Growing Popularity of Natural Dyes in India


Author – Rashmi K

Natural Dyeing in India
Image – Flickr/Colleen

The ready availability and cost effectiveness of synthetic dyes made most of textile dyers and manufacturers shift towards the use of synthetic colorants. These synthetic colourants are synthesized from petrochemical sources through hazardous chemical processes that pose a threat on the environment. They are often highly toxic, carcinogenic, and sometimes even explosive. The dye effluents that are dumped into rivers are also highly toxic and kill the aquatic organisms.

In the present scenario of sustainable design, becoming eco-friendly is the buzzword. Thus people are shifting towards using natural dyes. Throughout history man has dyed his textiles using various locally available materials. ‘Natural dyeing’ is a technique that uses colorants derived from plants, invertebrates or minerals. India’s expertise in vegetable dyes, in fact, dates back to the Vedic period.

Different Natural Dyes

Blue Dye

Image Wikimedia

Indigo, or the ‘King of Natural Dyes’ as it is called, is produced by fermenting the fresh leaves of Indigofera tinctoria. Cakes of this are used in the dyeing purposes. The leaf production from one acre of cultivated indigo plants is approximately 5,000kg, which can yield about 50kg of pure natural indigo powder after processing. Tamil Nadu is the lead producer of indigo.

Red Dye

Source Wikimedia

Madder, or the ‘Queen of Natural Dyes’, is grown in Gujarat. This dye is obtained from the roots of various Rubia species. The yield of roots from a three-year-old plant is between three to five tonnes per hectare and about 150–200kg of dye. Alum is the mordant that is used with the dye to obtain various shades of red and pink.

Sappan wood is obtained from the wood of the Caesalpina Sappan tree. This is a small tree that is found in India, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Alkali extraction deepens the red color. It is primarily cultivated in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.

The morinda dye is obtained from the root and bark of the tree Morinda Citrifolia. This tree is found both in India and in Sri Lanka. The maximum coloring matter can be obtained from a three to a four-year-old tree. This dye can not only produce red but also shades of purple and chocolate. It is mainly cultivated in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Odisha, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Gujarat

Yellow Dye

Source Wikimedia

Yellow colored natural dye is obtained from turmeric. The dye is extracted from the fresh or dried rhizomes of turmeric. It is a substantive dye capable of directly dyeing silk, wool, and cotton. The natural mordants, such as tannin obtained from myrobolan, can be used to improve the fastness properties.

Saffron is an ancient yellow dye belonging to the family of Iridaceae. It is obtained from the dried stigmas of the plant Crocus Sativus. It imparts a bright yellow color to the materials. It can directly dye wool, silk, and cotton. Alum mordant produces an orange yellow color that is known as ‘saffron yellow’. It is cultivated in Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.

The outer skin of onion or Allium Cepa, which is generally thrown away as waste, can be used to extract yellow colored natural dye. The dye is flavonoid in chemical constitution, and produces bright colors on wool and silk.

Roots and rhizomes of Himalayan rhubarb Rheum Emodi or Dolu yield a yellow dye that can be used to dye wool, silk, and cotton after mordanting with exceptional fastness properties.

Black and Brown Dye

Source Wikimedia

Catechu or cutch obtained from the heartwood of Acacia Catechu is used to dye cotton, wool, and silk to a brown color directly. It is also rich in tannins and can be used to get a black color when used with an iron mordant. It is grown in the Western Ghats, Eastern Ghats, and North Eastern regions of India

The major advantages associated with using natural dyes are:

  • The raw material is available in plenty
  • They cause no harm to the human skin
  • They have a wide range of antimicrobial and medicinal properties
  • There is no pollution caused during the manufacturing process
  • They are sustainable as they are renewable and biodegradable
  • The manual production process generates more employment and saves on energy
Image – Flickr/Brittany

Disadvantages of Natural Dyes

  • Unlink synthetic dyes, the quantity of natural dye that is needed for the dying process if more. For example half a kilo of cotton can be dyed with just five grams of synthetic dye. But, if natural dye is used then 230 grams of natural dye is required
  • Natural dyes tend to fade quickly
  • The availability of raw materials that are used to make natural dyes can vary according to seasons but synthetic dye is available all year round
  • Although lesser than synthetic dyes, some natural dyes are also harmful.  For example logwood has hematein and hematoxylin which are harmful for the body when it is inhaled, ingested, or absorbed by the skin. Bloodroot, another natural dye, can cause irritation and inflammation on the skin
  • Producing the raw material with which the natural dyes are made require large land areas for its production

Brands that Use Natural Dyes

Image – Anokhi

There are a number of Indian brands that have ventured into producing clothes that use natural fabric and also natural colors. Some of these are:


A Gujarat based organic clothing brand, it uses fabric like hemp, bamboo, organic cotton, soya bean, modal, aloe vera, banana, pineapple, milk protein fiber, flax, and jute. The colors used are sourced from beetroot, pomegranate, henna, catechu, teak tree leaves, turmeric, madder red, kesu, haritaki, sewali flowers, and indigo.

Forty Red Bangles

Started by Ramona Saboo, it has collaborated with various NGOs, including Aura Herbal Textiles Ltd. that produces herbal textiles and dyes, to produce clothes that are environment friendly.


This is a well known brand that is known for block printing the fabrics with vegetable color dyes. Anokhi is distinguished by its prints and sense of designs, range of colours and product quality.


The clothes are made of organic cotton, silk, and bamboo and uses natural dyes like turmeric, madder, pomegranate, myrablam, and beetroot.


Started by ex TV Fashion and Lifestyle journalist Nidhi Singh and entrepreneur Gaurav G, this brand makes clothes using fabric that is made out of organic cotton, bamboo fabric and hand woven organic khadhi.The colors used natural, non-toxic and environment friendly.

Mohammad Shahid, Shahid-ul-Islam and Faqeer Mohammad.(2013) .Recent advancements in natural dye applications: a review. P318-325

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