Scouring Cotton: 1st step to dyeing naturally

by Renee Lindstrom, GCFP – Living in Natures Love Lifestyles




Scouring is the first step for preparing cotton or plant-based fabrics such as bamboo, linen or hemp. The purpose is to remove fillers and additives added in the manufacturing and marketing process.

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To scour the fabric I use Soda Ash. Soda Ash, Sodium carbonate Na2CO3, is the water-soluble sodium salt of carbonic acid.  It is usually found in laundry soap.  In the pictures above you can see the differences in the colour of the solution before and after the scouring process.  The solution has turned yellow, yet, this material was washed and bleached before hand.  The chemicals used to give the material a stiff finish has been scoured out.

I weighed one piece of material before and after the soak as I was curious about how much would actually come out of the fabric.  Here are the results:

  • Cotton weighed 15.2 oz (434 grams) before scouring
  • Afterwards it weighted 5.9 oz (167 grams)
  • That is a difference of 9.3 oz (267 grams)

Imagine 9.3 oz!  That is more that  the weight of the cotton, itself.  What are we putting against our skin and using in our homes!

The Process of Scouring

The soda ash was slowly added to the water.  Once the water became clear I brought the pot ingredients up to a boil and then added the material.  I turned down the pot and simmered for two hours stirring every 15 minutes to unfold the fabric.

  • I used 1/3 cup of soda ash in this pot of water which is about 40 grams.  

If you take your material out and the solution is grey and dirty you make wish to repeat this process before dying.

Washing Soda with no additives has been used for this process, however the amount increases 3 times that of soda ash.  The results are not as good as if using soda ash.


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One should be careful using any product like soda ash ensuring not to splash it on bare skin or breath in the chemical reaction of adding the ash to the water.  With this in mind one is advised to wear gloves, glasses and a mask.  This is not to create fear of experimenting yourself, just advice to be cautious.  If splashed, flush with water.