How to Wash Dark Clothes Without Fading

Line-drying your clothes may not be the most preferable way to keep your darks dark, but it'll work.
Line-drying your clothes may not be the most preferable way to keep your darks dark, but it'll work.

We all have a go-to piece of clothing that we can't live without -- black pants that flatter your figure, a dark T-shirt from a memorable concert or a black hat featuring a team logo that also happens to be a self-proclaimed lucky charm. No matter how strong your superstitions, your most cherished articles of clothing must be washed, and eventually your precious garments are likely to fade. After all, fibers are fragile and don't last forever, but they don't have to lose their color so quickly. With a little know-how and careful consideration, you'll be able to wear your favorite dark-colored clothes until they inevitably go out of style.

First, help preserve your dark clothes by choosing a mild laundry detergent. Regular-formula liquid detergents are known to contain harmful chemical additives that damage fibers, so use a mild detergent to prevent clothes from fading. Optical brighteners -- chemicals added to keep clothing brighter -- can ironically cause colors (including darks) to fade over time. There are several detergents for sale that don't contain these chemicals, such as Woolite or All Free Clear. Be sure to read labels carefully before you buy; if a detergent is listed as biodegradable, it's more likely to be free of optical brighteners and safe to use on dark clothing.


While reading laundry tags will set you back a few minutes before you wash, taking the time to do so will keep your clothes in tip-top shape. Certain fabrics retain darker dyes, like washable nylon and wool blends, but linen and acetate are known to fade much faster. Remember to use color-safe bleach when a label specifies that non-chlorine bleach is needed; otherwise, never use liquid bleach on dark clothes. Above all, if a tag states that a garment is dry-clean only, it's probably best that you don't take any chances and leave the job to the pros.

To keep dark clothes looking vibrant, turn blouses, pants and shirts inside out before you wash to keep them from rubbing together. When clothing is churned inside a crowded washing machine, friction causes garments to lose their hue. Single out dark clothing, and if their tags allow, wash them together in cold water. Always wash on a short, gentle cycle, and resist tossing clothes into the dryer. Instead, hang garments to dry. If you must, use low-heat when drying clothes -- temperatures above 130 degrees Fahrenheit could damage fibers and cause clothing to lose its original color.

What Makes Dark Clothes Fade: Washing or Drying?

It's important to handle clothing carefully when washing and drying -- taking a few extra precautions before you begin the chore can help keep your wardrobe looking as good as new. First, check the temperature of the water before you toss the entirety of your hamper into the wash. Warm water breaks fibers down quickly, causing colors to fade, so select the coldest temperature available on your dial. You should also choose liquid detergent over powder. Liquid detergents dissolve better in cold water, while powdered detergents aren't guaranteed to saturate the water completely and thoroughly clean your clothes.

Be aware that in some areas, tap water contains high levels of chemicals that could also cause dark garments to fade. Hard water -- water rich in magnesium and calcium -- can actually lessen the effects of detergents and leave clothes dingy and dirty. While hard water can certainly damage clothing over time, there are ways you can take action to counteract these chemicals. Add a water softener when washing clothes with powder detergent, or use a safe liquid laundry detergent to help remedy the problem. For example, Tide Coldwater is specifically designed to clean clothes effectively on a cold water cycle, helping to neutralize chlorine found in tap water.


When dark clothing needs to be dried, avoid steam and high temperatures -- starching or tumbling clothes in a hot dryer will cause them to lose their hue and fade over time. Dry cleaners use high heat when handling your clothes as well, so while they may be convenient, skip a trip to these outfits unless it's absolutely necessary. If you can, hang or lay garments flat to dry, and if you use an outdoor clothes line, be mindful to keep clothing out of direct sunlight.

Tips for Washing Dark Clothes Without Fading

If it's between faded and fragrant and stained and smelly, go for the former.
If it's between faded and fragrant and stained and smelly, go for the former.

Soaking bright fabrics in salt or vinegar before washing them is thought to prevent dyes from bleeding, but experts say this so-called trick doesn't work. If the worst happens and your clothes bleed onto one another in the wash, separate each article of clothing and wash them again. After washing a second time, dyes should remove themselves on their own. Never put clothing with bleeding dyes into a dryer, because the heat will cause the colors to set and become permanent.

Often, the only way to fix faded garments is to redye them. However, dyes are only helpful to washable natural fibers. Nylon, for example, will not allow the new color to adhere. Dying your own clothing is extremely difficult to do; it rarely covers a garment evenly. When dying clothes in the wash, be sure to run a short, empty cycle when you're through to ensure that no coloring is left behind to ruin future loads of laundry.


For help with dying a piece of clothing back to its original color, look no further than your neighborhood dry cleaner -- but prepare to empty your wallet for this specialized service. Dry cleaners charge a pretty penny for their expertise -- you can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $500 depending on the garment you wish to dye. No matter how dire the circumstance may be, even the professionals fail sometimes. In fact, according to Joseph Hallak Jr., the president of the National Cleaners Association, despite their high cost, dry cleaners' success rate with dying clothing is usually less than 75 percent.

So if you have a favorite pair of figure-hugging dark jeans that you would hate to see fade over time, simply don't wash them as much. When you wear a garment for a brief time, hang it back in your closet to wear again at a later date -- but only if it passes the sniff test. No risk of fading is ever worth the offensive -- and embarrassing -- stench of body odor.

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