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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Keeping Dark Clothes Looking Good

By Dr. Laundry July 21, 2006

Dr. Laundry is away on a special assignment – he asked that I post this response for him today.

CJ wrote in asking about getting lint on black capris and how to avoid it. Thought I would take this time to talk about caring for dark clothes, overall.

Dark clothes certainly are a challenge, especially the black ones. They start out looking so great, but routine washing often leads to a duller, faded look.

The fading/dullness can result from any or all of the following:


  • The type of dyes used to provide that great color you liked when originally purchased. This is especially true for cottons. If available, try looking for an item that is a cotton blend. Synthetics (polyester) use different dyes and techniques that tend to lock the color into the fiber. Thus, less color loss and a richer, longer lasting color.

  • Color loss with each washing. The amount or rate of dye loss can somewhat be controlled. Definitely use cool/cold wash temperatures and be frugal with the detergent. Also, avoid adding other laundry additives/products since they can accelerate the color loss. And you can turn the item inside out to help reduce the abrasion and beating it takes during washing.

  • Using the wrong detergent. Powder detergents tend to be more alkaline and can lead to slightly faster dye loss. Also any undissolved powder can deposit on the item leaving a film or powdery/spotted look. It is best to use a good liquid detergent in combination with that cold wash. Some detergents add different surfactants for gentler cleaning and special ingredients to help control color loss/bleeding.

  • Be careful of other items in the wash. As noted above, every time you wash, you are losing dye, also known as bleeding. (Everyone has had a pink underwear experience.) When the dye leaves the clothes it is available to move to a new residence, anything else in that washload. We call this dye transfer and what you have created is a situation similar to how items are commercially dyed. A couple of options here: If possible, try washing separately the first few (1-5) washes when dye loss/bleeding will be the greatest. Or consider doing hand wash which also separates the item from other clothes.

  • Be careful who you dry them with. Lint producers, like towels, produce small, fine particles that attach by static charges in the drier. This also can leave your darks looking dull or send you scurrying for that lint roller. Minimize this by separating the lint releasers and other items and/or try a small amount of fabric softener to cut down static in the dryer.


Remember, CJ, these types of clothes are going to lose their dye over time. The good news is you have some new weapons to slow/control the problem.

Good Luck! Let me know if these work out for you.

Dr Laundry