Dye vat sourcing

Left: 20-gallon Groen vat
Right: 60-gallon Groen vat
Also note the ventilation system louvers at rear!

This is another post which I've shared before, but which bears reposting/updating every few years, because it is one of the most common questions that comes up in professional costumers' forums--somebody gets the funding and needs to know where to buy a dye vat for a costume studio?

It's crazy how many costume shops out there on all levels of production have substandard dye facilities, with dyers making do using hot plates, soup tureens, domestic stoves, stock pots, and the like. An industrial dye vat is a substantial financial investment, but it'll make your life way easier.

I wasn't around when ours were purchased and installed here at PlayMakers Repertory Company (and none of the previous shops i've worked in have bought new vats while i was there) so unfortunately i can't give you any first-hand vendor endorsement or caveat. However, I have some general thoughts on dye vat purchasing and installation, and can point you toward some sources.

Most dye vats in costume shop dye facilities are actually repurposed food service equipment--soup kettles, candy factory vats, etc.--and can be purchased from a restaurant supplier in your area. They come in several sizes for a range of different setups: gas heat, electric heat, steam jacketed, mounted on agitators, you name it.

Manufacturers of kettles include:
  • Groen (this is what ours are)
  • Hubert
  • Hamilton
  • Dover
  • Vulcan
  • Lee

How do you choose which make/model to buy? 

Consider your space and your needs.

You need a nearby water spigot and drainage trough. Our vats have faucets mounted to swing out over the vat chambers and drainage pipes that expel spent dyebaths into a floor trough. If you have a sink in the same room, you could get a detachable hose for the faucet and run it over into the vat. The drainage shunt could be rigged to a longer pipe configuration too, if you needed to be able to drain it into a trough that was several feet away from the vat.

You will need ventilation as well--we have suction hoods over the vats that remove vapors from the area when in use, and large nearby windows that open. Also, our vats have their own special breaker boxes, so you'll need to check with your building superintendent about wiring and so forth.

How big a vat should you get?

We have a smaller and larger vat (20 gallon and 60 gallon--see above image), but Groen makes them in 40 gallon and 80 gallon as well. If i were fitting out a new shop and could only get one vat, i'd get a 60 gal, provided it would fit in my space. The 20 gallon is convenient for smaller jobs but i could make do with a large stewpot on a range if i had to. I would choose a steam-jacketed vat over an element-heated vat, because it allows the dyebath to heat up at a uniform rate, instead of being warmer near the element at the bottom and cooler near the surface.

Don't forget about the accessories you will need to go along with the vat. 

You will want a large wood paddle or two for stirring dyebaths, stainless strainers, some pairs of thermaprene gloves and splash-proof goggles or face shield, and scrubbies-on-a-stick for cleaning the walls of the vat chamber. If you plan to use the vat for color removal or other toxic processes, you'll want a fit-tested half-face respirator with OV/AG (organic vapor/acid gas) cartridges, too.

Hope this helps, at least as a starting point for figuring out what works in your space and fits your needs!


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