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What can I use instead of a color catcher?

Laundry can be a hassle, especially when it comes to preventing colors from running or bleeding onto other fabrics. Color catchers are a popular solution, but what if you’ve run out and need an alternative? Thankfully, there are several household items you likely already have on hand that can be used in place of color catchers.

What Are Color Catchers?

First, let’s briefly go over what color catchers are and how they work. Color catchers are small sheets made of non-woven material that you add to a load of laundry. They are designed to trap loose dye that is released from fabrics when washed in water, preventing that dye from redepositing onto other items. The color catcher sheet becomes dyed instead, saving the rest of your laundry from color bleeding issues.

Color catchers bind to loose dye through a chemical reaction. They contain sodium polyvinyl sulphonate, which reacts with the free dye molecules. This causes the dye to become stuck to the catcher sheet. The used color catcher ends up strongly colored while the rest of the laundry is dye-free.

Why Use an Alternative?

There are a few reasons you may want or need to use something other than a color catcher in your laundry:

  • You’ve run out of color catchers and don’t have time to run to the store.
  • You simply want to save money by using items you already have at home.
  • You need an emergency solution and color catchers aren’t available.
  • You want to try out some DIY alternatives to see if they work well.

The good news is that many household products can act as impromptu color catchers in a pinch. The key is finding options that will effectively grab and trap excess dye the way true color catchers do.


One of the most popular and effective substitutes for color catchers is plain old table salt. Salt contains sodium chloride, which reacts with loose dye to bind to it just as the chemicals in color catchers do. The salt traps dye molecules through ion exchange.

To use salt as a color catcher:

  • Add 1⁄2 to 1 cup of salt to the wash cycle with your colored fabrics.
  • Make sure to use a normal size load of laundry.
  • Use warm or cold water to allow the salt to work best at absorbing dye.

The salt will end up colored from all the dye it captured. It can simply be thrown away after the wash.


Distilled white vinegar is another common household staple that makes an excellent color catcher substitute. The vinegar helps bind to loose dye through acidic reactions. It also has a bonus effect of boosting cleaning power to remove stains.

To use vinegar:

  • Add 1 to 2 cups of white vinegar directly to the drum of the washing machine.
  • Wash colored items as normal on a warm or cold setting.
  • The vinegar can go down the drain after the wash.

Take note that vinegar has the potential to fade clothes over time with repeated use. But as an occasional color catcher stand-in, it works quite well.

Baking Soda

Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, makes a terrific color catcher thanks to its sodium ions. These positively charged ions are excellent at binding to the negatively charged molecules in fabric dye.

Follow these directions when using baking soda:

  • Add 1⁄2 to 1 cup of baking soda to your washing machine drum.
  • Make sure to separate colors from whites.
  • Wash as usual in cold or warm water.

The baking soda will turn colors from the dye it absorbs. It can then be thrown out when the wash cycle completes.


Crushing up aspirin tablets may not seem like an obvious color catcher choice. But aspirin contains acids that make it effective at binding to loose dye. Acetylsalicylic acid reacts with the free dye molecules.

Here’s how to use aspirin as a color catcher:

  • Crush up 5-10 regular strength aspirin tablets.
  • Add the powder directly to the washing machine drum.
  • Wash as usual with colored fabrics in cold water.

The used aspirin powder can be disposed of after the wash. Be aware that using aspirin repeatedly may cause lightening or discoloration over time.

Other Possibilities

In addition to the options above, there are a few other items that may work in a pinch:

  • Borax – The sodium in this laundry booster reacts with loose dye.
  • Alka-Seltzer – These effervescent tablets contain citric acid that binds to dye.
  • Disprin (or other brand of aspirin)
  • OxiClean – The sodium percarbonate acts as a dye magnet.

Keep in mind that results can vary with DIY color catcher alternatives. You may need to experiment to find what works best for your particular fabrics and wash loads. But one of these common household products is likely to provide decent dye catching action.

Precautions When Using Homemade Color Catchers

When using items like salt, vinegar, and baking soda as improvised color catchers, keep the following precautions in mind:

  • Always wash colored fabrics separately from whites and light colors.
  • Stick to warmer water temperatures, as hot water can make dyes bleed more.
  • Ignore any product claims of “colorfastness” – assume all dye will bleed somewhat.
  • Don’t dry fabrics until you’ve checked for stray dye with your homemade color catcher.
  • Repeat washing with an improvised catcher if you see excess dye on it.

Taking these preventive measures will ensure you don’t end up with pink socks and other laundry mishaps when using DIY color catchers!

When to Use Real Color Catchers

Homemade color catcher alternatives work great in a pinch. But there are times when it pays to use the real thing:

  • When washing brand new colored fabrics for the first time.
  • If you have a mix of fabrics where dye transfer could be an issue.
  • For delicate fabrics like silks and wools.
  • If you see heavy dye removal with a homemade catcher.

Color catchers contain stronger dye-grabbing chemicals than homemade options. For fabrics prone to bleeding, they offer maximum protection against color transfer issues. Keep some on hand for when you really need them.

The Bottom Line

Don’t let a lack of color catchers keep you from doing laundry. With a little creativity, you can find an effective substitute in your pantry or medicine cabinet. Salt, vinegar, baking soda, and aspirin all fit the bill when you need to trap excess dye at home. Just be sure to take some sensible precautions, and save the real color catchers for your riskiest laundry loads.

With these homemade color catcher ideas, you can stop colors from bleeding and ruining the rest of your wash. No more winding up with pink socks or other laundry mishaps! Handle dye transfer issues on the fly with common household products.