Skip to Content

How do you fix whites that were washed with colors?

What causes white clothes to turn colors in the wash?

There are a few main reasons why white clothes end up with color stains after being washed with colored items:

  • Bleeding dyes – Some fabrics, especially cheaper dyes used on lower quality clothing, contain dyes that easily run when wet. These bleeding dyes can transfer onto white clothes during the wash cycle.
  • Loose fibers – Over time, all fabrics lose fibers through normal wear and tear. These loose fibers from colored clothing can cling to whites in the wash, causing staining.
  • Insufficient rinsing – If colored clothes are not rinsed properly, residual dye can remain in the washing machine and transfer onto white items in subsequent loads. This is particularly problematic with darker colors like black.
  • Washing too hot – Hot water can cause dyes to loosen and bleed more readily onto white fabrics. Lukewarm water is gentler and less likely to cause running dyes.
  • Overloading – An overcrowded machine prevents clothes from moving freely, allowing colors to rub off through friction with white items.

The main takeaway is that colors bleeding or rubbing off in the wash is typically due to factors like poor rinsing, hot water, or overloaded machines rather than an issue with the white fabric itself. Being mindful of dye transfer potential can help prevent white clothes from ending up discolored.

Can you save a white item once it’s already been stained?

Yes, there are several methods that may successfully remove stains from white clothes and linens after they’ve been washed with colors:

  • Bleach – For white cotton, linen or other bleach-safe fabrics, chlorine bleach can help lift residual dye that has bonded to the fibers. Check care labels first.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – An alternative to bleach, hydrogen peroxide can also oxidize and remove stubborn stains on bleach-safe white fabrics.
  • Sunlight – Hanging stained items in direct sunlight helps lift some dyes through photochemical reactions. The UV rays essentially bleach the fabrics.
  • Vinegar – Distilled white vinegar is an effective yet gentle acid that can dissolve dye molecules. Soak stained whites in a vinegar solution.
  • Color removers – Chemical color run removers react with dyes to safely extract them from fabrics. These are available at superstores.
  • Bar soap – For tough stains, rubbing a bar of soap directly on the spot can help pull dye out of the fibers.

With persistent stains, combination treatments are often most effective. For example, soaking in vinegar first, then washing with bleach. Be sure to test solutions on inconspicuous areas first to check for damage or discoloration.

What are the best practices for avoiding white laundry mishaps?

To help prevent white garments from becoming victim to dye transfer in the first place, here are some good laundry habits to follow:

  • Wash darks and lights separately – Keep whites away from color clothing, especially on first washes after purchase.
  • Turn clothes inside out – This keeps loose fibers contained to minimize rubbing off on other items.
  • Use cold water – Hot water can loosen dyes, while cool water retains color. Warm water is a middle ground for most laundry loads.
  • Double rinse cycles – Ensure all traces of soap and excess dye is removed before final spin. For hand-washing, change rinse water frequently.
  • Clean the washing machine – Use bleach or affresh to periodically clean the drum, removing any built-up dye.
  • Add salt – Pretreating with salt can help block dyes from setting into fabrics. The salt ions interfere with dye bonding.
  • Check for colorfastness – When trying new colored items, wash and dry them solo once to check for bleeding before mixing with white loads.

Making laundry mistakes can be frustrating, but learning from those mishaps helps prevent repeat issues. With some adjustments to wash habits, plus an arsenal of stain removal tricks, white clothes can stay bright and colorful clothing can be enjoyed without worry.

What are some home remedies to remove dye stains from whites?

In addition to the methods mentioned already, here are some more DIY approaches using common household ingredients:

Remedy Method
Lemon juice The citric acid in lemons bleaches out stubborn stains. Squeeze juice directly onto fabric or soak garment.
Cream of tartar For tough stains, make a paste with cream of tartar and water. Let it sit on the stain before washing.
Aspirin tablets Crush aspirin and mix the powder with water to make a paste. Apply to the stain.
Borax Make a borax solution and soak whites before laundering. Helps release trapped dye.
WD-40 Lightly spritz WD-40 onto stains and allow it to penetrate and lift the dye.
Milk The enzymes in milk can dissolve residual dyes left after washing. Soak the fabric in milk.

When using any of these DIY stain fighters, first test on an inconspicuous area like an inner seam to check for discoloration or damage. Home remedies provide an inexpensive way to salvage stained white laundry.

When should you avoid trying to remove stains at home?

While DIY methods can often successfully remove dye transferred onto white clothes or linens, there are some situations where attempting stain removal at home is not advised:

  • With antique, vintage or very delicate fabrics – Harsh chemicals or vigorous rubbing could damage fragile materials. Better to send to professional cleaners.
  • If stain has set – Long-dried or heat-set stains will not respond as well to home treatments. May require a stronger commercial process.
  • With inherited or sentimental items – Too risky to experiment on items of high personal value or irreplaceable heirlooms.
  • When stain has changed texture – Dye that has damaged, stiffened, or faded the material calls for a delicate approach.
  • If not colorfast – Home bleaching or harsh chemicals may remove original dyes as well as transferred color.
  • With specialized fabric – Silk, wool, spanges or non-colorfast prints pose risks for home methods.
  • If unsure of fiber content – Trying wrong type of treatment for unknown fabric could do permanent damage.

When dealing with valuable, fragile or unknown fabrics, or severe staining, the best option is to take items to a professional dry cleaner or laundry service. Though more costly, commercial cleaning methods are strongest and safest on treasured pieces.

What laundry products or equipment can prevent white stains?

Aside from technique adjustments, there are some helpful laundry products and tools that aid in keeping whites bright and stains at bay:

  • Color catcher sheets – These absorb loose dyes in the wash water before they can deposit onto clothing.
  • Oxygen bleach – Gentler than chlorine bleach, Oxyclean and similar use hydrogen peroxide to lift stains.
  • Bluing agents – Counteract yellowing on white fabrics to maintain whiteness and brightness.
  • Borax powder – This laundry booster helps strip out lingering dyes from loads.
  • White vinegar – An economical rinsing agent that removes soap residue and prevents dye transfer.
  • Dual compartment machines – Allow for washing dark and light clothing simultaneously in separate drum spaces.
  • Hand wash cycles – Gentler agitation reduces likelihood of colors bleeding and staining.

With the assistance of these products and features, washing machines can be fine-tuned to optimize stain prevention and whiteness restoration for laundry. Preventative measures also reduce the amount of damage control needed after the fact.


Whites stained by colors in the laundry is a common and troublesome issue. Through strategic sorting, gentle washing habits, and the proper stain removal methods, these unfortunate incidents can be corrected and avoided going forward. With some diligence about dyes, even your brightest whites can stay looking vibrant for many washes to come. Separating laundry is the simplest first line of defense, along with lower temperature water and double rinsing. If stains do occur, act quickly while they are fresh and consider bleach, sun, vinegar and other natural options. For rare and heirloom textiles or severe set-in stains, head to the professionals. By understanding the causes of dye transfer and mastering removal techniques, you can wear, wash and enjoy your white linens and clothing with confidence again.