mordant [Fr.,=biting], substance used in dyeing to fix certain dyes (mordant dyes) in cloth. Either the mordant (if it is colloidal) or a colloid produced by the mordant adheres to the fiber, attracting and fixing the colloidal mordant dye (see colloid); the insoluble, colored precipitate that is formed is called a lake. The chemical compounds used as mordants are either acidic or basic. Acid mordants (e.g., tannic acid) are employed with basic dyes; basic mordants (e.g., alum, chrome alum, and certain salts of aluminum, chromium, copper, iron, potassium, and tin) are employed with acid dyes. Cloth to be dyed may be treated first with the mordant and then with the dye, or the mordant and dye may be applied together. The vividness of certain dyes that ordinarily do not require the use of a mordant may be markedly increased when one is employed.
A mordant is a substance used to set dyes on fabrics by forming an insoluble compound with the dye. It may be used for dyeing fabrics, or for intensifying stains in cell or tissue preparations. A mordant is either inherently colloidal or produces colloids and can be either acidic or alkaline.

Mordants include tannic acid, alum, chrome alum, sodium chloride, and certain salts of aluminium, chromium, copper, iron, iodine, potassium, sodium, and tin.

Iodine is used as a mordant to set the first dye in gram stains.

Phosphomolybdic acid is used as a mordant to set light green when staining with Masson's trichrome stain.

The three methods used for mordanting are:

  • Pre-mordanting: The substrate is treated with the mordant and then dyed.
  • Meta - mordanting: The mordant is added in the dye bath itself.
  • Post-mordanting: The dyed material is treated with a mordant.

The methods have different effects on the shade obtained after dyeing and also on the fastness properties. It also depends upon the dye and the substrate. It is therefore necessary to choose a proper method to get the required shade and fastness by optimisation of parameters.

Cotton: Since metallic mordants are soluble in water and are loosely held by the cotton fibres, these mordants have to be precipitated on the fabric by converting them into insoluble form, or by first treating the fibres with oil or tannic acid and then impregnating treated fabric with solution of mordant, whereby the metallic mordants are held on to cotton via oil or tannic acid.

Wool: Unlike cotton, wool is highly receptive towards mordants. Due to its amphoteric nature wool can absorb acids and bases equally effectively. When wool is treated with a metallic salt it hydrolyses the salt into an acidic and basic component. The basic component is absorbed at –COOH group and the acidic component is removed during washing. Wool also has a tendency to absorb fine precipitates from solutions; these cling to the surface of fibres and dye particles attached to these contaminants result in poor rubbing fastness.

Silk: Like wool, silk is also amphoteric and can absorb both acids as well as bases. However, wool has thiol groups (-SH) from the cystine amino acid, which act as reducing agent and can reduce hexavalent chromium of potassium dichromate to trivalent form. The trivalent chromium forms the complex with the fibre and dye. Therefore potassium dichromate cannot be used as mordant effectively.


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