How to Fix Dye Transfer

Dye transfer is one of the most vexing of all laundry care problems. It occurs when a color from one garment bleeds into the fabric of another (and sometimes an entire load). The best way to handle dye transfer problems is to avoid them.

Dye Transfer Removal Methods

What you will need:

  • Spray Bottle
  • Water
  • Ammonia
  • Dish detergent (such as Dawn or Joy)
  • Small nailbrush or toothbrush
  • Bleach
  • Green Tea
  • Salt
  • Borax

Removal Process:

  1. In a spray bottle, mix equal parts water, ammonia and dish detergent.
  2. Spray the dye transfer area liberally. You should test a small, inconspicuous area of the garment first with this solution as it may cause discoloration on some garments.
  3. Brush the area briskly with the nailbrush or toothbrush.
  4. Wash the garment again as usual (by itself).
  5. If the entire garment has dye transfer (i.e. a white shirt that has turned pink), you may mix a larger amount of the above solution and submerge the entire garment briefly. Again, always test a small, inconspicuous area to make sure no further discoloration will occur.
  6. If the stain still remains after washing, repeat the procedure.
  7. If your garments are bleach safe (always check the tag), mix a diluted solution of bleach and hot water (about 1 part bleach to eight parts water), and soak the dye transfer area with the solution (or the entire garment if necessary). If this solution does not lift the stain, gradually increase the amount of bleach until the solution is about half and half, or until the stain appears to lift. Wash as usual, but do not dry until you are sure the stain is gone. ALWAYS REMEMBER that bleach is a hazardous chemical and should be handled with care. For more information, see Ashland Material Safety Data Sheet (PDF).
  8. As an alternative method, or for use on clothing that is not bleach-safe, soak the garment in hot water infused with green tea. After soaking for about 15 minutes, remove the garment, spread regular table salt on the dye transfer stain, and let stand for another 15 minutes. Wash as usual, but do not dry if the stain is not completely gone.
  9. As another alternative method, also for use on clothing that is not bleach-safe, wash your garment as you normally would (by itself), but instead of using regular detergent, use 1/4 of Boric Acid (Borax, found in the laundry aisle at most grocery stores).

Preventing Dye Transfer

  • Read all labels on your clothes carefully; many clothing labels will indicate that the colors have a tendency to bleed by stating that the clothing should be washed separately or with like colors. If your label says that, follow their advice, especially if it the first time you are washing the garment.
  • Sort your clothes carefully and make sure you don’t wash any darker colors with your lighter colors, which invites dye transfer trouble.
  • Remove your clothes promptly from the washer once the cycle is complete.
  • Be especially wary of red or orange colored clothing as those colors tend to bleed more easily.
  • There are products known as fabric stabilizers (or “interfacing”) that will serve to absorb dyes and act as color magnets in your washer, thus avoiding the issue of dye transfer. You can find these products (which look like thin sheets of foam) at most fabric stores.
  • There are other products which you can actually add to your wash that help to prevent dye transfer. You can usually find these products in the laundry aisle at your local store or online.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • If a dye transfer stain does occur, the sooner you tackle the stain, the better. Don’t allow the stain to set in; you stand the best chance of eliminating the stain by working on the garment while it is still wet.
  • If you want to remove the dye transfer stain, under no circumstances should you dry the garment or use an iron on it as this will set the stain, which will then be nearly impossible to remove.
  • “Rit”, has a product sold in most laundry aisles and fabric stores, that may help remove color stains from WHITE clothing (it removes all color, so shouldn’t be used on colored clothing). Rit is very powerful, so be sure to wear rubber gloves, old clothes and follow all directions on the box. It may even mar the finish on some appliances and table tops, so exercise caution in where you use it.
  • Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing” is another product you may try to help lift out dye transfer stains. It can usually be found in the soap or laundry aisle of your grocery store.
  • Keep in mind that not all dye transfer stains can be removed and the darker the stain, the less likely it will come out entirely. If you simply can’t part with the garment, consider other alternatives, such as dying the entire garment a darker color.

Comments

  1. Angie says:

    If you put about a 1/4 cup of salt in the washer with a colored garment the first time you wash it (in cold water), it helps to set the color.

