We have seen that it is practically impossible to color cotton and linen in a simple manner with any degree of permanency, because of the lack of chemical action between vegetable fibers and coloring matter. But the varied uses to which dyed articles are put make fastness of color absolutely necessary. A shirt, for example, must not be discolored by perspiration, nor a waist faded by washing, nor a carpet dulled by sweeping with a dampened broom. In order to insure permanency of dyes, an indirect method was originated which consisted of adding to the fibers a chemical capable of acting upon the dye and forming with it a colored compound insoluble in water, and hence "safe." For example, cotton material dyed directly in logwood solution has almost no value, but if it is soaked in a solution of oxalic acid and alum until it becomes saturated with the chemicals, and is then transferred to a logwood bath, the color acquired is fast and beautiful.
This method of indirect dyeing is known as the mordanting process; it consists of saturating the fabric to be dyed with chemicals which will unite with the coloring matter to form compounds unaffected by water. The chemicals are called mordants.