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Deadly Dye

Deadly Dye

tldr: Textile dyeing and finishing is one of the most damning water pollutants of the 21st century.

My fascinations with polymer and textile engineering began in college. It all started with an image I saw in my 3rd year of engineering school.

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That’s your jean denim polluting the ocean.
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I was always fascinated with the mesmerizing number of dyeing and finishing methodologies. The Dyeing and Finishing of fabrics and textiles creates an estimated 20% of all waste water pollution.

The Search for a Malaria Cure Produces a Dye.

William Henry Perkin, an eighteen-year-old English chemist, was searching for a cure for malaria, a synthetic quinine, and accidentally discovered the first synthetic dye. He found that the oxidation of aniline could color silk. From a coal tar derivative he made a reddish purple dye. The brilliant purple was called mauve. The dye was not stable to sunlight or water and faded easily to the color presently named mauve, a pale purple. This discovery resulted in additional research with coal tar derivatives and other organic compounds and an entire new industry of synthetic dyes was born. In the twenty-first century, synthetic dyes are less expensive, have better colorfastness, and completely dominate the industry as compared with natural dyes. Thousands of distinctly different synthetic dyes are manufactured in the world.- Source:

Synthetic dyes are an order of magnitude cheaper than organic dyes and as such people are unlikely to make the decision to switch. Natural dyes also have a series of disadvantages.


The ratio of dye to water should be high, so as to prevent the dispersion of mass quantities of dyed waters.

The Industry of Textile Coloring is Massive.

“It is estimated that over 10,000 different dyes and pigments are used industrially and over 7 x 105 tons of synthetic dyes are annually produced worldwide [3,8,9]. Textile materials can be dyed using batch, continuous or semi-continuous processes. The kind of process used depends on many characteristics including type of material as such fiber, yarn, fabric, fabric construction and garment, as also the generic type of fiber, size of dye lots and quality requirements in the dyed fabric. Among these processes, the batch process is the most common method used to dye textile materials [10].

In the textile industry, up to 200,000 tons of these dyes are lost to effluents every year during the dyeing and finishing operations, due to the inefficiency of the dyeing process [9]. Unfortunately, most of these dyes escape conventional wastewater treatment processes and persist in the environment as a result of their high stability to light, temperature, water, detergents, chemicals, soap and other parameters such as bleach and perspiration [11]. In addition, anti-microbial agents resistant to biological degradation are frequently used in the manufacture of textiles, particularly for natural fibers such as cotton [11,12]. The synthetic origin and complex aromatic structure of these agents make them more recalcitrant to biodegradation [13,14]. However, environmental legislation obliges industries to eliminate color from their dye-containing effluents, before disposal into water bodies [9,12].”


To Minimize Our Color Impact

To minimize impact, the greatest thing 3 things we can do to make a dent in the production and use of synthetic dyes are as follows:

  1. Make your own clothes.
  2. Avoid Fast Fashion.
  3. Buy Used Clothing.

If you find this article intriguing and would like to learn more about the world of textile engineering tweet me @datarade.

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