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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Removing Transferred Dye

By Dr. Laundry November 5, 2009

Q. I hope you can help me with the following two questions:


  • 1. Can you please let me know which is the best detergent (in terms of removing stains/dirt and keeping the colors) for whites and which one for colors?

  • 2. I’ve noticed that with some clothes I own with fabrics containing black and white, the white parts got a bluish look after washing the clothes with liquid Tide. What can I do to make the white “white” (as the original fabric was) and not bluish?


A. Let’s take the questions in order:

  • 1. For general laundering, the leading brand is Tide and it’s about as good as it gets. It comes in a variety of “types” and in liquid or powder form. Overall, most consumers enjoy the convenience of the liquid form; just measure, pour and go, rather than making sure the powder is completely dissolved before adding the clothes. Depending on your situation, detergent alone may not be enough to remove stains and soils, and another additive may be needed to get the job done like Clorox® Regular-Bleach for whites, or Clorox2® Stain Fighter &Color Booster, our oxygen bleach based on hydrogen peroxide, for colors. Unless you are washing delicates, the same detergent should work for both whites and colors.

  • 2. The problem you’re describing is dye bleeding, or transfer. It usually occurs on cotton items and is the result of the dye types and process used, especially for dark colors like black, which is usually padded onto the fiber. Subsequent washing in any product (even water only) will cause some dye to leave the fabric, which creates the blurring of the colors at the white/black interface. So I think it’s a function of the item and not the detergent choice. If you have already dried the fade items, they will be more difficult/impossible to remove. Unfortunately, not all stripes or colors exhibit this behavior, so it is somewhat of a crapshoot when washing any of these types of garments. For solid colors, the solution is to sort and wash dark colors separately in cooler water to slow down (but not eliminate) the dye bleeding. The good news is that the amount of dye lost decreases with each wash. Fixes to the initial problem are few and based on liquid bleach which may not be good for the remaining black dye. We have Clorox® BleachPen Gel that has two tips (a fine point and a scrubber) which allows you to control where you apply the thickened liquid bleach. Before proceeding, there is a Bleachability Test on the label (apply a drop onto a hidden area with the dye fading; wait a couple of minutes; rinse and let dry. If no color change occurs, then apply along the lines and wash immediately with detergent).