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.

Being eco-friendly is the buzzword in the present scenario of fashion design. Thus garment makers 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 civilisation.

Different Natural Dyes in India

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

Major advantages associated with using natural dyes:

  • Raw material is available in plenty
  • Cause no harm to the human skin
  • Possess a wide range of antimicrobial and medicinal properties
  • No pollution is caused during the manufacturing process
  • Sustainable as they are renewable and biodegradable
  • 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 dyeing process is much more. For example half a kilo of cotton can be dyed with just five grams of synthetic dye. But 230 grams of natural dye is required for the same quantity of cotton
  • Clothes made from natural dyes tend to fade
  • 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

Here is a list of few Indian brands that have ventured into producing clothes that use natural fabric and also natural colors:


Bhu:sattva is 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, Forty Red Bangles 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.


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


Started by Nidhi Singh and  Gaurav G, this brand makes clothes using fabric that is made out of organic cotton, bamboo fabric and hand woven organic khadi. Indigreen uses colors that are natural, non-toxic and environment friendly.

Avatar photo
Rashmi Kulranjan is a Master’s student in Environmental Studies and Resource Management at TERI School of Advanced Studies. Her research interests include hydrology, watershed management, food security, agriculture and impacts of anthropogenic activities on natural resources. In her free time, she enjoys gardening and trekking.


  1. Hello, we are looking for a magenta dye with no additives in the product, the dye we are using is from a large company here in Australia but their magenta dye is not of good quality, the more we use to make a higher concentrate, the more reddish colour it is becoming.

    We received a sample of magenta from India a year ago and that dye was perfect, we lost the details and are hoping you can supply the same. We concentrate the dye, we then fill up 15ml tiny bottles and from there we can drop 2 or 4 drops from the 15ml bottle into a litre of water and the water turns a beautiful STRONG magenta colour, the dye we have now we are nearly using 1/4 of the 15ml bottle to get the same affect, we are using the dye for dying hair on your head.
    hoping you can help us
    thanking you
    Dionne Heaven

  2. I’m looking for organic dyes for our organic fabrics and block prints too if possible. Any help would be appreciated.
    Thank you!


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