Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Rusty Waste Water Disposal

One of the drawbacks of Natural Dyeing With Rust is the amount of rusty waste water produced. The issue becomes how to safely dispose of this rusty water in an environmentally friendly way. After trying out many different things, here is what I've settled on and what works for me in my area.

What Works For Me

  • Use several buckets for rinsing. The first rinse water will have a heavy concentration of rust. The subsequent rinses will be less contaminated.

  • Dilute the rusty water with fresh water. You want it to be more clean water than rusty water.

  • Pour the diluted water on a weed patch in the back alley. This patch of weeds is away from other ornamental plants and trees. I do this if I have a large amount of rusty waste water to dispose of.

  • Or pour the diluted water down the drain. I will do this if I've done a small rusting session.

  • Save some in plastic jugs for soaking fabric.

Here Is What I Don't Do

  • Pour rusty water on ornamental or edible plants. The excess iron in the water will kill the plants. I know this from experience!

  • Pour undiluted water down the drain. Not sure about this, but I don't want to introduce too much iron content into the municipal sewer system.

If you have a septic tank, you will want to research what problems introducing extra iron into the system will cause, if any.

This is what currently works for me, but I am always looking for better solutions. So if you have any suggestions, please share them with us.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Rinsing, Neutralizing and Washing

Now that your fabrics are perfectly rusted, you need to remove the excess iron oxide and neutralize the rusting action. But just a word, the rusting action never completely stops, but it can be slowed down with neutralizing.


  • Fill several buckets with fresh water
  • Dunk and swish around several times, removing as much of the rusty particles as possible (save this water for your rusty water solution)
  • Move fabric to another bucket of clean water, dunk and swish some more
  • Do this several times until the water isn't so brown



  • Move to another bucket and add Dawn dish detergent and approximately 1/2C baking soda to 1 gallon water
  • Let sit several hours, occasionally dunking and swishing


  • Wash on a normal cycle using hot water.
  • If the fabric is heavily rusted, do a second rinse, adding a little more baking soda
  • Dry in dryer or hang outside to dry

I do a lot of natural rust dyeing and was concerned about damaging my washer or transferring rust to other laundry. So I purchased a second hand washer specifically for washing my dyed and rusted fabrics. Since I do so much, I could easily justify this expense.

If you have a HE washers, so I can't speak to how washing rusted fabrics might affect them.

If you are concerned about washing these fabrics in your washer, you may want purchase a used washer or take the fabrics to a laundry mat.


After washing and drying, I like to give everything a good pressing. This is when I evaluate each piece and ask

  • Am I happy with it

  • Could it use another go round of rusting

    • If I wrapped it the first time, but there isn't much texture, would wrapping it again improve it

    • If I wrapped it the first time, would a layer rusting improve it

    • If I layered it the first time, would a second round of wrapping improve it

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Basic Rusting Process

Basically we created a layer cake effect, alternating layers of fabric and rusty items. You can create as many layers as you wish, I have successfully layer 7 pieces of fabric.


Which Soaking Solution To Use

You can achieve different results depending on the soaking solution you use.

  • The plain solution
    • With this solution, you end up with a less rusted background. So if you start with white fabric, you will have a lot of white background.

  • Rusty water solution
    • Soaking your fabric in this solution will give you a rusty colored background. How rusty depends on your solution. The more rusted your solution, the more rusted the background


  • Start by soaking your fabric in one of the solutions, making sure it is completely wet.
  • Wring out the fabric, but leave some moisture in it.

  • Spread out the fabric on the tray. Here I am using an industrial size cookie tray

  • For more added texture, scrunch up the fabric a little

  • Arrange the flat rusty items on the fabric. You can arrange them in a random fashion

  • Or be more deliberate in the placement, trying to create a pictorial scene

  • Spray with the vinegar and water solution

  • Layer another piece of fabric on top of this

  • Add more rusty items

  • Continue layering fabric and rusty items until you have as many layers as you want, finishing off with a layer of fabric.
  • You can use items that are not completely flat, but you get the best results with flat items. You want to have good contact between the fabric and the rusty items.
  • Cover it all with plastic. If it is small enough, slip it inside a plastic bag.
  • Remove as much air as possible and weight the plastic down to prevent the fabric from drying out.


Now comes the hard part—WAITING!

How long to wait depends on several factors

  • The heat
  • The humidity
  • The weight of your fabric
  • The rusty item itself

Some pieces give up their rust very easily and other pieces are more stubborn. When starting out, you may want to check your pieces every 3-4 hours to see how they are coming along. With some experience, you will know how long it takes to get your desire results.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Materials & Supplies

Here is a short run down on what you will need to start rust dyeing.  You probably have most of these items already on hand.


