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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Bleeding Color

By Dr. Laundry February 6, 2012

Q:  I just washed a new red and white striped coverlet I had custom made. I tried to prevent the red from bleeding on the white by putting two Shout® Color Catchers® in the cold wash. Well, I still had some bleeding on the white stripes! How can I get this off? And in the future, how should I wash this product? The coverlet is made out of 300ct cotton sheets that have been sewn together and I did not dry it once I saw what happened.

A:  What an unfortunate situation, but good for you for not tumble drying the coverlet.  You have a much better chance of restoring it since you didn’t heat-set the dye transfer.  

Start by figuring out if the red portion of the coverlet is safely bleachable (even if the original sheet was labeled “only non-chlorine bleach”).  You can check for colorfastness to bleach with this simple bleachability test: dilute 2 teaspoons Clorox® Regular-Bleach in ¼ cup water; apply a drop of this solution to a hidden or less visible part of the coverlet (or maybe you have fabric scraps to test); wait 1 minute then blot dry; no color change means the item can be safely bleached.  It’s hard to know if the red will pass—many colored bedding items do, but red is notorious for being a problem, and you won’t know until you try. 

Let’s say it passes—in that case, soak the coverlet in a solution of ¼ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach diluted in 1 gallon cool water for up to 5 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.  Air dry, and check for success.  Hopefully the fugitive color will be gone, but if the bleach soak leaves the dye transfer color unchanged, (or if you determined that the red fabric could not be bleached) then you may need to try RITÒ Color Remover, which can usually be found at drug and hardware stores.  Since you don’t want to strip the red color, you may want to try a weak dilution first to see if that does the trick.

You were also wondering about future care of the coverlet.  If you have any fabric left over from the construction of the coverlet you can determine the extent of the bleeding problem by soaking fabric scraps in a warm water + detergent solution.  If the fabric only bleeds one time when you do this, then it could be that excess dye is now off the fabric and you won’t see bleeding in the future. But if it’s not, and the red fabric takes a few more washes to get the excess dye off, you could do a series of warm water washes with detergent to try to get all the dye off the fabric, and then do one final restoration step.  You could also see if bleeding is minimized in cold water, and then only wash in cold water in the future.  If the nightmare persists, and you decide to make another one, try some of the bleach friendly sheets that are now available.

Has anyone else had this frustrating problem happen to them?