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Laundry 101: Prevent Color Transfer of Dyed Clothes

In Hanoi, Sam bought a beautiful wine red linen blouse. It was rather pricey so she haggled like her life depended on it until the weary seller agreed to sell her two blouses for the price of the wine red linen piece.

When we got home, in a hurry to launder all her new clothing and the ones she brought to and brought home from the trip, she dumped everything into the washing machine. When the clothes were ready for hanging, she discovered that everything had turned pink. What used to be a white and gray top had become gray and pink. Her white underwear were the color of pink cotton candy. And so on, and so forth. You get the picture.

Of course, she was upset. The wine red linen blouse was still beautiful but what about the rest of her clothes? I didn’t have a solution. If she added bleach to the discolored ones, they will lose the pink hue along with all the other original colors. Will the pinkness fade in time? I don’t know.

A month after the Hanoi trip with Sam, I went to Taiwan with Speedy. It was my turn to buy something red. Wine red linen cropped pants. Yes, in my family, we love red. Having learned from what happened to Sam’s clothes, I was more careful when I laundered all the new clothes I bought.

Why separating colored from white clothing matters when doing laundry

Why do colored clothes bleed?

The dye, of course. You can’t get those beautiful colors without dyeing. Dyeing means either 1) the fabric was dyed before it was cut and sewn into clothing or 2) dye-free fabric was cut, sewn into clothing then dyed afterwards.

Do all colored clothes bleed?

No. In general (yes, there are exceptions), synthetic fabric like polyester holds color better while natural fabric like cotton and linen will bleed during the first few times of washing.

Of course, there are other factors too. Even with synthetic fabrics, if poor quality or excessive dye was used, bleeding can still occur. And when you’re talking about mass produced clothes by not so reliable manufacturers, there are instances when the dye used is wrong for the type of fabric.

What are colorfast clothes?

These are clothes that, during manufacture, underwent extra processes to make the color stick to the fabric and prevent bleeding. These extra processes can be anything from pre-washing the clothes to using mordant to bind the dye to the fabric.

How do we prevent damage to colored clothing and everything it comes in contact with?

First of all, check the clothing label before you buy it. Reputable manufacturers bother to indicate if the clothing is colorfast or not.

Watch out for phrases like “wash separately” or “wash with like colors” as those are indications that the clothing will probably bleed. So, wash the colored clothes separately from the whites.

What if the label says nothing? Well, you just need to be extra careful.

Know what type of fabric the clothing is made of. If it’s a synthetic fabric, it may bleed but probably not as bad as if it’s made with cotton or linen.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that cotton and linen are inferior. Far from it! Cotton and linen are among the most comfortable clothing materials and they’re completely natural. Ninety percent of the clothes I own are made of either cotton or linen. Cotton and linen, however, are not so good at absorbing and holding dye.

My solution to bleeding dyed clothes

Here’s what I did with wine red cropped linen pants I bought in Taiwan. First, I immediately separated the red pants from the rest of the clothes to be laundered. I even separated it from other colored clothing.

How to Prevent Fabric Color Transfer, Bleeding, and Fading

Second, I put the pants in a basin with water and detergent and let it soak. See how the color has bled into the water? It is still soaking as I write this post.

Third, in a few hours, I will rinse the pants and repeat the procedure until the water runs clear.