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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Removing Red Dye from Whites

By Dr. Laundry September 2, 2010

Q. This weekend I washed a load of whites and included 1 top with red trim with the load in cold water. The red dye left everything a faint pink color which I would like to remove, but I’m not sure of the best approach. The load contained:


  • 1 white dress shirt (97% cotton, 3% synthetic)

  • 1 cream (off-white) knit cardigan (100% acrylic)

  • 1 one-piece dress consisting of a white, cotton/poly blend top and a black, synthetic (poly) skirt.

I looked at the RIT and Carbona dye removers, but they are not recommended for synthetic fabrics. I’m afraid regular bleach would ruin the black skirt of the dress. Would a color-safe bleach work? I did not heat-set the stain, though the clothes have air-dried at this point. I did run the load through the wash (on cool) two more times with a dye catcher cloth, but the faint pink color still remains. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

A. Sorry to hear about your dye-transfer problem. Thanks for such a detailed description of the items in the load, as that is very helpful. It’s also great that you have been air-drying the items. Yes, you could try soaking them with a color-safe bleach like Clorox2® Stain Remover and Color Booster, but I also think most of the items could be safely treated with Clorox® Regular-Bleach. Let’s go over each item separately:


  1. For the white dress shirt, try a quick liquid bleach soak (¼ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach in a gallon of cool water for up to 5 minutes), then wash immediately in hot water using detergent and ¾ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach. Air dry and then check for success.

  2. The acrylic sweater is probably bleach-safe, and you can confirm this with a bleachability test: mix 2 tsp. Clorox® Regular-Bleach in 1/4 cup water and apply a drop to a hidden part of the garment. Blot with a white towel; no color change means the sweater can be safely bleached. If the sweater passes the bleachability test, then try the same bleach soak and wash, as I describe above.

  3. For the black-and-white dress: since the skirt is 100% polyester, it may also be bleachable (again, test first before proceeding with a bleach soak). If not, try a color-safe bleach soak. If that doesn’t work, then you could try RIT color remover. That RIT is not recommended for synthetics means you wouldn’t use it effectively to strip the original dye from a synthetic fabric before re-dying it a new color. But is should work to remove the fugitive pink dye on the white poly/cotton part of the dress. Just be sure to follow the package instructions. You can also try it on the other items if the bleach soaks are unsuccessful.