is doing the dyeing--indie, commercial, yarn dyer, textile dye house, couture fabric houses, discount clothing factories--there will always always be a few excess dye molecules. Most times there will be too few to actually notice the color when diluted in a sinkful of water; sometimes you will see a transparent tint to the water. Most dyers wash post-dye in a detergent that suspends excess dyes and helps prevent most backdyeing.
  • Loosely bonded blue and green dye molecules are especially prone to hanging around after the party is over, especially turquoise-based blues and greens. Think about washing a fresh emerald green handspun for the first time. Was the wash water a light blue turquoise? That is because emerald is a turquoise-based dye. 
  •  In a well-set dye job, all the dye that was going to bond bonded already. What you have in the rinse water is the excess, the 3-4 turquoise molecules that were never going to bond. Some excess dyes will rinse out of fiber or yarn during the first rinse. Some take a few extra rinses. This is no problem for sock yarn, but spinning fiber compacts when washed more than once or twice. Better to have a blue-tinted rinse water than compacted fiber, I think.
  •  The roving is a silk blend. All silk will release dye when washed in hot water, no matter how well that dye is fixed (according to the dye gurus at my dye supplier).
  •  What this all adds up to is that I am fairly certain there will be some slight tint in the first wash with any fiber as super saturated with blue and green as Caucus Race is. All fibers and yarns? No. Some fibers and yarns? Yes. This is normal. The wool wash you use may even encourage dislodging some of those excess particles. HOWEVER, the fiber/yarn/fabric should not fade or change color if washed properly. There should be no actual bleeding or leaching of color out of the material and in to the water. There is a small risk that the tinted dye water will backdye on to anything else in the sink. If the fiber/yarn/fabric was set correctly and rinsed in a detergent, then the risk should be minimal
  •  If you do have real bleeding? Rivers of dye leaching out of the fabric and turning your hands funny colors? Snap a picture and email your dyer ASAP so he or she can puzzle out why. Sometimes mistakes happen and I would want to know immediately if my quality control failed.
 So, there's my educational "behind the curtain" blog post for the week. I hope you find the information as interesting as I do. If there are ever any other questions or topics I can expand on for you, let me know!


  1. Hah, I was going to tell you about the excess dye when I washed the yarn that I just spun, but I did a quick google first to confirm the colorway name, and here I found your article on it. I definitely did not have any fading, just a sink full of blue tinted water on the first rinse.

    1. I should definitely check my comment moderation folder more often. I just saw this! Glad to hear my theories worked out. :)


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