Color guard: Team proposes greener technique for dyeing fabrics

· 2 min read

Color guard: Team proposes greener technique for dyeing fabrics

Pocket Science: Exploring the 'What,' 'So what' and 'Now what' of Husker research
Scott Schrage | University Communication

Welcome to Pocket Science: a glimpse at recent research from Husker scientists and engineers. For those who want to quickly learn the “What,” “So what” and “Now what” of Husker research.


Many techniques for dyeing plant-based fabrics such as cotton also produce large quantities of wastewater, often containing salts and dye residues that can especially harm aquatic life if dumped into the environment.

Though newer dyeing techniques have partly resolved these issues, they’ve created or struggled to address additional challenges: the chemical breakdown of dyes, the need for costly or impractical technology, the introduction of other polluting agents.

So what?

Rather than dissolving dyes in water, Nebraska’s Yiqi Yang and colleagues prepared the dyes in cottonseed oil before applying them to fabrics.

Because the dyes don’t dissolve in cottonseed oil, and because the oil doesn’t mix with water, the team found that nearly all of the oil can be washed from fabric and reused in multiple dyeing cycles. The oil-based technique also generated the same shade of color without salts and with roughly one-third less dye than a conventional water-based technique, leaving behind mostly biodegradable byproducts. And the team’s approach would require less energy and fewer materials — making it less costly — than conventional counterparts.

Now what?

Though the cottonseed oil was pilot-tested via a jet-dyeing machine commonly used in industry, testing it on larger scales could further validate its commercial potential, the researchers said.

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