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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Black and White Shirt: Your Questions

By Dr. Laundry October 28, 2008

Q. I have a black & white shirt, and when I washed it, the black bled into the white. So now instead of having a black & white shirt, I have a black and dingy white shirt. Is there anything I can do to return the white to its normal color without bleaching the black?

A. I have seen so many dark color/white stripe items that end up with this problem. Our Marketing folks like the “looks” of these for commercials and print ads, but there is such a range of quality in the dying that one really ends up rolling the dice when you buy one of these garments. When these dark colors are 100% cotton, they are notorious for bleeding for a few washes. When they are solid colors, they can always be washed/soaked with similar dark colors. Unfortunately, I probably don’t have much good news for you. Your only hope is to try to bleach the affected area, but I doubt the item can handle that without bleaching out the black color.

I would try the following:

First, we need to know if the black colored stripes can stand to be bleached. Just do the simple Bleachability Test on any colored portion in a hidden part of the shirt.

  • Add 2 tsp. Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 to 1/4 cup water
  • Apply a drop on a hidden color section like the inside seam, hemline or cuff. Wait 1 minute and then blot with a towel. No color change means it is safe to use bleach on the item.
  • Next, wash in the hottest water recommended on the care label with detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1
  • If the black color is not bleachable, then I would try presoaking/applying Liquid Clorox2® for Colors Color Safe Bleach:
    o Apply; rub in; wait approximately 5 minutes; then wash immediately with detergent and the recommended amount of Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster in the warmest wash water recommended on the care label.
  • Check for success and retreat if needed BEFORE drying.

Also remember that washing in hotter water will SLOWLY remove additional dye over time. However, this will usually be barely perceptible wash-to-wash.