I've found most fabrics work very well with rust dyeing.  The only fabrics I've found to be unsuccessful is heavily napped fabrics and those with a very shiny surface.  Here is a short list of fabrics I've had great success with.
  • High quality muslin
  • 10 oz cotton duck, which is very tightly woven and stiff
  • Several pieces lightweight textured cotton
  • Natural colored textured cotton
  • Colored sheeting
  • Silk
  • Denim
  • Unconventional fibers such as baby wipes, cheesecloth and scrim

The purpose of the soaking solution is to help speed the natural rusting process.  I usually use one of the following:
  • Plain solution—a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water
  • Rusty solution—which can be the rusty water saved from rinsing the fabric or it can be created from the plain solution and small rusty items
  • Spray bottle of 50/50 vinegar/water

Rusty Metal

Almost any rusty metal will do.  When I go for walks, I'm always finding bits and pieces of metal.  You can even purchase metal pieces at the hardware store, such as the washers below.  I don't even wait for new pieces to rust, just place them on the fabric and allow them to rust, rusting the fabric at the same time.


metal washers
washers and circles
saw blades
lawn staples
  • saw blades in assorted sizes
  • food can lids 
  • metal washers
  • binder rings
  • assorted flat metal pieces
  • wrenches
  • wrenches
  • old square nails
  • lawn staples

Miscellaneous Items

  • Buckets for soaking and rinsing the fabric 
  • Baking soda for neutralizing the rust
  • Dawn dish detergent
  • Plastic to wrap and cover the fabric
  • A plastic or metal tray to help protect your work surface if necessary
  • Some bricks to help weigh things down

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Work space

Where to Work?

Dyeing with Rust is a messy process. While you can do it indoors, just remember, rust can and will stain almost of anything.

Here is a view of my rust dyeing area.  This is just outside the back door of my studio and consist of 15 feet of counter space.  The counters are made by stacking cinder blocks 4 high and topped off with plastic shelving from a storage shelf.  I've used left over tile as a non porous  surface.  I can easily clean these tiles using a rust remover product.

My rust dyeing area

Now not everyone will become a rust fanatic like me, so here are a few ideas for setting up a work space:

  •     Consider setting up a temporary work space, which we will also take a look at.

  •     Use a small folding table raised up with bed risers.

  •     Cover the table with upholstery vinyl or plastic to protect it.

  •     If needed, you could set up a second table, or maybe a few folding TV tables.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Being Safe

Working with iron oxide or rust to create beautiful one of a kind fabrics can be safe, if you follow some simple safety precautions. The main objectives are to avoid taking in excess iron through your skin and to avoid breathing in small iron particles. 

Basic Safety Equipment

Protecting Your Skin 

Iron is easily absorbed through the skin so protect your hands when handling rusty metal:
    For working with the rusty metal, you will need a heavy duty glove. 
    Most of the metal objects are rough and can have sharp edges and the thin gloves are easily torn or punctured. So a heavier duty glove will provide you more protection.

Protecting Your Lungs


The rusty metal usually builds up finely flakes of metal and you don't want to breath these fine pieces in.  So here are a few tips to protect your lungs:

    You will need to wear a mask or a respirator. 
    I use the 3M™ Particulate Respirator 8210Plus, purchased at Home Depot.

    Don't work when it is windy.

Other Protection Suggestions:

    You may also want to wear eye protection if you don't wear glasses and especially if  you wear contacts.

    Consider protecting your hair with a hat or scarf.

    Wear clothing you don't mind getting stained. 
    After a rust dyeing session, consider taking a shower to remove any rust dust from you skin.

    Make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.

Iron Poisoning

    While you may be concerned with possible iron poisoning, according to Wikipedia, "Iron poisoning is an iron overload caused by a large excess of iron intake and usually refers to an acute overload rather than a gradual one.  The term has been primarily associated with young children who consumed large quantities of iron supplement pills.

      If you take these simple precautions, working with rust can be as safe as any other textile process.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

What is Rust?

Before we get into the actual rust dyeing process, I want to get technical for a bit. I believe that if you understand the science behind a process, it will help you to achieve better results.


What exactly is rust?


According to Wikipedia, " rust is an iron oxide, usually red oxide formed by the reaction of iron and oxygen in the presence of water or air moisture. Given sufficient time, oxygen, and water, any iron mass will eventually convert entirely to rust and disintegrate."  Rusting is the common term for corrosion of iron and its alloys, such as steel. Many other metals undergo equivalent corrosion, but the resulting oxides are not commonly called rust.

The main catalyst for the rusting process is water. Over time, the oxygen combines with the metal at an atomic level, forming a new compound called an oxide and weakening the bonds of the metal itself. If salt is present, for example in seawater or salt spray, the iron tends to rust more quickly. Only iron or alloys that contain iron can rust.

Rust & Fabric


By placing fabric in contact with the metal and the addition of moisture, maybe some salt, the iron oxide permanently stains the fabric. If left too long, the rust can eventually damage the fabric, especially if it is thin or delicate . This process usually develops more quickly in warmer environments. I just returned from a 2 month stay at my daughter's near Washington DC, and I managed to do some rust dyeing. While it was warm, her place didn't received full sun for 4-6 hours like mine does, and I could see some big differences in the results.

Rust dyeing does damage the integrity of fabrics slightly; so if you are looking for an archival process, this is not it. Items with very strong or dark rust-dye will be more difficult to sew as the rust dulls the needle quite quickly.

Rust Happens!

The bottom line? Rust happens. Even if you do nothing to facilitate it. Throw some fabric out in the elements with steel, and it will happen.

OK, enough of the technical stuff. I hope your eyes didn't glaze over too bad. Come back Tuesday and we will start getting down to specifics.