Procion MX Fibre Reactive Dyes & how to use them

Procion MX Dyes, which are also known as Fibre Reactive dyes, can be used to dye vegetable fibres such as cotton, linen, and sisal.

The dyes can also be used to dye silk and wool although protein fibres are coloured better with Acid dyes. If using Procion MX dyes to dye protein fibres, it helps to add Sodium Sulphate Anhydrous (Glauber’s Salt) to provide an even coverage and to pre-soak in Synthrapol, which acts as a wetting agent, before adding materials to the dye bath.

As they are a ‘cold water’ dye, Procion MX dyes are suitable for batik and resist methods. This web site offers the concentrated Fibrecrafts Procion MX dyes and the premixed Jacquard Procion MX Dyes.

What is a Fibre Reactive Dye?

Procion MX dyes are also known as fibre reactive dyes because they form a permanent bond with the fibre molecule by forming a covalent bond. A covalent bond forms between two non-metallic atoms by sharing electrons, such as oxygen and hydrogen (both non-metallic) to make water (H²O).

Instructions on how to use Procion MX dyes

Batik and Procion MX DyesThe Procion MX dyes produce bright clear colours with good wash fastness and light fastness on cotton and other cellulose fibres. The dyes are not very wash fast on wool. The basic colours from the Fibrecrafts range can be mixed in any proportion and strength to produce thousands of colours.

Colours can be repeated if quantities are carefully measured and recorded, and it is helpful to keep a folder of samples for future reference. Results are determined by the recipe used, the water quality, the type of fibre and the time taken to work with the dye. Some dyers will prefer to experiment with the dyes and enjoy the varying results.

Adding a ‘thickener’, such as Manutex RS, makes the dye suitable for use in screen or block printing and hand painting of fabrics.

Tie dyed t-shirtThe concentrated Procion MX dye powders have a long shelf life when stored under dry, cool, airtight conditions but quickly loose intensity once in solution. It is therefore best to make up small quantities as required and use within 10 days. Solutions can also be stored for up to 3 months in a freezer.


Making a Stock Solution

The following recipe is for dyeing cellulose fibres. The fibre reactive Procion MX dye powders should, for convenience, be mixed into a 1% solution; e.g. 5g of powder in a small vessel stirred into a smooth paste with a little cold water and made up to ½ litre with water (less than 50°C) from the tap. A more concentrate solution, up to 3 times the amount of powder, is required when dyeing fabrics black. Store in a glass or plastic container.

Before dyeing, it is important to check whether the material is ‘Prepared for Dyeing’ (PFD) or requires scouring to remove any grease, oil or starch. Run a few droplets of cold water onto the fabric. If they soak in quickly, no scour is necessary. To remove starches, size and oils, add 5mls of Synthrapol (a non-ionic detergent) along with 2-3 litres of water for each 100g of material. Stir gently over a 15 min period, and then rinse thoroughly in warm water. It is possible to use household detergent, but the alkaline residue may affect the final colour or wash fastness.

The amount of dye required is calculated according to the weight of material to be dyed; weigh the dry fibre before you start. Using 3ml of the 1% dye solution to each gram of fibre gives an average strength dye, so for 25g of fibre you need 75ml dye stock solution, eg 50ml blue + 20ml yellow + 5ml black will give bottle green. You can vary the dye as much as you like; more dye will produce stronger colours and less pale colours.

Dye Bath Technique:

    1. Weigh the dry fibre, yarn or cloth.
    2. Wash and soak the fibre thoroughly (see above for PFD notes).
    3. Measure cold water into the vessel. The quantity of water is important with these dyes. Use 30ml water to each gram of fibre. 25g of fibre needs ¾ litre of water (or 1oz requires 1½ pints of water).
    4. The vessel does not have to be heat proof; glass, enamel or even polythene bags can be used, but if you use metal it must be stainless or enamel. Chips out of enamel should be coated with Araldite.
    5. Add the dissolved Procion MX dye mixture in the quantities outlined above. Stir.
    6. Add the clean wetted fibre (wrung out) and stir. Leave for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    7. Add 40g of common salt for every litre of water (having dissolved it in a little water) gradually over the next 10 minutes. Salt will help the dye to gravitate towards the fibre. It is not a fixative, merely a driver to ensure the dye is in the right place for bonding. It is not necessary to use salt for tie dyeing.
    8. Add 10g of soda ash for every litre of water (dissolved in a very small quantity of hot water first). Leave for at least 1 hour stirring occasionally, longer and up to 24 hours, if time allows
    9. Wash and rinse well.

Procion MX Dye Painted, Sprayed or Printed

The dye can be applied to fabric with a paint brush, dropper of spray bottle. The fabric is first soaked in a solution of soda ash (10g soda ash for each litre of warm water). For tie-dye (Shibori), first tie the fabric, soak in the solution and wring out. Do the same for Batik but allow the fabric to dry thoroughly so that the wax can be applied. Add a small amount of Urea to the dye as it acts as a humectant and keeps the fibres damp for longer, allowing a greater reaction time for the dye. Combine dye, Urea and Manutex (sodium alginate) thickener to make the dye suitable for printing.


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There is no substantiated evidence of a causal link between exposure to Procion MX dyes and any chronic or fatal illnesses. Both the acid and fibre reactive dye families have a considerable track record, of use in industry in considerable quantities and in a less well controlled environment in the crafts

Sensible precautions should be taken when handling dyes and chemicals, particularly as powders:

  • Avoid inhaling dusts, they can produce an asthma type reaction. People with known respiratory problems should not handle synthetic dyes, and particularly the fibre reactive dyes, in powder form. A dust mask should be worn when working with the powders or exposed to an aerosol from spraying dye solutions made up in water
  • Avoid splashing solutions into the eyes, swallowing the materials or prolonged skin contact. A simple ‘non-contact’ approach (most people use gloves to avoid dyeing themselves) plus normal, good, hygiene is sufficient precautions for the occasional user
  • Store in clearly labelled containers well away from children, pets and foodstuffs. Treat dye powders and solutions with the same caution as domestic poisons (eg strong cleaners, bleaches or medicines)
  • Dispose of spent solutions containing residues of the dyes responsibly. Dilute and pour onto waste land or into the sewage system. They have no known effect on the environment when used in the quantities recommended in the literature

Potential Problems:

  • Procion MX dye colours washing out to pale.


  • Powder may be from old batch. Discard if more than one year old.
  • Some colours, such as black, require a greater colour load than others.
  • Procion H dye bought in error. This dye requires steam fixing.
  • Powder may have been stored in conditions which has affected the reactivity of the dye. Direct sunlight and very warm conditions can do this.
  • Not enough Soda Ash.
  • Fabric/fibres may have a stain-resistant finish or a different fibre content than on the label. Also sizing/dressings/oils will affect the end result. See above for PFD instructions.
  • Call your supplier and report problems to them. They may be able to help determine what is wrong and advise you on what to do differently.

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