Fiber Reactive Dye vs Acid Dye vs All-Purpose Dye

So you have decided to dye your clothes. Congratulations, you’ve completed the first step!

One of the first things that you need to determine in the dyeing process is what kind of dye to use. There are lots of different kinds of dye available in the market, and navigating through them can be complicated for beginners.

In this guide, I will be going over the different kinds of fabric dyes that exist in the US market, as well as when to use what kind.

If you want quick answers, here’s a table that compares the three most widely used dyes in the clothing world – Fiber reactive dyes, Acid dyes, and All-purpose dyes.

BasisFiber Reactive DyeAcid DyeAll-Purpose Dye
UsageUsed for plant-based fabrics.Used for animal-based fabrics.Used for both plant and animal fabrics.
MordantRequired.Not required.Not required.
TargetTargets cellulose in fibers.Targets proteins in fibers.Targets both cellulose and protein.
CostSlightly expensive.Slightly expensive.Very cheap.
ComplexityTime-consuming to apply.Complicated application.Very easy to apply.
Heat RequirementsNo heat is required.Heat is required.Heat is not required.
WashabilityWashable.Washable.Color might fade after a few washes.

By the end of this article, you would be clear in your mind about what dye you need to get for your next project.

Let’s start!

When to Use what Dye?

There are basically three options when it comes to chemical dyeing of clothes. You can either use a fiber reactive dye, an acid dye, or an all-purpose dye.

They all look the same and feel the same, but there are some key differences between these three options, which we will explore in the next section.

So… which dye should you be using?

In the end, it all comes down to the material that you are dyeing. If you are dyeing an angora wool sweater, go for an acid dye (because angora wool comes from the angora sheep, which makes it an animal fiber).

If you are dyeing a pair of cotton chinos, go for a good-quality fiber reactive dye (because cotton comes from the cotton plant, and thus is a plant-based fabric).

This leads us to another important question.

When to use all-purpose dye?

All-purpose dyes are the jack of all trades. They work on plant-based fabrics, they work on animal fabrics, but they are not specialized on either.

And because of the fundamentally different ways in which you should treat both these fabrics, the results of using all-purpose dyes tend to be a mixed bag. This statement especially holds true in terms of washability.

While dyeing with other methods will more or less change the color for good, clothes dyed using an all-purpose dye start to lose their color after a few washes.

Therefore, I would only recommend you to use all-purpose dye if you are not looking for a long-term piece. For example, I regularly use all-purpose dye on my Halloween costumes, because I know I would only be wearing them once.

Difference between Fiber reactive dyes, Acid dyes and All-purpose dyes

In this section, we’ll be taking a look at each of these dyes by pitting them against a competitor. This will help us in understanding a bit more about the differences between all three dye types.

Fiber Reactive Dye vs Acid Dye

Fiber Reactive DyeAcid Dye
Used for plant-based fabrics.Used for animal fibers.
Does not require heat.Heat is required in the dyeing process.
Mordant is required.Mordants are not required.
Bond with cellulose in the fiber.Bond with the proteins in the fiber.
Does not work on spandex.Works really well with Spandex.

Acid dye vs All purpose dye

Acid DyeAll-Purpose Dye
Used only for animal fibers.Used for both animal and plant-based fibers.
High heat is necessary for acid dyes.Can be applied directly without heat.
Targets the protein content in the fibers.Targets both protein and cellulose in the fibers.
Mordants are not required.Mordants are generally not required.
Slightly advanced techniques are required.Using All-Purpose Dyes is extremely simple.
Wash-friendly.Might fade after a few washes.

All purpose dye vs Fiber reactive dye

All-Purpose DyeFiber Reactive Dye
Does not last very long in most cases.Lasts very long and is wash-friendly.
Very simple to apply.Dyeing process is time-consuming.
Mordants are generally not required.Mordants are needed for setting the color.
Can be used for both animal and plant-based fabrics.Can only be used for plant-based fabrics such as cotton.

By going over these three tables, you can understand the differences between these dyes. Choose one that suits your needs the best in the color that you are looking for. This is literally all the information you need in order to make a decision.

Final Remarks

In this article, I covered the differences between the three most commonly used dyes in the continental US – Fiber reactive dyes, Acid dyes, and All-purpose dyes.

But choosing a dye is only the beginning.

The real work of dyeing comes afterward, and there are not a lot of resources to guide you. If you are looking for step-by-step instructions to dye various clothing items, you may find these guides helpful: