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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Cleaning Shirts with Colored Patches

By Dr. Laundry May 18, 2010

Q. I just purchased 5 white uniform shirts with colored shoulder patches. I do not want to send them to the dry cleaners. How do you suggest I wash them? I am concerned that if I bleach the entire wash load, the color patches might bleed into my white shirt. Also, I work with a bleed-free black pen which accidentally stained my pocket. I have used the Clorox pen, and regular Clorox when I reached home, Spray N’ Wash and alcohol. Nothing seems to work. Any suggestions?

A. Thanks for your question, and thanks for the work that you do.

Let’s work on each of the questions:


  • To wash the new shirts requires that the wash solution be safe for all parts of the shirt. You are right to question whether the liquid bleach would cause the colored patches to bleed. Some colored items are bleachable. If you’re not sure, I recommend consumers do the quick Bleachability Test (2 tspn Clorox® Regular-Bleach in 1/4 cup water; apply a drop on a hidden colored area like inside seam, hemline or cuff; wait 1 minute and then blot with towel); no color change means it is safe to use bleach on the item. Any color change could also show you the amount of change in color that likely will occur if you proceed with the liquid bleach usage through the wash. You can see a demo on my blog (http://www.drlaundryblog.com) in the video Laundry 101. This will establish whether liquid bleach can be part of your regimen.

  • You might reconsider your “No Dry-clean” option for the shirts, even with the extra cost. Even with normal washing in warm water with liquid detergent only, there is the possibility that the patches will “fade.” If stains arise, or if you sweat a lot, this must also be dealt with. Then there is the question of ironing for a professional look. A lot more time/energy is involved with that. The drycleaner is prepared to deal with these types of situations and can help keep your shirts looking sharp with the pressing. Ask around as I know several cleaners offer discounts to officers.

  • As for your ink stain, if the Clorox bleach and Bleach Pen didn’t completely remove the stain, then your next approach is probably to use a solvent-based product. Alcohol is an example, but probably not right for this stain. I like GooGone. You will need 2 clothes—one for application and one for absorbing. Start at the outside edge and blot toward the middle of the stain with a saturated cloth; come from behind with the other clean cloth, and blot away the product (you are trying to dissolve the ink and transfer it to the dry cloth). Finally, pretreat with a milder oxygen bleach like our Clorox2® Stain Remover and Color Booster (apply to any residual stain, rub in, wait 5 minutes) and then wash in the warmest water recommended on the care label with detergent and Clorox2®. Check for success before drying as a second treatment may be needed. If the stain is still not removed, talk to your local drycleaner to see if he thinks it can be removed.