Saving on Resources: Hand Washing for Ice Dyers

When dyeing an item, we all want it to turn out looking its absolute best. So when parts of our process could be putting stress on the environment, we find ways to adapt that allow us to both respect the planet and our craft.

As we see more frequent and widespread droughts, it's important to be cautious of how much water we're utilizing in a process already highly dependent on water - and potentially large volumes of it.

Apart from reducing or pausing dye work during times of droughts in our region, I knew there was room for improvement in my process when it came to reducing water waste.

Adapting My Process

My process included: rinsing the item with cold water until it ran clear, and washing items in a washing machine on a hot water wash, extra soak, and extra rinse at least 2-3 times until items were proving to be properly set.

As I evaluated my process, I identified an issue with the small batch model: it's incompatible with saving water using a washing machine. Now, yes, there are adjustable settings depending on different volumes. However, my largest batches often just barely met the smallest load adjustment due to the size of the wash bin.

This meant I was using far more water than I needed, and often was still left desiring more hot water soaks for a more thorough setting of my work. I needed to make an adjustment for this to be successful.

There were multiple parts of the process I needed to consider:

  1. Minimizing water waste during rinses and soaks 
  2. Getting hot water that was both hot enough and minimized waste
  3. Properly agitating the clothing to ensure the detergent did its job

Let's be honest. Hand washing has been around for centuries upon centuries. Ancient Romans stomped on clothes in tubs of water to clean them - similar to how they'd stomp on grapes to make wine. Medieval Europeans used a combination of bats and scrubbing boards in their local river.

There were hundreds of ideas out there, all with varying degrees of water conservation - I just needed to find one that worked for producing quality dyed clothing.

The New Process

First, I turned to my friend, the good ol' 5 gallon bucket. I knew I would be able to use less water to submerge items and still have room to move them around in the washing process. 

Next, I took a plunger to use as an agitator (what will move the clothing around to push water through it and effectively clean the clothing) and drilled holes into it to allow water to move freely through it.

When doing all of my rinses, I rinsed directly into the bucket. This allowed me to determine the opacity of the water and how much more rinsing would be necessary, while allowing me to reuse rinse water.

After the first rinse of getting remaining clumps of dye off the garment, I began allowing the water to fill about an inch above the garment. I then use my plunger to push the water through the garment repeatedly. I do this for about 30-60 seconds, dump the water, and repeat. I found this cut my time actively rinsing down significantly as each drop was more efficiently used.

Once the water rinsed clear, it was time to switch to hot water. 

Instead of hiking up my home's hot water heater and having to run water down the drain until a faucet was producing water hot enough, I decided to get a 2 liter electric kettle to support my efforts.

With my kettle, I heat the water to at least 170 degrees, and then slowly pour it over the item I'm dyeing. I add a small amount of cool water to avoid unintentionally burning myself during the agitation process, and begin washing the clothes.

After the first hot water rinse is complete, I repeat the process, but allow the items to soak for at least one hour, repeating until the hot water remains clear. 

At the end of the day, ensuring items were properly set would ideally allow their future owners to more easily care for it, making it a lasting piece of their wardrobe. The new process allowed me better achieve that goal while cutting back significantly on water usage.

Never Stop Learning

Do you have other ideas on how to save water when ice dyeing? Share them in the comments below!


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