Chemistry Question #8953

max scott, a 26 year old male from Perris, California asks on July 28, 2013,

When I go to buy my plain t-shirts, I always wonder if there is a particular color choice (dyes) that is more earth friendly as in natural, has less effect on the earth to produce, and so on. You could say which color is more "green". I also have wondered this in all things that come in multiple colors, but have stuck to fabric for the sake of the question, considering the multiple ways of coloring and colors, also me not knowing where color comes from in the first place.

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The answer

Lynn Voortman answered on August 8, 2013


[Editor: Molecular vibrational energies that are perceived as colour by the human visual system occur over a VERY narrow energy range. The human visual system can only sense an extremely small part of the whole electromagnetic spectrum. Due to this, the chemical difference in molecules that look red, blue, green or any other colour is probably small because they mostly rely on the same molecular techniques to create the vibrations that we perceive as colour. Some of these will be less environmentally "green" than others, but it won't be due to the colour. It will be due to the nature of the molecule--to subtle differences in their structure, which are not necessarily related to the exact shade or colour. This question was answered by an expert at Blue Castle Fibre Arts in Hamilton, Ontario ]
As far as synthetic dyes, I'm not aware of the color choice making very much if any difference. Perhaps choosing lighter shades over dark ones could help simply because less dye would be needed. "Low impact" dyes I believe are becoming more available but unless the textile company is contacted or they advertise using them, there's not really any way of knowing. I'm no expert on synthetic dyes and unfortunately don't know anyone who would have a better answer.
As for natural dyes the color doesn't make a difference unless the plant material itself is endangered, for instance moss and lichens. The environmental issue has more to do with the mordant used (mordant helps to bind the color). Some of the mineral mordants like chrome are toxic (although rarely used because there are enough alternatives - plant-based and mineral like alum).

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