Person cutting leather
Leather dyes and preservatives used for tanning may be very acidic or contain heavy metals. Cuts, punctures, bruises, burns, and scrapes to the fingers and hands are common injuries sustained during leathercraft activities.

Artists working with fibers, fabric, leather, and textiles may work with hazardous chemical products that can harm their health, such as:

  • Azoic, basic, and disperse dyes that can cause allergies when inhaled or in contact with exposed skin.
  • Fiber-reactive dyes that can cause severe respiratory allergies when inhaled as dust.
  • Corrosive or cancer-causing vat dyes containing caustic soda or dichromate compounds.
  • Corrosive mordants containing ammonia, caustic soda, bleach, formic acid, sodium bisulfate, or sulfuric acid.
  • Toxic mordants containing oxalic acid, potassium dichromate, thiourea, or tannin.
  • Toxic and flammable adhesives.
  • Toxic mothballs containing the insecticides p-dichlorobenzene or naphthalene.
  • Toxic fiber treatments containing formaldehyde.
  • Toxic brominated or chlorinated flame retardants.
  • Many other chemicals listed on the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals manufacturers restricted substance list.

Protect Your Skin and Eyes

  • Wear chemical-resistant gloves when working with dyes, mordants, solvents, adhesives, fiber treatments and mothballs.
  • Wear gloves, goggles, and protective clothing when working with corrosive mordants and vat dyes.

Protect Your Lungs

Glove box for handling toxics during processing.
  • Buy premixed dyes to control airborne dust.
  • Wax used in batik can release flammable and toxic vapors when it is overheated. To prevent this, heat wax just to melting.
  • When working with powdered dyes or corrosive mordants, wear a dust mask and either use a glove box or local exhaust ventilation to protect you from hazardous dust.
  • Keep dye containers closed and upright to keep toxic dusts from spilling.
  • Mop floors and wet wipe your tables after working with toxic pigment dusts.

Use Safer Practices and Materials

  • Use safer mordants containing alum, sodium chloride, aluminum salts, or tin salts.
  • Control moths by storing freshly cleaned clothes in airtight containers. Vacuum drawers, closets, and furniture to remove lint and hair where moths breed, then dispose of the bag promptly.
  • Use safer fabric-treatment and dye-setting products like alum, citric acid, cream of tartar, copperas, Glauber's salt, potash, sodium acetate, sodium carbonate, salt, vinegar or other chemicals listed on EPA’s Safer Chemicals Ingredient List.
  • If a flame retardant treatment is necessary, use less toxic fire-retardant treatment chemicals containing boric acid, borate compounds, ammonium phosphate, ammonium chloride, or chitosan.
  • Visit the Art Supplies page to learn about safety warnings on product labels.

Safely Dispose of Textile Chemical Wastes

  • Empty containers can be disposed in the trash if no more than 1 inch of residue remains in the bottom, or nor more than 3% by weight.
  • Dispose of partially full containers of dyes, mordants, solvents, adhesives, fiber treatments, and mothballs as hazardous waste.
  • Encaustic waste in solid wax that does not contain arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, or silver can be disposed as solid waste.
  • Encaustic waste that contains any of the metals listed above should be disposed as hazardous waste.
  • Dispose of dry pigment powder as hazardous waste.
  • Whenever you create art, make sure the waste you generate is properly disposed. Learn more about waste disposal for artists.