How to Stop Clothes From Bleeding in the Wash

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Categories Doing Laundry
Never make this expensive mistake again.

Sick of losing your favorite clothes from colors bleeding? We’re here to help.

We’re all aware of what happens when you put a red sock in with white clothes. Everything turns pink! But what if we told you a few ways to stop this from ever happening again?

We’ll teach you how to stop clothes from bleeding to make laundry day easier and ultimately, cheaper. Because ruining a whole load of laundry is an expensive mistake to make.

How to Stop Clothes From Bleeding and Fading

  • Color test: Test your clothes for colorfastness. Submerge garments in soapy water. Check if the water has changed color.
  • Use cold water: Hot water breaks down dyes and causes clothes to bleed.
  • Sort clothes: Sort clothes with similar colors and weight. If bleeding occurs, it won’t be noticeable. Washing heavy and delicate clothes together increases friction which causes more bleeding.


Why Do Clothes Bleed?

Not all fabrics bleed — so, what is the reason behind some fabrics bleeding?

  • Crocking: Crocking usually happens while clothes are dry, but it can also happen while wet. The excess dye from one fabric rubs onto another dry fabric. This usually occurs with darker colors. You might have experienced it if you wear a dark sweater over a light t-shirt, and take it off later to find new stains. It’s most common with dyed raw denim though. It’s usually a result of the dye not being properly adhered to the fabric.
  • Bleeding: Bleeding, similar to crocking, is when one fabric stains another, but this occurs when the clothes are wet. The dye runs off the clothes while they’re wet and stains the water which then stains other clothes. This tends to happen most often with brightly colored clothes.
  • Fading: Fading is when clothes lose their dyes through bleeding, crocking, bleach or exposure to sunlight. This can also occur from the water, friction, detergent and drying method used during a regular laundry day. Clothes will look lighter or less bright than they did before.

How to Stop Clothes Bleeding in the Wash

Crocking, bleeding and fading are all quite scary words, but there’s no reason to fear. With extra caution and knowledge, you can easily stop clothes from bleeding in the wash.

Color Test

Before washing the garment with other clothes, do a color test. The care label will often tell you if an item will bleed. It may say to wash with similar colors, or warn you that the colors may run. But if it doesn’t, and you’re curious, there are two ways to color test.

With an Iron

Place white fabric — such as a cloth or a sock — over your colored garment. Iron over it. If there is any color on the white garment, it means the colored item is not colorfast and it may bleed in the wash.

In Soapy Water

Place the garment in a bucket of soapy water. Let it sit for 30 minutes. If the color of the water has changed, the garment isn’t colorfast and it may bleed in the wash.

Once you’ve determined an item isn’t colorfast, always wash it separately or with similar colors. If it is colorfast, it can be washed with other items.

Hand Wash Separately

If you’re worried about colors bleeding, it’s recommended that you wash the garment by hand separately. This prevents other items of clothing from getting damaged.

Depending on the garment, hand washing instructions will vary.

Use Cold Water

If you want to machine wash the garment with other clothes, always use cold water. Hot water causes more bleeding and staining on other clothes since it can break down the dyes (1). We always recommend cold water for maintaining color and brightness in clothes.

Color Catcher

Color catchers are sheets that go in with your laundry to trap loose dyes. They are meant to prevent clothes from bleeding by stopping dyes from transferring onto other garments. So, you shouldn’t end up with pink towels if you accidentally threw in a red sock.

Color catchers have mixed reviews. This is mostly because if you use them with hot water, your clothes can still fade. Yes, the color catchers might trap dyes and prevent staining or crocking — but clothes can still fade.

Ultimately, these sheets work best in cold water. In that case, however, the clothes probably won’t bleed or fade anyway so there’s not much point in using them.

Dye Fixative

Dye fixatives are intended to reduce bleeding, fading and therefore, transfer to other clothes in the machine. It depends on the product, but these are usually intended for at-home dyeing projects, like tie-dying. Always check the manufacturer instructions to see what the product is intended for.

The molecules in the fixative have a positive charge, whereas the molecules in most dyes have a negative charge (2). So the dyes can be glued into place with the dye fixative.

There are two main drawbacks to fixatives, though. For one, clothes that have been treated by a dye fixative become less resistant to fading from light sources. Secondly, the dye fixative may contain a carcinogen, formaldehyde.

Sort With Similar Colors

Of course, this takes some extra time and planning, but it’s the best way to prevent color staining. Sure, colors might still bleed but it won’t be noticeable if you wash with similar colors.

Laundry Hack

Get a compartmentalized laundry hamper so you can sort the colors as you fill up the baskets. One with three compartments is great: separate darks, lights and colors.

Reduce Friction

To prevent clothes bleeding, think about friction. Friction is a huge factor for clothes bleeding and fading.

First, try using a gentle cycle. This will minimize friction and abrasion, which — especially in cold cycles — should rule out any possibility of color bleeding. Also, don’t overstuff the washing machine.

