Cloth dyes are chemicals used to color cloth. Cloth dye poisoning occurs when someone swallows large amounts of these substances.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
The poisonous ingredient in cloth dye is corrosive alkali.
Today it is rare to find this poisonous ingredient in most household cloth dyes.
Most common household cloth dyes are made from nonpoisonous substances, such as:
- Mild soaps
Although these substances are generally considered not dangerous, they can cause problems if swallowed in large amounts, especially in small children.
This substance is found in certain dyes used to color clothing or fabric.
Cloth dye poisoning can cause symptoms in many parts of the body.
AIRWAYS AND LUNGS
- Breathing difficulty (from breathing in the dye)
- Throat swelling (may also cause breathing difficulty)
- Severe change in acid level of blood (pH balance), which leads to damage in all of the body organs
EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT
- Loss of vision
- Severe pain in the throat
- Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
- Blood in the stool
- Burns and possible holes (perforations) in the esophagus
- Severe abdominal pain
- Vomiting blood
HEART AND CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
- Low blood pressure that develops rapidly
- Holes (necrosis) in the skin or tissues underneath
Seek medical help right away. DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care provider.
If the chemical was swallowed, immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a provider. DO NOT give water or milk if the person is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.
If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move them to fresh air.
Before Calling Emergency
Get the following information:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product (and ingredients and strength, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The person may receive:
- Breathing support, including a tube through the mouth into the lungs and a breathing machine (ventilator)
- Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
- Chest x-ray
- EKG (heart tracing)
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
- Fluids by IV (through the vein)
- Medicines to treat pain
- Surgical removal of burned skin (skin debridement)
- Washing of the skin (irrigation), perhaps every few hours for several days
How well a person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster the person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
If the poisoning involved a corrosive alkali, extensive damage may occur to the:
The outcome depends on the extent of this damage. Poisoning from dye containing an alkali may result in continuing injury to these tissues for weeks or months.
If the person swallowed a nonpoisonous household dye, recovery is likely.
Dyes - cloth
Hoyte C. Caustics. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 148.
Review Date 10/16/2017
Updated by: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.