8 Eco-Friendly Natural Dyes that don’t Harm the Environment

I will forever be obsessed with natural dyes that don’t harm people, animals or the planet.

What is one of the very first things you notice when you are looking at a garment? Chances are the first thing you notice is the colour, right? You are probably immediately drawn to its lively colours, and then the rest generally follows…

As human beings, we are drawn to different shades and hues, but for those of us who are a little more consciously-minded, we tend to inspect those garments a little closer.

What might seem like an innocent shade of olive green or subtle pink might actually be the product of harmful dyeing. In fact, that incredible shade you were admiring might be one of the most harmful parts of that piece of clothing.

And so, if you are anything like me, you are probably just dyeing to know more about natural dyes (sorry – the pun was right there), and how we can still enjoy exceptional colours on garments – without harming people, animals or our beautiful planet!

There is natural dye all around us

I have been fortunate in my life to have had many great loves, one of the most profound ones being my relationship with Mother Nature. And it’s easy to see why when you take a moment to revel in her beauty, all of her creations and her ability to accommodate our dreams and passions comes to life.

One of the greatest gifts Mother Nature has given me is her ability to give life to natural colour. From food scraps to foliage, flowers and roots, sourcing sustainable and natural dyes has given my life purpose. And since this is the source of my creativity, it is only fitting that my artistic endeavours do not harm the Earth.

If you are interested in knowing how you can explore your artistic expression through sustainable dyes for textiles – without damaging or negatively impacting our planet – then this blog is definitely for you!

What are natural dyes?

Simply put, natural dyes are the original dyes. Long before we had the introduction of synthetic dyes (you know, the ones that can be harmful to our beautiful planet), human beings would forage for all kinds of natural items like bark, flowers, roots and leaves to help colour their clothes.

Producing these colourful and incredibly vibrant colours from natural, durable and non-harmful materials is where sustainable dye was born. And if you are anything like me, you are on a quest to continue to source these eco-friendly dye options.

And so, slight history lesson aside, natural dyes are an environmentally friendly dye option where colours are transmitted from natural materials onto various textiles. This dyeing option is the best because it is non-toxic and free from harmful chemicals. (But if you still want that history lesson, you can learn more about the history of fabric dyeing here)

Which types of dyes are toxic and harm the planet?

Although human beings have been dyeing textiles with natural dyes since ancient times, synthetics have recently taken over, and they have not been kind to the environment. Toxic dyes are all over the textile manufacturing industry and actually poison the air we breathe, our drinking water and the precious soil we use for agriculture.

And so, this is where knowledge becomes power. Being able to identify which dyes are harmful to our health and the ecosystem, will help us all make conscious decisions going forward.

Here are a few toxic chemicals that you need to avoid:

  • Optical whiteners
  • Flame retardants
  • Potassium dichromate (chrome)
  • Formaldehyde-based resins
  • Shrink-resistant chemicals
  • Azo dyes

Essentially, there is no need to deteriorate our water bodies, alter the properties of our soil or cause harm to the fauna and flora in our environment. Especially when the solution is pretty simple… We need to return back to our roots – literally – and rely on natural dyes.

The most common natural dyes

natural dyes

Natural dyes from food

If you thought you loved eating food, wait until you find out that some of your favourite food items also have the most incredible dye effects too. Check out some of my absolute favourites below!


Did you know that this lusciously green veggie actually produces the most delightful pink hue if you use it as one of your natural dyes? All you have to do is place its skin or stone in boiling water and watch the colour transform into the most delightful dusty pink colour – all within an hour. Check out the full guide on dyeing with avocado here.

Onion skins

If you are looking to create an enchanting golden yellow tone, then dyeing with onion skins should be your preferred method. After placing numerous onion skins in boiling water, to make a dye bath, you will be instantly surprised by the overall colour result.

Natural dyes from plants


To explain the complete indigo dyeing process a bit easier, I have partnered up with Stony Creek Colors, an incredible, sustainable producers of high-quality indigo pigment that is grown and processed in the US in such a way that it improves the farmers’ livelihoods and is not toxic to the surrounding community. Win-win!

Take a look at the iron vat recipe here to start things off. 

Oak leaves

Yes, you read that subheading correctly. Dyeing with oak leaves gives your textiles the most delightful creamy brown colour. This beautiful hue is achievable in a matter of hours. Simply bring the leaves to a boil, strain them and then get to dyeing.


I have always had a deep love for flowers. They are so incredibly versatile as they not only thrive in a vase, but as pressed leaves and as a gorgeous natural dye. My absolutely go-to dye flowers are Dyer’s Chamomile, Marigolds and Dahlias, but there are so much more. Check out my blog on dyeing garments using flowers – for the step by step instructions!


Ah, who doesn’t love a strong cup of coffee? Especially when you come to realise that it doesn’t just fuel your creativity (hello caffeine), but it also helps you create beautiful mocha-shaded garments too. Learn more about using coffee as a natural dye here!


The eucalyptus plant boasts so many incredible benefits, but one of its lesser-known ones is its dyeing properties. There are so many rich colours housed in its leaves that it will definitely become one of your go-to eco-friendly natural dyes. Place the leaves in boiling water for an hour and let the results amaze you. Check out the step by step instructions of mastering dyeing with eucalyptus here.

Natural dyes from insects


Dyeing with cochineal may be a controversial topic for some, however I believe that if Nature has an innate cycle, we can take advantage of these little insects and use them for creating a second life in our garments. Cochineal is a great natural source to create vibrant red dye and it can also be blended with other natural dyes to create a plethora of shades! Learn more about dyeing with cochineal step by step here. 

Learn natural dyeing using natural resources with me

If you are interested in safeguarding the art of sustainable dyeing, learning more about natural dyes and immersing yourself in all of its wonders, then I truly encourage you to join my Living Colour with the Five Elements online natural dyeing workshop. This is where I get to share my knowledge, space and energy with all of you as we engage in the most beautiful craft – natural dyeing!