What is used to dye clothes? You won’t be happy to hear this

We are so used to modern clothes that we don’t even remember that they are made from dyed fabrics. But when you find out what this paint is created from, you will be unpleasantly surprised. Meanwhile, a dye that is sustainable for the environment and human health has already been created.

To make our lives more varied and colorful, as well as to demonstrate their social status, people first began dyeing fabrics thousands of years ago. Then they used natural pigments obtained from plants, fruits, animals and minerals. This was the case for centuries, but with the development of science and industry in the 19th century, artificial chemical dyes began to appear and be widely used. Now almost all modern clothing is dyed with synthetic dyes. To reduce costs, modern industry chooses the cheapest dyes, which are produced today using a complex synthetic method from numerous compounds. And when buying some new T-shirt or jeans in a chain store, we no longer think that these fabrics are dyed and what these dyes are made of.

One of the substances that is most widely used to create textile dyes is carbon black. It comes from the black soot that remains after partial combustion of oil or gas. This soot contains components such as benzene and naphthalene, which are considered “possible human carcinogens” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Naphthalene can cause problems with the blood, liver and pancreas. And the effect of benzene on the body can affect the bone marrow, causing leukemia, aplastic anemia, and other blood diseases. After IARC classified carbon black as a possible carcinogen, beauty brands were forced to remove it from eyeliner. In addition to all this, the industrial process of dyeing clothes itself produces a lot of waste and polution that can negatively affect the health of factory workers and the environment.

At the same time, substances obtained from natural materials can still be used to dye clothes and can become a confident alternative to synthetic dyes. Paints made from plants or fruits are inferior to synthetic ones in saturation, but do not cause harm to people and nature. Fortunately, more and more brands are starting to use them in creating their collections and attracting public attention to the need to switch to healthy dyes. For example, in Sweden, brands &Other Stories and Tintoreria Project created an initiative to dye clothes at home using common plants and vegetables, such as beets, onions and others. In Berlin, the Blond and Bieber studio has launched a project called Algaemy, which uses microalgae to create prints on fabrics that change color depending on the light.

In the USA, Las Vegas tech startup Nature Coatings has set itself even more ambitious goals, creating a dye called BioBlack, which is made from environmentally friendly materials, but at the same time has high brightness and can be used in mass production. Its main component is environmentally friendly wood waste, which is processed into pigment through a clean and safe process in an oxygen-free environment. BioBlack is not a combustion product and does not contain potentially harmful components found in soot. At the same time, the steam and biogas that are released during this production can be used to produce energy.

BioBlack comes in liquid form and can be used as an environmentally and healthy pigment for dyeing cotton, wool, hemp and other natural fabrics. But that’s not all – this paint can be used to print prints on a variety of surfaces, from T-shirts and sweatshirts to jeans. For example, it was used to print on the eco-friendly Levi’s Plant-Based 501 model.

Unfortunately, products such as PPP are still innovative and do not occupy a significant part of the dye market, where paint still dominates. The technological process of using PPP-type carbon black is still more expensive than using traditional carbon black, and the task of overcoming the carbon black lobby is an issue that requires solutions at the regulatory level. But even small changes towards greater sustainability and health protection are already a sign of change for the better.

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