Tuesday, August 12, 2008

PSA: Wear a mask while mixing dyes

Every powdered dye I have worked with has a warning on it to use a mask while mixing dyes to avoid inhaling the dye powder. It disturbs me that I have been seeing and hearing a few dye tutorials imply that the most basic and standard of safety precautions are overblown for the hobby dyer. These catalog and website tutorials, as well as a few podcasts, imply it is safe for the hobby dyer to mix dyes without a mask as long as they close the dye containers quickly and wipe up any liquid spills before they dry and turn back to powder. The theory is that if the dye containers are not open for very long that dye cannot get airborne and enter your lungs.

I cannot speak to how dangerous minute amounts of dye powder can be if you did breath it in, but I can certainly show you how well the 'close the container' advice works on keeping dye particles contained.

I lined up my jars I mix dyes in:
Perparing to dye

I measured the dyes above the jars and closed the container quickly. Between each jar I rinsed my measuring spoon to dissolve any dye powder clinging to the spoon. There was only one small wet spill to wipe up underneath one of the jars. I wiped that spot only and then took this picture. To the naked eye it would appear that all my dye is contained in the jars:
Dye added

I finished mixing the dye and moved the jars aside. Then I took my spray bottle of soapy water and wetted the area I was working on. If any dye particles did make it airborne, the water should turn them in to liquid dye and make them easier to see.

As you can see, dye particles made it airborne despite following the advice to be careful and close dye jars quickly.

My advice to new dyers is to always wear a mask while mixing dyes. I give the same advice to those mixing with food-grade dyes, too. Regardless of the chemical toxicity of the dyes, inhaling any powder can irritate your lungs. Have you ever had a coughing fit after accidentally breathing in dry Kool-Aid powder? Same principle, except instead of food grade dyes you are dealing with chemical dyes. Many are as safe as food-grade dyes, many are not. Some greens, for instance, are made with copper. Do yourself a favor and wear a mask if you are going to dye. An ounce of prevention and all that.