How to Prevent Color Bleeding in Laundry

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.
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.

Wash, dry, fold, repeat ... 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, a trip through the wash might leave your clothes looking worse than ever. One red shirt mixed in with a load of whites can leave you with a pile of rose-tinted socks. 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.

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

Tips for Keeping Colors From Bleeding in the Wash

The secret to minimizing color bleeding 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 your favorite white shirt. Wash these items by themselves the first time you launder them to rinse out any loose or unstable dyes, just in case.

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 detergents, washing clothes in hot water is not only unnecessary, but may be downright harmful. Hot 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.

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.

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)