I’ve dyed several BJJ gis and while the process is pretty simple, I’ve learned a few things each time that make it a little easier and improve the final product. I’ve posted pictures and such in the past, and even though Georgette has posted a great instructional on her blog, I still get asked about this a lot.
First, there are instructions available on Dharma Trading’s site that are great. I’m not a pro and don’t make money off of this, so what follows may not be the “right” way to do it. It’s simply the way I’ve found that results in a pretty good looking, even color that won’t fade or bleed.
So, here goes. My practical guide to dying a BJJ gi:
What You Need:
I’ve broken out the materials you’ll need to do a good job into three categories: required, recommended and optional. It’s a pretty long list, but don’t be intimidated. Most of it can be purchased from Dharma Trading, found easily at stores around you or you probably already have them. Also, once you have a lot of the gear, you don’t need to replace it.
1: A BJJ Gi. The weight of each gi is a little different. Rather than getting too anal about things, I just figure 4 lbs per gi. This helps me figure out how much of each ingredient to use.
2: High quality Fiber Reactive Dye. I used Procion MX, purchased from Dharma Trading. How much you’ll need is going to depend on the color and the weight of the gi. On a 4 lbs gi, most colors will need 4 Tbsp of dye (which is about 2 oz). For some colors, you will need to double or quadruple that amount.
3: Non-Iodized salt: You’re going to need a lot of salt, about 12 cups for a 4 lbs gi (twice that if you’re doing black). You can get a large bag of it at Sam’s Club or Costco for next to nothing. Otherwise, you’ll look a little funny loading up the grocery cart. Just tell them you’re brining a deer or something.
4: Soda Ash: You’ll need 1 1/2 cups for a 4 lbs gi. This is absolutely critical. Don’t skip this. The soda ash fixes the color. If you’re going to the trouble to dye your gi, make sure that you fix the dye so that your gi won’t fade and the colors don’t bleed.
You can order it from Dharma if you want to, but it’s heavy and will cost a ton to ship ($5.95 for 5 lbs of Soda Ash costs almost $13 to ship.)
Soda Ash is also called Washing Soda or Sodium Carbonate (NOT the same thing as Sodium Bicarbonate). It is used to condition water and in home-made laundry soaps. So, look for it in pool/hot tub supply stores or in a pinch, at the grocery store in the laundry aisle. Don’t pay more than around $1 per lbs. This stuff should be cheap and you’re not going to get any better results buying a brand name.
I saw a 5 lbs container of “premium” Sodium Carbonate for $26 at a pool store. What a rip off.
5: A large plastic bin: Once again, the size is going to depend on how much you’re dying. You’re going to need 3 gallon of water per lbs of fabric, so a 4 lbs gi will need 12 gallons of water (and don’t forget displacement). An 18 gallon tub is perfect for one gi, but I have a 45 gallon bin I use for big jobs, like doing multiple gis at one time. And conveniently, when I’m not dying a gi, everything fits in the tub so that I can store it in the garage, out of the way.
6: Measuring cup, plastic scrapers, plastic mixing/measuring bowls and spoons: You can buy new ones or do what I did… just shrug and mumble a little when asked, “Where the hell are all my measuring cups?”
7: Damage Control Rags: Two or three rags or towels you don’t mind getting dye on.
1: Synthrapol or an equivalent: Pre-washing the gi is important to get oils, softeners and other chemicals out of the fabric that might prevent the dye from getting into the fabric evenly.
2: Calsolene Oil: I use 3 Tbs. The Calsolene Oil helps break the surface tension in the water.
3: Gloves: To keep you from looking like Ed Harris in the Abyss. I tried using the big, dishwashing gloves, but frankly, they’re a pain in the butt to take off and put on. So, I just use disposable non-latex gloves. You can buy a huge box of them at Costco.
4: A Big Stick: For mixing and waving around when you get bored.
5: A fine mesh strainer with a handle (for the soda ash).
1: Urea: This can help the dye dissolve. If you’re doing anything red, or if you’re concerned about mixing the dye completely, use this stuff.
2: Milsoft: This is a pro grade fabric softener and damn, does it work.
3: A spray handle attachment to the shower: Being able to hold the showerhead in your hand is… well, handy. It helps when filling the bin and also makes cleaning up much easier.
How to do it:
Okay. You have your materials together and you’re ready to go. Next, think about your space. I use the bathtub in the downstairs bathroom. My wife would kill me if I stained or damaged anything in house, particularly in a “public area.” So… wait for him or her to leave and then get started.