Second, wash your clothes inside out. This stops clothes fading on the outside.

Wash heavy and delicate clothes separately. Heavy clothes can increase friction in a cycle and transfer their dyes to delicate items.

FAQs About Stopping Clothes From Bleeding

Can Clothes Stain Your Skin?

Yes, clothes can stain your skin. The dye rubs from the clothes to your skin through abrasion. It should come off with warm water and soap. To prevent this, always wash new clothes before wearing them to remove excess dye.

Does Vinegar Stop Colors From Bleeding?

No, but it’s a common belief that it does. Vinegar and salt was used to set colors a long time ago, but it doesn’t work on today’s fabrics and colors (3). The acetic acid in vinegar may actually weaken fabrics, especially for rayon, acetate, silk or triacetate.

Vinegar, however, can restore colors that have been dulled by detergents. But it can also alter the colors in some fabrics. So, be sure to test in an inconspicuous area before using in your washing cycle.

Can Baking Soda Remove Color Run?

If you’d had a color run, and your clothes are now stained, you’d think baking soda could work because it whitens clothes and removes stains. But with dye, it’s a little different. Here is our method for removing color run stains:

  1. Separate the stained clothes from other clothes.
  2. Mix together the recommended amount of oxygen bleach in a cup of warm water to dissolve. Add it to your washing machine drum or detergent dispenser.
  3. Place the stained clothes in the machine.
  4. Add your normal detergent as well.
  5. Run a cold cycle.
  6. Rewash the clothes that are still stained. Dry the clothes that have had stains successfully removed.
  7. If the stains persist, soak the clothes in an oxygen-based bleach solution. Follow the packaging instructions for the recommended amount. Leave for at least eight hours.
  8. Wash as normal.

Should You Wash New Clothes Before Wearing?

Yes, we always do this with new clothes! It helps to remove excess dye, but also ensures the clothes are clean.

What to Do When Colors Bleed?

If colors have bled and stained other clothes, try our oxygen-based bleach tip.

If that doesn’t work, you could always wet the stain with hydrogen peroxide. Let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing the clothes.

You could also use chlorine bleach if the clothes are white. Add ⅛ cup of chlorine bleach to a tub full of water. Soak the garment for 30 minutes, then wash as normal. Repeat if necessary and don’t dry unless the stain is gone.

Do Black Clothes Bleed?

Black clothes can bleed and stain other clothes. Black clothes are also prone to fading to a lighter shade of black or dark grey. To help black clothes retain their color, always wash black clothes together and separate heavy and delicate items. You can also wash black clothes inside out to reduce agitation in the washing cycle.

Does Cotton Bleed Color?

Yes — anything that’s been dyed can bleed. But natural fibers are more likely to bleed than synthetic materials, so if you have colored cotton clothes, always check for colorfastness (4).

How to Stop Dye From Coming Out of Jeans

Have your dark blue jeans ever faded? Here are some top tips to stop jeans from bleeding or fading:

  • Don’t wash your jeans that often! You can wash your jeans every ten wears (or more often, depending on your activity level), or whenever they’re stinky or dirty.
  • Hand wash your jeans to reduce agitation, or use a gentle washing cycle.
  • Use a mild laundry detergent.
  • Always wash your jeans inside out to reduce friction and agitation.
  • Use white vinegar to clean the jeans more gently, and help to brighten the colors.
  • Wash your jeans in cold water.
  • Always air dry your jeans.

Tips for Preventing Clothes From Bleeding or Fading

For our final top tips, refer to this great list!

  • Always turn your clothes inside out when washing them. This will still thoroughly clean clothes, but it reduces friction on the colored side.
  • Wash clothes in cold water. Hot water can relax the fibers and allow the colors to bleed more easily.
  • Don’t overstuff your washing machine. This can increase friction and agitation which causes colors to bleed and fade.
  • If drying clothes outside, don’t hang them in direct sunlight as this can cause fading.
  • Always check for colorfastness. If the garment bleeds, wash it separately or with similar colors.
  • Wash clothes before wearing to remove excess dye. This stops clothes fading or bleeding in the next wash, but also protects your skin from dye stains.
  • Always separate clothes by color and weight.
  • Adding a cup of vinegar to your wash won’t stop bleeding, but it can brighten whites and colors to stop the appearance of fading.
  • Use short gentle washing cycles where possible, or opt for handwashing.

Keeping Clothes Bright

With these tips to stop your clothes from bleeding, you can keep your clothes bright and reduce fading. This is a common disaster on laundry day and it can take a while to get into the habit of our top tips. But soon enough, you’ll be separating laundry by color and weight as if it were second nature!

With these tips and habits in mind, not only will you save yourself from the nightmare of stained clothes. But you’ll also save money, since ruining an entire load of laundry with a non-colorfast item is a costly mistake to make.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a 20-something freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!
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