How to make dark colors stop bleeding

Written by ernestine hill
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How to make dark colors stop bleeding
Jeans with the edges of the fly and waistband showing fade from colour bleed (Hosenstall image by Tribalstar from

According to Drexel University, items of clothing rub against each other and against the washing machine walls during the wash. This friction causes breakage in the fabric fibres, allowing visible dye loss in dark clothing. Bleeding dye causes unwanted discolouration if lighter clothing items are included in the wash. Treatments such as baking soda, vinegar, salt, and enzyme pre-soaks minimise the bleeding; however, the garments must be pre-soaked before each wash until the bleeding is no longer present.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Enzyme pre-soak
  • 1 cup measuring cup
  • ¼ cup measuring cup

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  1. 1

    Test to see whether a dark garment is colour-fast before the first wash and for as many following washings as necessary. Steam iron a small area of the material between two layers of white fabric. If dye bleeds onto the white, pretreat the garment before laundering using baking soda, vinegar, salt, or an enzyme pre-soak product.

  2. 2

    Wash clothing in vinegar to set the colour by first filling the washer with cool water. When the wash cycle begins, add a cup of white vinegar and then the garment. Wash the item by itself through the wash and rinse cycle.

  3. 3

    Use baking soda to set colour in dark garments by filling the washer with cool water. Add 1 cup of baking soda. Wash the garment alone through the normal wash and rinse cycle.

  4. 4

    Turn the garment inside out, then mix ¼ cup of salt to every gallon of cool water you run in the bathtub. Soak the jeans or other dark cotton garment in the bathtub overnight then launder as usual.

  5. 5

    Use enzyme pre-soaks for setting colour in garments that bleed. Follow the package directions for pre-soaking. Enzyme pre-soaks are effective but expensive and most require garment testing prior to each wash.

  6. 6

    Set the dryer on the lowest temperature for the garment material. Be careful not to over-dry. Remove the clothing from the dryer as soon as they're dry or while still slightly damp. If possible, dry dark items outside on a line out of direct sunlight to help maintain their original appearance. Tumble drying can cause fibre damage and bleeding in some clothing.

Tips and warnings

  • Test dark colours for colour fastness prior to each wash until no longer necessary. Washing darks in hot water can cause dye loss.
  • Take advantage of the bleeding from new jeans by washing them with an old pair. The dye that bleeds out of the new ones will brighten and revive the old ones.

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