What types of fabrics absorb dye best?

Written by calia roberts
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What types of fabrics absorb dye best?
Raw cotton is used to make the world's principle fabric. (cotton image by arklite06 from Fotolia.com)

Dyeing fabric may be a hobby or a method of enhancing a garment or decorative accent. When dyeing fabric, it is beneficial to understand what the fabric is made from and what type of fabric will best absorb the dye. Different fabrics react to dyes and dying processes in different ways, so possessing knowledge on fabrics and fibres is necessary for a successful result.

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Cotton is a versatile fabric used around the world due to its softness, comfort and wash-and-wear properties. The cotton fibre, which retains 24 to 27 times its weight in water, breathes by absorbing and releasing moisture quickly. This absorbent quality makes cotton an easy fabric to dye. Ideal dyes to use on cotton are cold water fibre reactive dyes, all-purpose dyes and direct dyes.


Wool, an animal fibre made from sheep's hair, will absorb up to 30 per cent of its weight in water and is the most absorbent of all fabrics. Much like cotton, wool also possesses a breathable quality, and it is ideal for keeping the body warm in cold weather. Wool is one of the best fabrics to dye as the colour will penetrate the core of the fabric and permanently bond with the fibres. Wool is versatile and takes many different colours and dyes.


Linen, a smooth, durable and luxurious fabric, is composed of the strongest vegetable fibres and is two to three times stronger than cotton. The natural lustre of this fabric comes from the wax content of the flax plant fibres used to create linen. Not only a good conductor of heat, linen is an absorbent fabric that will easily take dyes. Linen is also ideal for dyeing because the colours tend to stay vibrant after washed.


Silk, a sensuous, elegant and luxurious fabric, is often associated with success and wealth. This naturally shimmering fabric is attractive, versatile, and in ancient times, sold for its weight in gold. Silk fibres come from insects, such as caterpillars, and are one of the strongest natural fibres with a high absorbency for moisture. This absorbent quality makes silk one of the best fabrics for dyeing, especially in deep colours.

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