  2. Catherine in Tulsa says:

    I have a wool melon-colored sweater that, when I picked it up from the dry cleaners, had a black tinge to the entire garment. It clearly had been laundered with dark fabrics – the counter person was useless and so is the sweater now. However, I could dye it plum or something and make it wearable – had not thought about going darker as an option – thanks!!!

  3. Monica says:

    I washed a pair of black basketball shorts that have a white stripe down the side with a red sweatshirt and it turned the white stripe on the shorts pink. My son wasn’t too happy about having to wear them that way and the shorts were his football practice shorts. I tried soaking them in water mixed with a lot of ammonia and dish detergent and that instantly started to remove the red dye from the white strip. Nothing else had worked up to that point. Thanks for the tip.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I had a pink shirt that had black splotches from a new black shirt I washed with it. Used your advice and while it was still wet, mixed half ammonia and half detergent, then I scrubbed the solution onto the spots with a toothbrush and voila; the stains are gone. Thank you sooooo much!

  5. Rhonda says:

    I have a pieced quilt – dark blue, medium blue, dark red, medium red and white. It was on our waterbed, which sprung a leak. The blues and reds have bled into the white pieces. How can I get the colors out of the white areas and save my quilt?

  6. Afra says:

    I made a quilt, which is white and black on the top and red on the back. I have discovered that the red fabric will run. Is there anything I can do to stop this? I did test a bit of the fabric before I used it and thought it would not run, but did it again just to be sure on the leftover fabric, and it does run quite badly. What can I do to stop this?

  7. Riya says:

    How can I protect our re-dyed fabric when it has lost it’s color? It loses more color every wash. Please, any advice for how I can protect what color remains?

  8. Kim says:

    This recipe is pretty amazing! I have a favorite baby jumper with red/pink poppy pattern on white. It absorbed blue dye in the wash and looked drab and terrible. I thought it was a goner after trying every trick I knew to lift the errant dye. Upon contact with the ammonia/detergent mixture, the blue transferred out of the garment and into the suds. Now, the white is vibrant once again and shows no trace of blue, and the red didn’t fade in the process. Tremendous; thank you!

  9. Anne says:

    I recently looked for fall jackets in my closet, and was upset to find that a dusty rose jacket, which is a vinyl product, had a black transfer stain on the back of the collar and inside the hood. It is a cute little jacket, and I would like to be able to wear it hood and all. Do you have any suggestions?

  10. Sandra says:

    I have a hundred-year-old quilt that has orange bleed over it from one nine-square to the other. Is there any way I can treat these orange marks? It is just in the one section.

  11. Karen says:

    I dyed the canvas handle of a hand bag dark brown and unfortunately the dye transferred to the sleeve of my new white heavy cotton jacket. I sent it to the cleaners, but they couldn’t get it all out “without damage to the garment.”
    Any great suggestions as to how I can remove this dye residue from my sleeve? I don’t think submerging the entire garment is an option as it does not say washable on the label, but I am thinking maybe I can just treat the sleeve. Any expertise you can lend would be very much appreciated. Thanks so much!

  12. Ramon says:

    Using green tea to remove stains sounds dubious to me. Google has plenty of results for “removing green tea stains,” but none regarding green tea as a method for removing them. I understand the tea is infused in a bucket of water, but weak coffee and watered down beetroot juice will still cause stains. Staining a garment a light muddy green might disguise the existing stain, but isn’t necessarily a solution.
    Has the author of this page actually attempted this method or is it just incorrect internet make believe?

  13. Laiza says:

    I have a white shirt with red and black linings on the sleeves. The garment was dried before I discovered the dye transfer, which is red. What should I do?

  14. Claudia says:

    Just wanted to THANK you! You saved all my white mixed with an unfortunate pink jacket left in the machine… ammonia + washing up liquid and hot water; all dye stains disappeared in less than 20 min. THANKS!!!

  15. Priya says:

    Ammonia is in which products? I mean, from where I can have ammonia?

  16. Melanie says:

    Priya,
    Ammonia can often be found in hardware stores, such as Ace Hardware. You may also be able to find it at Walmart.

  17. Richard says:

    I sweat a lot. My leather strap on my guitar stained the collar of several dress shirts…(sort of a dark scuff); it makes them useless…is there hope?

  18. Melanie says:

    Richard,
    This is the article that you need: How to Remove Dye Stains from Clothing.

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