Color catchers, also known as dye magnets or color grabber sheets, are designed to help prevent colors from running or bleeding in the wash. They work by absorbing loose dye molecules in the water during the wash cycle. But are they actually safe to use?
What are color catchers?
Color catchers are small sheets made of a polyester polymer resin that are added to the wash along with clothes. When placed in water, the sheets open up and spread out to maximize surface area. The polymer material has a slight positive charge, which attracts the loose negatively charged dye molecules in the water. This helps prevent the dye from redepositing onto other fabrics in the wash load.
Color catchers come in a few different forms:
- Small sheets that look like tissue paper
- Mesh bags that contain the polymer resin beads
- Detergent tablet-style pods that encapsulate the color catcher material
The sheets or pods are simply tossed into the wash along with clothes. The mesh bags can be reused a few times before being replaced.
Are the ingredients safe?
Color catchers typically contain the following ingredients:
- Polyester polymer resin: This absorbs and traps dye molecules.
- Brighteners: These fluorescent dyes make the sheets look whiter.
- Fragrances: Added for scent.
- Binders and fillers: Hold the material together.
These ingredients are generally recognized as safe for use in laundry applications. The polyester resin itself is inert and non-toxic. However, there are a few potential concerns:
- Allergic reactions: Some people may be sensitive to fragrances, brighteners, or dyes used.
- Chemical residues: Trace chemicals could transfer to clothes, though likely in very small amounts.
- Environmental impact: Color catchers are single-use plastics that end up in landfills.
Do they prevent dye transfer and bleeding?
When used properly, color catchers can be quite effective at trapping loose dyes. The positively charged polymer material attracts the negatively charged dye molecules. Studies have shown they perform better than washing in cold water alone at preventing dye transfer.
However, color catchers have some limitations:
- They must be in contact with all laundry to work. Overcrowding can limit effectiveness.
- They are not foolproof. Some dyes may still escape and bleed, especially over multiple washes.
- They only trap loose dye molecules, not stains bonded to fabric.
- They are less effective on very large dye loads, like brand new dark clothes.
So color catchers can help minimize dye bleeding but should not be relied on completely. Taking other precautions, like washing darks separately and pre-treating stains, is still recommended.
Do they damage clothes?
When used as directed, color catchers should not cause damage to clothing fibers or fabrics. The positively charged polymer beads are designed to only attract the loose dyes, not pull color out of the clothing itself.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Heat can degrade the catcher polymers over time after multiple uses and reduce effectiveness.
- Overdrying can cause the used color catcher sheet to stick to clothing, requiring picking off.
- Rosin used in some color catchers could theoretically build up on laundry over time.
- Chlorine bleach can oxidize color catcher ingredients.
Following care instructions like washing in cold water, proper drying, and not overusing the color catchers can help prevent any issues.
Do they leave residue on clothes?
In most cases, color catchers will not leave visible residue on laundry. The positively charged polymer beads are designed to only attract and trap free dye molecules in the water.
However, there are a couple scenarios where residue could potentially occur:
- If the color catcher breaks apart during the wash cycle, small polyester particles could end up deposited on clothes.
- Poor quality color catchers may have fillers and builders that can leave behind a residue.
- Overused color catcher sheets may begin to deteriorate and leave behind debris.
Using color catchers from reputable brands and replacing them regularly helps prevent residue. Thoroughly shaking out and drying laundry may also help remove any very small particles.
Do they clog washing machines?
When used properly, color catchers should not clog washing machines. The polyester beads that trap the dye are tiny and should easily pass through the machine drain without issue. The color catcher sheet paper pulp also typically dissolves.
However, possible clogging could occur if:
- Too many sheets are used at once, overwhelming the drain.
- Old or damaged sheets break apart into debris.
- The meshes bags are emptied directly into a front loading machine.
To prevent clogs, limit use to 1-2 sheets or pods per load and replace bags and sheets regularly. Shake out empty bags outside of the machine.
When used properly and in moderation, color catchers appear to be generally safe for use in laundry. The ingredients are non-toxic and the positive charge is designed to only attract loose dyes, not damage fabrics. However, they are not perfect so other dye protection steps may still be needed. Buy reputable brands, follow usage guidelines, and take care not to overuse color catchers. With the right precautions, they can be a useful tool for helping prevent color bleeding and run.