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Ask Dr. Laundry

Red Dyes on Light Colored Fabrics in Laundry: Your Questions

By Dr. Laundry September 17, 2008

Q: I made the mistake of washing a new red shirt with my other shirts with light colors. The red colored shirt bled and the light colored shirts have red stains all over. Could you help me get the stains off?

A: I probably don’t have much good news for you. New dark colors are notorious for bleeding for a few washes and should always be washed with similar dark colors. That’s why I always recommend sorting at least whites, lights and darks to avoid the problem in the future.

Depending on how extensive the red spots are and the type of fibers (cotton, poly/cotton, etc.) of the remaining shirts, I would try the following:

To have a better chance at red dye removal you will need to kick it up a notch on the bleach scale hopefully to liquid bleach like Clorox® Regular-Bleach1. So we need to know if the lighter colored items can stand to be bleached.

  • Just do the simple Bleachability Test on any colored portion in a hidden part of the shirts (2 tsp Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in 1/4 cup water; apply a drop on a hidden color section 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).
  • Then follow the recommended presoak procedure (1/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in gallon of warm water for 5–10 minutes before laundering). Wash in the hottest water recommended on the care label with detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1.
  • If the colors are not bleachable, then I would presoaking/applying Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster. (Apply; rub in; wait ~5 minutes; then wash immediately with detergent and recommended amount of Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster.)
  • Check for success and retreat if needed BEFORE drying.

Also remember that washing in hotter water will SLOWLY remove additional dye over time; this will usually be barely perceptible wash to wash.