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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

How to remove color bleeding during laundering

By Dr. Laundry May 21, 2012

How do I remove color bleeding during laundering?

Most garments that are new bleed a little, but usually they do stop after a few cycles, so washing newer items alone or only with like colors is a pretty effective strategy for limiting dye transfer.  To restore items that have picked up fugitive color during the wash cycle, you can often do this with a bleach soaking solution as long as the items are safely bleachable.  First, check the care labels and don’t use the soaking solution if the item contains wool, silk, mohair, spandex, and leather–these should never be bleached.  Also, you didn’t say if your items are white or another color (or combination of colors), so you may need to check for colorfastness to bleach with this simple bleachability test:  dilute 2 teaspoons Clorox® Regular-Bleach in ¼ cup water; apply a drop of this solution to a hidden part of the each item (like a hem, cuff, collar, or inside seam); wait 1 minute then blot dry; no color change means the item can be safely bleached.

For items that are not on the “avoid bleaching” list and pass the bleachablility test, you can try a bleach soak:  fully submerge the item in a solution of ¼ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach diluted in 1 gallon cool water for up to 5 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.  Air dry the item, and check for success (it’s important to keep the item out of the dryer so the heat doesn’t set any remaining dye).  Hopefully the fugitive color will be gone, but if it is lighter, then repeat the bleach soak again.  However, if the bleach soak leaves the dye transfer color unchanged you may need to try RIT Color Remover, which can usually be found at drug and hardware stores.  A dilute RIT solution works best to limit stripping off the original color of an item in addition to the fugitive dye, so be careful.