Dyeing with Washing Soda: Acacia and Oxalis

Washing soda is a type of additive. Additives (also called assistants or fixatives) can change the color of the dye by making the solution either more acidic or alkaline.  Last year I used washing soda to turn my coreopsis dye from orange to almost red. It was such an easy method to make two colors with one plant, I wanted to see how washing soda would affect the dyes I made with acacia and oxalis flowers.

Washing soda can be found at most grocery stores in the cleaning section. (Don’t confuse washing soda with baking soda. ) Ammonia is an alternative to washing soda. (I haven’t tried it because I don’t care for the smell. It reminds of washing windows as a kid.)

Warning about using washing soda – a little can go a long way! If you add too much, it can roughen or even dissolve the wool.

My schedule these days feels more hectic/busy/crazy then normal. (How is this possible?) Therefore, my dyes have become  mini experiments. My dye pot is the size of a sauce pan.

Acacia flower dye

I used the same process for both the acacia and oxalis:

1. I dyed my samples without the additive and pulled the yarn out once I achieved yellow.

2. I removed the pot from the stove and added 1/8th of a teaspoon of washing soda into dye. (For a normal dye pot amount, I add 1/2 teaspoon at a time until the color changes). The washing soda will immediately change the color of the dye – it’s awesome to watch.

3. I returned the yarn to the pot and let it sit in the dye until the yarn changed color.  It’s almost like a double dye.

I showed my kids this process by pouring the dye by into a glass mason jar.

Washingsoda added to acacia dye
Dye before and after adding washing soda


Here are the results!

Acacia dye, with and without washing soda
Acacia dye, with and without washing soda
Oxalis dye, with and without washing soda
Oxalis dye, with and without washing soda



  1. I’m a VERY beginner dyer, and the info on washing soda was fascinating! I started experimenting with it in my various solar dye experiments. I had a beautiful purple colored bath made out of the scraps from the purple kale I pulled up from the garden. Turns out, the kale does not do much of anything on its own (at least not that I’ve been able to achieve!), but I split the bath into two jars and added a bit of washing soda to one and it turned forest green! Since the straight kale bath didn’t dye my alum mordanted yarn at all, I didn’t think the kale w/ WS would, either, but I let it sit for a week, just to see. It actually kept a pretty soft mint color when I finally washed it out. I have no idea how long the color will hold, but it was so much fun to experiment!

    1. Laura, I feel like a beginner dyer, too! What a neat experiment – that’s cool the washing soda turned the dye from purple to green. I know that with the mushroom Omphalotus, the dye can be either purple or green, depending on the mordant (alum versus iron) and by changing the pH.

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