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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Mystery Spots on Fabrics

By Dr. Laundry June 3, 2010

Q. For the last few years, we have had problems with spots on our clothing and towels. It’s like the fabric has been faded or bleached out in random spots on the towels and the collar area on t-shirts. It has also happened on our sheets. This happens with dark colored fabrics only. I use Clorox bleach for colors with the ALL clean & clear.

I can’t figure out what is causing it. Just recently I had a dark brown towel develop spots of almost a reddish color on them. Do you think it’s a combination of the detergents, or maybe there is something wrong with the washer? I wash everything in warm water. This has been going on for at least 5 years and I can’t figure it out.

A. Interesting question. While I see that you use Clorox2® Stain Fighter & Color Booster, do you also use Clorox® Regular-Bleach in your white loads?
Dark colors (especially cotton) are very susceptible to oxidation due to the type of dyes and the manufacturing process (often just padded on). This is the reason for the recommendation that darks be washed separately (first time and every time) due to their bleeding potential, and why after several washes, one notes the color fades from the original. It’s unlikely the detergent is the reason for your problem as they are all made with similar ingredients.

From your description, it sounds like the spots are bleach marks which can be caused by several scenarios:

  • Contact with any oxidant (including some medicines) can create the problem. Something gets spilled, isn’t noticed, and the item brushes or comes in to contact with it and then dries. You don’t notice until after washing. This is possible with anything that is acidic or has strong enough bleach.

  • Another outside possibility might be the liquid bleach dispenser. If you use Clorox® Regular-Bleach and add via a dispenser in a top loader, it’s possible that a small amount may hang-up and get dispensed in a subsequent load. I always add extra water after the liquid bleach to help “flush” the bleach out of the dispenser.