How to Upcycle Food Scraps into Natural Dyes
Upcycling food scraps into natural dyes is a great way to reduce waste and make beautiful, earth-friendly dyes for textiles. Instead of throwing away vegetable peels, fruit pits, and other food scraps, you can transform them into a rainbow of dyed fabrics.
I will walk you through the basic process, recommended materials, and different food scraps that make great dyes. With a little time and creativity, you will master how to make these gorgeous homemade natural dyes.
Gather Your Materials
Before you start collecting and preparing your food scraps, be sure to gather some essential dyeing materials:
- Large pot or bucket for boiling the dye bath
- Stove or hot plate for heating the dye bath
- Strainers and cheesecloth for straining the boiled dye liquid
- Jars with lids for storing the strained dye
- Fabrics like cotton, linen, or silk to dye
- Rubber gloves, apron, and surface protection to keep stains away
- Vinegar or citric acid to help the dyes bind to the fabrics
You may also want mordants, which are metallic salts that help the dyes affix permanently to the textiles. Common options are alum, iron, tin, and chrome.
Best Food Scraps for Dyeing
Nearly any food scrap with deep color has dye potential, but some of the best options are:
- Produce rich, earthy yellow, orange, and brown hues
- Boil skins only, no onion flesh
Avocado pits and skins
- Give pretty pink shades
- Use skins and pits together
Black bean liquid
- Makes grays and lavenders
- Save the cooking water after boiling beans
- Yield blues and purples but can be tricky
- Crush berries in a pot, strain out skins to dye with
- Creates pinks and corals
- Use additional citric acid for best color
- Provides bright yellow dye
- Grate root to release color
- Gives vibrant pinks and purples
- Use roots, skins, and leaves
How to Make the Dyes
Follow these steps for gorgeous natural dyes from food scraps:
1. Gather and prep the scraps
Collect vegetable peels, fruit skins, pits, and other scraps with dye potential. Rinse, chop, or crush them to release the most color.
2. Boil the scraps
Place the prepped scraps in a pot, add water to cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30-60 minutes until the water becomes very colored.
3. Strain the liquid
Pour the dyed water through a strainer lined with cheesecloth and into a jar. Compost the leftover solid scraps.
4. Add a mordant or acid
For permanence, add a mordant like alum or chrome. For brighter colors without a mordant, use vinegar or citric acid.
5. Dip or soak your fabric
Add your natural fiber fabric to the jar and soak for 30 minutes or more. For best results, gently heat the jar in a water bath.
6. Rinse and reveal the color
Rinse the fabric in cool water until the water runs clear. Hang to dry and admire the beautiful natural dye!
Tips for Varied, Vibrant Colors
With some tweaks to the process, you can achieve an array of vivid, unique shades:
- Mix food scraps together for layered, blended hues
- Shift pH with citric acid or baking soda for different tones
- Try dyeing in an instant pot for fast, rich colors
- Play with dye concentration by reducing the water
- Over-dye to combine or alter colors on a single fabric
- Use salt or vinegar after dyeing to “saddle” the fabric for a two-toned effect
Don’t be afraid to experiment! Record your recipes to recreate your favorite color combinations.
Going Further with Natural Dyes
Once you master the basics, consider taking your natural dye practice even further:
- Grow some dye plants like marigolds, madder, or indigo
- Forage for dye materials like acorns, black walnuts, and goldenrod
- Try solar dyeing in glass jars set in the sun
- Use iron, copper, or tin to shift food scrap dye colors
- Print with your dyes using stencils, blocks, or stamps
- Weave, embroider, or screen print with your hand-dyed fabrics
Natural dyeing is a magical, rewarding art. With some creativity and patience, you can reduce waste while crafting gorgeous colors.