How to Wash Colored Clothes Without Color Bleeding

By: Bambi Turner  | 
Brighlty colored clothes spinning around in a washing machine.
No matter what you do, colored clothes will likely bleed in the laundry, especially the first time you wash them. But there are ways to lessen the damage.

Keeping up with the laundry can seem like an endless cycle, but at least you get clean clothes to show for all your hard work, right? Unfortunately, if one red shirt is mixed in with your load of whites, you may wind up with a pile of rose-tinted socks. Although just about everyone has laundry on their to-do list, many do not know how to wash colored clothes without risking such a mess.

Even separating whites from colors is no guarantee of success — dyes from darker clothes can bleed onto lighter ones, leaving garments looking dirty and faded. So how can we ensure that a trip through the wash won't leave our clothes looking worse than ever? The answer doesn't lie in what type of laundry detergent or wash cycle you choose. Vinegar won't help you either.


In this article, we'll explain how selecting the right colored garments and the right water temperature makes all the difference in salvaging your laundry load from color bleeding.

Why Do Colored or Dark Clothes Bleed?

Color bleeding occurs when clothing manufacturers rely on ineffective dying techniques or cheap dyes. Sometimes the dyes are simply unstable or not permanently set in the fabric. Other times, manufacturers overdye clothes so they'll appear brighter and more vibrant in the store, but then fade the first time you wash them.

Watch out for dark colored clothes, but even bright colored clothing can be problematic. Red and orange dyes are notoriously vulnerable to bleeding, so these colors require extra vigilance on the part of the consumer.


In the past, people were resigned to separating loads by color to prevent color bleeding. While this can be an effective method for maintaining clothes, it also takes more time and results in greater energy and water consumption. Short of shelling out big bucks for dry cleaning and professional laundry services, however, what else can you do to keep whites white and colors vibrant?

Read on to learn some of the best tips and tricks for preventing, or even reversing, the effects of color bleeding in the wash.


Laundry Tips for Keeping Colors From Bleeding

The best way to avoid bleeding dye without spending your life in the laundry room lies in choosing clothes that are less likely to bleed. When you shop, avoid labels with instructions like, "Color May Wash Down," "Color Rubs Off," "Do Not Use Detergent," "Turn Inside Out to Launder," "Wash Before Wear" or "Use Cold Water." These are clues that the dyes used to color the garment are unstable or likely to bleed in the wash.

If you examine an item's care labels and don't spot any of these warning signs, it's most likely colorfast, which means that it can be expected to avoid fading and bleeding for the most part. Of course, even colorfast fabrics shouldn't be tossed in the washing machine with all of your white clothes. Wash these items by themselves the first time you launder them to rinse out any loose or unstable dyes, just in case.


Keep a Close Eye on the Fabric Type

To further reduce problems with color bleeding, choose clothing made from synthetic fibers, like polyester or nylon. These synthetic fibers tend to hold on to color better than natural materials, like cotton or wool, resulting in less dye transfer and fading in the wash.

Once you've chosen more fade-resistant fabrics, changing up your laundry techniques can help you further reduce your risk of color bleeding. Many people believe that you must wash clothes in hot water to get them clean. With modern high-efficiency and liquid detergent, however, washing clothes in hot water is not only unnecessary, but may be downright harmful.


Hot water (and to a lesser degree, warm water) opens up the fibers in clothes to release the dye, while cold water keeps them closed, trapping the dye inside to prevent bleeding. Choosing the cold setting on your washing machine will eliminate most problems with color bleeding, and may also help clothes last longer.

Wash Dark Clothes and Bright Clothes Together

Still worried about color bleeding, even after taking all the necessary precautions? Pick up some commercial color catchers. These dye magnets look like fabric softener sheets, but they're designed to catch loose dyes in the washer before they transfer to your clothes.

Color catcher sheets can be particularly helpful when you're dealing with red or orange dyes, because, as we mentioned earlier, these colors tend to be less stable and are more likely to bleed than other hues. Have more laundry-related questions? Check out the links on the next page to learn all about how to properly treat your clothes in the wash.


Color Bleeding Laundry FAQ

What colors bleed in the wash?
Red colored clothes are more prone to color bleeding than any other color. For the first few washes, consider washing a red garment on it’s own in cold water.
How do I remove color bleeding stains from clothes?
You can remove color bleeding stains by dissolving oxygen bleach in hot water and then allowing the mixture to cool down. Add the garment and soak it for 15 minutes and then rinse. The stain should be gone.
Can baking soda remove color run?
Baking soda is commonly used to remove color bleeding on white garments because of its natural whitening properties.
Does white vinegar remove color from clothes?
Vinegar has a number of amazing cleaning properties, one of which is its ability to remove color bleeding from clothes. Adding half a cup of vinegar to your final rinse for brighter and cleaner clothes.
How do I remove color stains from my dryer?
You can use a combination of vinegar and baking powder to remove color stains from your dryer. The dryer drum can inhibit the color of clothes over time, and this concoction will help remove them.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Bartos, Lorene. "Unstable Dyes." University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. May 21, 2008. (April 15, 2012)
  • Mayhew, Elizabeth. "Solutions to a Laundry List of Washing Dilemmas." MSNBC. March 4, 2008. (April 15, 2012)
  • Minnesota Center for Energy and Environment. "Wash 'em Cold." (April 15, 2012)
  • Stevens, Sharon. "Textile Labels Protect and Inform Consumers." University of Missouri Extension. October 1993. (April 15, 2012)
  • Stone, Janis. "Quick 'n Easy Stain Removal." Ohio State University Extension. Date Unknown. (April 15, 2012)
  • Textile Industry Affairs. "Laundry Essentials." 2005. (April 15, 2012)
  • University of Illinois Extension. "Dye Transfer (Color Bleeding in Wash)." (April 15, 2012)
  • Wakefield, Judith A. "How to Avoid Colors Bleeding." Indian River County Extension Service. Aug. 3, 2002. (April 15, 2012)