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How do you keep dye from bleeding in the wash?

What causes dye to bleed in the wash?

Dye bleeding in the wash happens when loose excess dye washes out of fabrics and transfers onto other items during the laundering process. There are a few common causes of dye bleeding:

– Using too much dye when dyeing fabric at home. Excess loose dye will easily run when agitated in water.
– Poor quality dyes that are not properly set in the fabric. Inferior dyes will leak out of the fibers when washed.
– Fabric not being adequately pre-treated to bind the dyes. Dye fixatives help lock in color.
– Washing in water that is too hot. Hot water can cause dye molecules to loosen and release.
– Agitation and friction from washing machines rubs and loosens dye particles.
– Washing dark new fabrics for the first time. Extra dye rubs off during initial washes.

How to pretreat fabrics before washing

Pretreating fabrics before washing is one of the best ways to prevent bleeding and transferring of excess dyes. Here are some easy pretreating methods:

– **Soak in vinegar:** Soak fabric in a mixture of 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts cold water for about 30 minutes before washing. The vinegar helps set the dye.

– **Use salt:** Dissolve 1/2 cup of table salt into a sink or bucket full of cold water. Soak dyed fabrics for 30 minutes, then rinse thoroughly before washing. The salt forces dye particles to bond tighter to fibers.

– **Try commercial dye fixatives:** Products like Rit Colorfix, Retayne, and Synthrapol are designed to further bind dyes to fabrics and stop bleeding. Follow instructions on the product.

– **Wash problem fabrics separately:** Always wash new brightly colored or dark fabrics by themselves the first couple times to avoid transfer of excess dye.

How to wash fabrics to prevent bleeding

It’s not just about pretreating. Washing procedures also play a big role in preventing dyes from bleeding in the laundry. Here are some tips:

– Wash in cold or cool water. Hot water can loosen dye, while cool water keeps dye sealed in better.

– Wash darks and lights separately. Separate fabrics by color to avoid lighter fabrics getting discolored from dark dyes bleeding.

– Use a gentle cycle or delicate setting. Higher agitation can rub and loosen dye particles during washing.

– Skip the dryer and air dry. Heat from dryers can also loosen dyes. Line dry fabrics instead.

– Add salt to the wash cycle. A tablespoon of salt in the wash water acts as a dye fixative.

– Use a dye catching sheet. These sheets adsorb loose dyes in the wash water before they can bleed onto other fabrics.

– Wash fabrics inside-out. This reduces abrasion to the surface of the fabrics where the dyes sit.

– Turn the garment frequently while washing. This ensures all sides get even agitation and forces dye particles inward.

How to deal with dye that has already bled

If you discover a load of laundry has bled dye onto other items, don’t panic. Here are some ways to deal with it:

– **Re-wash fabrics separately.** Wash the new brightly colored or dark bleeding fabrics by themselves again to remove any excess loose dye.

– **Soak in salt water.** Soak any discolored fabrics in cold salt water for 30 minutes to draw out the bled dye particles.

– **Use white vinegar.** For lightweight fabrics, soak in a solution of 1 cup white vinegar per 1 quart cool water for 15 minutes to help discharge the dye.

– **Try lemon juice.** The natural acid in lemon juice can help remove some discoloration from fabrics. Soak in a mixture of 1 part lemon juice to 1 part water.

– **Use oxygen bleach.** An oxygen bleach like OxiClean can help lift some bled dyes. Make a paste with the powder and water and rub it into the fabric.

– **Try sun fading.** Lay the discolored fabric in direct sunlight to help break down and fade any dye molecules on the surface fibers.

– **Call a professional.** For severe cases of dye bleeding, it may be best to take the fabrics to a professional cleaner for dye discharge services.

Tips for dyeing fabrics at home

When doing crafts and dyeing your own fabrics at home, be sure to follow these guidelines to prevent bleeding issues:

– Choose high quality dyes designed not to bleed. Look for dyes labeled “washfast” or that say “no bleeding.”

– Follow the dye instructions carefully. Don’t use too much dye or leave fabrics in the dye bath too long.

– Rinse the dyed fabric thoroughly until the water runs clear. This removes excess dye particles.

– Use the hottest water recommended for dyeing. Hotter water better sets the dyes so they don’t bleed as easily later.

– Set the dye with a fixative according to product directions. Vinegar and salt water both help lock in dye.

– Wash dyed fabrics separately the first several washes. Expect some residual dye loss.

– Consider over-dyeing fabric darker than the desired shade. The color will fade slightly with the initial washes.

Best detergent for preventing dye bleed

Using a quality laundry detergent can reduce dye bleeding issues. Here are some top choices:

Detergent Features
Tide Free & Gentle Does not contain dyes or brighteners that can cause transfer
Persil ProClean Formulated with dye transfer inhibitors
Seventh Generation Free & Clear No dyes, fragrances, or brighteners
ECOS Free & Clear Hypoallergenic with no dyes or perfumes
Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Fragrance-free detergent for sensitive skin

Key features to look for are a fragrance-free, dye-free formula that is non-allergenic and suitable for sensitive skin. These types of detergents do not contain masking agents or optical brighteners that could transfer onto fabrics. Enzymes in detergents can also help break down dyes and prevent bleeding.

Homemade dye catching sheets

It’s easy to make your own reusable dye catcher sheets to toss in the wash to prevent excess dye from bleeding onto other laundry. Here are a couple methods:

White fabric squares:

– Cut up an old white t-shirt or similar white fabric into 6-inch squares.
– Add 2 tablespoons of salt to a quart of water, soak fabric squares for 30 minutes.
– Remove, let air dry, and store for use.

The salt treatment improves the fabric’s ability to adsorb dye particles when washed.

Paper towel method:

– Take a paper towel sheet and cut in half.
– Soak the 2 halves in water mixed with 2 teaspoons of baking soda.
– Squeeze out excess liquid and let dry completely.
– Keep the stiffened paper towels to throw in the washer.

The baking soda allows the paper fibers to grab and capture free dye in the water. Add 2-3 sheets per wash load as needed.

How to keep white clothes white

Follow these tips to maintain bright white fabrics over time:

– Wash white items separately from darker fabrics where dyes could transfer.

– Use a detergent formulated for keeping whites looking bright such as Tide White Revive or OxiClean White Revive.

– Add bluing agent occasionally to combat yellowing. Bluing neutralizes yellow discoloration.

– Soak or spray with hydrogen peroxide if clothes start looking dingy. Peroxide acts as a bleach.

– Air dry white clothes in the sun. The sun’s UV rays help keep whites looking brighter.

– Turn shirts and socks inside out before washing. Protects the outside from grey buildup.

– Pre-treat any stains right away. This prevents stains from setting and going grey.

– Inspect washer gaskets and drums for grey lint buildup. Clean regularly to avoid transfer.

– Replace your washing machine hoses. Old hoses can leak grey rubber particles onto clothes.


Dye bleeding in the wash can be frustrating, but is usually avoidable with the proper precautions. Pre-treating fabrics before washing is key, whether using vinegar, salt, or dye fixatives. Always launder new colorful and dark fabrics separately in cold water for the first several washes. Home dyeing requires careful techniques so excess dye doesn’t remain to bleed. For accidental dye transfer, try re-washing, soaking in dilute vinegar or lemon juice, or laying in the sun. Choosing the right gentle, fragrance-free detergent prevents adding masking dyes that could spread. With some diligence upfront, you can keep your bright and dark fabrics looking vibrant for many washes.