Indian River County Extension Service
                                     1028 20th Pl, Suite D
                                     Vero Beach, FL 32960

For release on August 3, 2002

Judith A. Wakefield

                                                              How To Avoid Colors Bleeding

It wasn't long ago that when we purchased new brightly-colored garments we soaked them in salt water to help set the dye.  This does not work on modern fabric dyes.  As a result, new garments should not be washed with other garments that dye transfer could damage. 

Unstable (non-colorfast) dyes and pigments used in dyes from one item "bleed" into the wash  water and can be transferred to other garments causing an overall discoloration, or contact between the two items can result in blotchy stains. Dye sometimes come off on other items (i.e., undergarments).   Some dyes are unstable in water, others are unstable in solvents (dry cleaning fluids).  Some dyes are prone to color change when they come in contact with acidic or alkaline substance, including fruit juice, perspiration, soap, shampoo and toothpaste.

Dye transfer can cause an overall discoloration, a blotchy or patterned stain on items of a different color or an overall darkening of the color of an item or a darkening in some areas.  Colored garments with white collars can have the dye from the garment bleed and be absorbed by the white, especially if the collar is white nylon.

Dye transfer stains may not necessarily be a color exactly like any color included in the wash load.  Dyes are made up of numerous color pigments. One unstable pigment is all that is necessary to produce stains (i.e., a green garment could cause blue stains on another item; an orange garment could cause a yellow stain, Etc.).

New garments are often "over dyed" to produce very bright colors.  Wear and laundering remove the excess dye. Some denims are "aged" at the factory so they look well worn when you buy them.

Some dye colors are more likely to be unstable than others.  The most troublesome colors are bright reds, greens, blues, purples, pinks and black.

Natural fiber fabrics (cotton, wool, silk) are more likely to lose dye than man-made fiber fabrics (polyester, nylon, acrylic).  With our love for cool cotton clothing here in Florida, our bright colored cottons don't stay bright very long and navy garments can soon become faded.

How can dye transfer and color loss be avoided?   Check care label instructions carefully before buying.  If the label specifies that the item should be washed separately, the dyes used are probably not colorfast.  Avoid buying items that are not colorfast.

Follow care labels.  Manufacturers are required by law to provide care instructions.  If these instructions are followed and unsatisfactory results are obtained, return the item to the manufacturer.  Of course, they only have to provide the method that offers the most protection to the garment.  If the label said "dry clean only" and you washed it, the company is not responsible.

Sort laundry carefully.  Launder white, colorfast and non-colorfast items separately.  Do not overload the washer. Contact dye transfer is more likely to occur if the washer is overloaded.

Do not allow wet items to sit either in the washer or clothes basket. Dye transfer may occur.  Don't allow damp items to remain in contact with detergents or bleaches (avoid prolonged soaking).

A cold water wash minimizes dye transfer in garments with unstable dyes. (Additional detergent is required in cold water for good cleaning results).  There are new detergents on the market especially formulated for reducing color loss in dark garments.  Read the labels. 

Can dye transfer stains be removed?  This is very difficult or impossible.  The sooner the item is treated, the better the chances of removing the stain.  Treat the stain using one of the following methods. If the stain is not completely removed, treat again; do not dryer dry. Dryer heat can set stains.  If the item can be bleached (chlorine or non-chlorine bleach) soak according to manufacturer's directions.  Wash immediately after soaking.  A color remover is the only other type of
laundry additive that may remove dye transfer stains but you can only use it on all-white items.  Color removers strip all color from fabrics. Soaking should be done in a container outside the washer.  Use a plastic pan or pail. 

Can color loss due to unstable dyes be restored?  No, once color has been removed there is no way to restore it.

A new option is dye magnet laundry sheets. These sheets are fairly new on the market.  They are reusable sheets embedded with millions of dye catchers.  They act like magnets, grabbing and holding particles of dye or other foreign material in the wash water. This prevents colors from being transferred from one laundry item to another.

Even laundry that's separated into colored, white and light loads can benefit from these magnet sheets, according to the Soap and Detergent Association.  A color wash may contain many colors, including red, blue and green.  Although these colors may minimally bleed, it will be enough to make colored clothes look old before their time.  The magnets also
collect "grunge" from the wash water so that whites come out whiter and colors come out brighter. As the sheet grabs a variety of dyes and water "grunge" it becomes dark.

The dye magnet sheets can be used with any detergent or laundry additive, including bleach.  Each magnet sheet is good for approximately 50 wash loads.  Exact usage depends on the number of weekly loads and the type of washing.