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Dyeing using Iron

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Wild Colours natural dyes > mordants > iron for dyeing

Iron as a Dye  Modifier & Mordant

a) What is the Iron sold for dyeing? (this page)

b) Iron as a Dye Modifier (opens a new page)

c) Iron as a Mordant (opens a new page)

d) Dyeing with Iron (opens a new page)

e) History of Dyeing with Iron (opens a new page)

f) African Mud Cloth (opens a new page)

What is the Iron sold for dyeing?

Iron (ferrous sulphate) acting as a modifier is often used to change the colour of a dye but is used less frequently as a mordant. Iron can also be used to dye plant fibres like cotton and linen on its own or in combination with tannin. There are two common forms of iron, ferrous sulphate and iron acetate, both salts of iron.

The ‘iron’ commonly sold for dyeing is ferrous sulphate or ferrous sulfate, which is an iron salt. If you are expecting ferrous sulphate to look like bits of rust, you may be surprised when you receive a packet containing pale green crystals which appear to be slightly damp and tend to clump together. When you add a pinch of ferrous sulphate to hot water, however, the water goes brownish rather than green.

You can also make iron liquor (iron acetate) with rusty nails, degreased iron filings or very fine steel wool that has been steeped in water and white vinegar. Iron liquor is messy and less precise than bought ferrous sulphate, but more fun.


  • Iron (ferrous sulphate or iron liquor) is harmful if swallowed.
  • Large amounts of iron salts can damage wool and other animal fibres, wool fibres weaken and deteriorate over time. Iron is best used with cotton and other plant fibres.
  • Wash any dyeing equipment and fibre that comes into contact with iron very well to remove any unattached iron particles. Ideally you should keep a dye pot just for iron as even small amounts of iron salts can cause marked colour changes.

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Updated on 22 April 2024
Website & photos by Mike Roberts ©2006-24 Wild Colours natural dyes


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