Photo by Alessandra Elle
Bid adieu to streaking colors and fading threads. A new permanent dye by British scientists could spell the end of rose-colored “whites” and other laundry disasters. The new technology bonds the dye to textile fibers—particularly synthetic ones—on a molecular level, resulting in color that won’t run, leach, or fade. To develop their product, researchers at the University of Leeds spun off their own company, DyeCat, which offers an environmentally friendlier alternative to conventional dyeing methods by mitigating waste, pollution, and energy use.
Photo by Science Museum London
In normal dyeing processes, which account for 17 to 20 percent of worldwide industrial water pollution, swathes of fabric are colored using chemicals in water baths. Although molecules of dye soak into the fibers and settle in between, they’re not permanently attached, which means that the sun, washing, heat, and other environmental factors can dislodge them from the surface. Besides being energy- and water-intensive, this technique is also staggeringly wasteful, producing giant tubs of dyed water that end up in rivers and streams.
DyeCat locks color into the chains of molecules that comprise each individual fiber.
The technology pioneered by DyeCat, on the other hand, doesn’t use water at all. It chemically bonds the dye to the filaments as they’re twisted and spun into fiber, permanently locking in the color so it never washes out. The color, in essence, becomes part of the material, and no dyes contaminate the water.
DyeCat’s approach, according to cofounders Patrick McGowan and Chris Rayner, reduces pollution because it uses only as much dye as necessary to color the fabric, requiring less energy and creating little waste.
The technique can also be used on manmade fabrics that are notoriously difficult to color, like Kevlar and PLA.
Another upside of the technology? It can be used to dye manmade fabrics that are notoriously difficult to color, like Kevlar and cornstarch-derived PLA. DyeCat researchers are also working on permanent dyes for hair and other natural fibers. “We have found it works particularly well with wool, which is prone to dye running out when laundered,” McGowan tells the Telegraph. “Cotton is the most problematic, but we are working on ways around that.”
Here’s to colors that never bleed and little black dresses that actually stay black after several washes.