I strongly recommend that you remove any towels or cotton, decorative shower curtains and keep him or her away from the room until you’ve cleaned up. Seriously. My wife had (past tense) a nice, white, decorative shower curtain with a separate plastic liner. “I’ll be careful,” I thought. This also goes for any bath mats and basically anything else that might take the dye.
Replace the nice towels you like with the ones you don’t and then if there’s a spill or something, you can wipe it up without drama. These are item 7 on the “required” list.
Step 1: Wash the gi. I appreciate when I get clean gis, but you should still wash them. Use the Synthrapol with no fabric softener. It doesn’t smell great, but that’s the point. No perfumes or other crap that could screw up your work. You can dry it or not. I typically don’t, but it’s no big deal either way (that I’ve seen).
Step 2: Mix the dye. If you are using urea, put a heaping Tbs into about a cup of warm (not hot) water and mix it to dissolve it. Next, mix warm water (or the urea mix) into the dye powder. I do a little at a time until I get a paste and then add a little more.
This is a critical step. The first gi I dyed had red streaks and splotches (pictured left). That’s because I didn’t get the dye completely mixed up. Red is stubborn, so take your time with this step.
Try using a Blender Bottle (or something like it.) These are containers commonly used to mix/drink protein shakes. They have a little metal ball inside them which is designed to break up the clumps. They work great for mixing dye and will minimize the amount of dye powder you breathe.
I’ve heard that people can develop a sensitivity over time to the dye powder, which is very fine. If you’re sensitive to chemicals or want to be careful, consider wearing a mask or something for this part.
Step 3: Dissolve the salt. I put the vat directly into the tub, so that spills go there and not on the floor (if you’re lucky). In your dye vat (the 18 gallon tub), put in about 12 gallons of lukewarm water and dissolve the salt into it. I use my arm to mix the salt. That way I can feel the salt in the bottom of the bin to make sure that it’s completely dissolved. Don’t be a weenie. It’s just warm, salt water.
Step 4: Add the dye mixture. This should be a piece of cake, as it’s completely dissolved from Step 3. Just dump it in and swish it around to make sure it’s good and mixed up. This is also the time to add the Calsolene Oil, if you choose to use it. I usually do.
Step 5: Add the fabric and settle in for about 20 or so minutes. Set a timer so you don’t have to guess. I usually swirl it around, pick it up and make sure that the folds and creases all get worked out so that it dyes evenly.
Set up your laptop, tablet or smart phone somewhere in the bathroom where it’s well away from water, but visible from where you’ll be sitting. Do this BEFORE you get started and put on a good, long BJJ related video and just let it run in the background. You won’t want to touch it after you get the gloves on, and it will keep you happy while you’re agitating the fabric. You’re going to be stirring regularly for about 1 1/2 hours, so plan accordingly.
Step 6: Soda Ash/Sodium Carbonate. Dissolve the soda ash into some warm water. Use your stick to move the gi over to once side of the vat and then pour the soda ash a little at a time into the dye bath. Don’t pour the soda ash directly onto the fabric, or you’ll get spots. Also, take your time. Do this over about 10 or 15 minutes, a little at a time. Be careful with this part, because the soda ash generates a lot of heat when it’s dissolving. You don’t want clumps here, either. I use the fine mesh strainer as I pour it into the vat to make sure no clumps get into my vat.
I don’t know about you, but at this point, I’m tired of stirring and this is where I’m tempted to rush things along. Resist the temptation. Remember, the soda ash, among other things, fixes the dye. Give it a full 30 minutes, at least.
So, just relax and watch the video you’ve got playing. I prefer tournament footage over instructional videos. What about you?
Step 8: Clean up. The dye isn’t harmful to the environment and since my vat is in the tub already, I just pour it directly down the drain (pictured left). I would recommend not allowing anyone to see the tub in this condition.
Step 9: Wash the Gi. Okay. Here’s my method. First, I put the gi through a rinse cycle just to get out as much of the excess dye as I can. After the rinse, I wash it with Synthrapol.
Finally, I wash it one more time the way I normally do. I use whatever detergent my wife has bought and add 1/2 cup or so of White Vinegar to the rinse cycle. Check this post out if you’re interested in my tips on keeping your gi from stinking.
I’ve posted pictures of the final product here: Brandon’s Kelly Green BJJ Gi. Hopefully, this answers most of your questions. If not, feel free to leave a comment and let me know.
I’m also interested in your tips and tricks. If you do things a little different, I’d love to hear about it.