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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Removing Dye from Sweatshirts

By Dr. Laundry April 28, 2009

Q. I washed a sweatshirt and it bled into another one. What can I do to fix this?

A. I probably don’t have very good news for you, since I’m assuming the sweatshirts aren’t white and they probably have been dried in the dryer, which sets the dye on the new fabric. Cotton sweatshirts tend to lose a little (to a lot) of dye with each regular wash, which is why we always recommend washing dark colors separately.

I also find that a lot of non-cotton colored items can be bleached. To find out if these items can safely be bleached, I recommend consumers do the quick Bleachability Test (2 tsp. Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in 1/4 cup water; apply a drop on a hidden 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.

Want to proceed? I would do a quick liquid bleach soak (1/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in gallon of cool water for 5 minutes), then wash immediately in the hottest water recommended on the garments’ care labels using detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1. It might require multiple treatments to get the desired result.

If you can’t bleach them, then try several washes in the hottest water recommended on the care labels using detergent and an oxygen bleach like our Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster, or even a short 1/2 hour presoak in the oxygen bleach before the wash. Check for suitability by doing a similar Bleachability Test as described above. It might require multiple treatments to get the desired result. Also, repeated washing usually will very slowly remove a small amount of dye each time. However, it’s likely that the sweatshirts will probably continue to bleed with a water wash, and there will be nothing you can do to restore them.