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How to fix your clothes after a dye transfer dilemma

By Dr. Laundry October 13, 2014

Q: I accidentally threw my girls’ clothes with a black dress of mine and all of their clothes now have a gray tint! I washed it a couple of times with vinegar (home remedy I read online) and it was no help. I’m getting ready to wash it with Clorox2, do you think that will do it?

A: Unfortunately Clorox2 Stain Remover and Color Booster is a little too gentle to strip away the unwanted color.  However, depending on the fiber content of the items that picked up the unwanted color, you may be able to restore the items with a diluted bleach and water solution using Clorox Regular-Bleach.  Not knowing all the specifics of the items, it’s best to provide you some general information that you can adjust to your situation.

For white items that picked up color, first check each care label to identify the fiber content of each item so you know which ones are bleachable.  You should always avoid bleaching wool, silk, mohair, leather, and spandex.  The first four are less commonly machine washed, but spandex (also called Elastane or Lycra) is sometimes included in garments and even small percentages shouldn’t be bleached.  For those fabrics that can be bleached, you should be able to restore them using a bleach soaking solution.  Start by adding 3 tablespoons Clorox® Regular-Bleach to one gallon of water in a plastic dishpan.  Fully submerge items in the bleach solution for up to 5 minutes.  You may notice the color coming off immediately, or it may take the full 5 minutes (but don’t let any item soak for longer than 5 minutes).  If you have a lot of items, it’s better to do them one at a time, transferring each item as you finish to a second dishpan that you can immediately rinse the item in.  If you have only one item, then after 5 minutes just drain the soaking solution and thoroughly rinse the item—you can also just run it through a regular wash cycle with a little detergent.  Hopefully the unwanted color will be gone, but if it is lighter, then you can repeat the soak for eventual success.

For colored items that picked up the unwanted color (or white items that include spandex) you can try RIT Color Remover, which is available at craft and fabric stores, as well as some drug stores.  When using RIT for this purpose, the trick is to mix up the solution so it is just strong enough to remove the unwanted color, but not so strong that it strips off the original item color.  You’ll be working with your hands in the solution so be sure to wear gloves.  Start with a very weak solution by just using only a small amount of the powder, not the whole package, and dissolve it into a gallon of water in a plastic dishpan.  Dip the garment (all of it) into the solution and check to see if the unwanted color comes off.  The quicker you do this the more likely you will preserve the original color.  Hopefully the color will come off right away and you can quickly rinse the garment very thoroughly in a little warm water.  If the RIT solution is too strong, you will see the original color coming off right away, so if that’s the case rinse the item as fast as you can.