How to Remove Dye Stains From Clothes

brightly colored item that has the potential to bleed dye

The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu 

No one wants to open the washer and find a load of laundry that looks tie-dyed as a result of a sock, shirt, or jeans that transferred its color to the other clothes. So, how do you safely remove the dye stains from the other clothes?

Whether you find that all of your white underwear is now pink (that rogue red sock) or your favorite striped sweater no longer has crisp lines, dye bleeding is always a headache. But the offending dye can usually be removed from washable fabrics if you take quick action. The basic process works on all white, colored, or washable print fabrics (do not use them for dye-bleeding on silk, leather, or wool). Just remember to use oxygen-based bleach and never chlorine bleach, which can remove desired colors and damage fabrics. Never dry items with color bleeding in a hot dryer or the process will set the unwanted color.

Illustration of how to remove dye stains from clothes
Illustration: The Spruce / Catherine Song 
How to Remove Dye Stains From Clothes
Detergent  Oxygen-based bleach and laundry detergent
Water Temperature Varies
Cycle Type Varies
Special Treatments Soaking may be required

Project Metrics

There are a few factors to keep in mind before washing dye stains out of clothes.

  • Working time: 5 to 15 minutes
  • Total time: 35 minutes (depending on wash time) to 8.5 or more hours (depending on any necessary soaking)
  • Skill level: Beginner

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Oxygen (non-chlorine) bleach (preferably powdered type)
  • Water
  • Laundry detergent

Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Soaking sink or tub
items for removing dye bleeding stains
The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu 

Instructions

  1. Check the Entire Load for Stains

    Find the bleeding culprit and pull it out of the washer; set it aside for washing later with similar colors. Carefully check each remaining piece of laundry for discoloration or stains. Any pieces that have no signs of unwanted color can go into the dryer or dry on a clothesline.

    checking the load for stains
    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu  
  2. Rewash the Affected Clothes

    Confirm that the item(s) that bled color is out of the wash load. Rewash all the stained clothes using a non-chlorine (oxygen-based) bleach (popular brands include OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, and OXO Brite) in addition to your regular laundry detergent.

    adding oxygen bleach to the wash cycle
    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu  

    Safe Use of Oxygen Bleach

    Don't confuse oxygen bleach with chlorine bleach; they are two completely different products. Follow the oxygen bleach package directions for how much to use for the load. These products are safe to use in both high-efficiency front-load and top-load washers as well as standard washers.

  3. Inspect the Clothes Again

    Check each piece of clothing again after rewashing for traces of dye. Any items that still have unwanted color must be soaked and washed again. Clothes that came out with the undesired color completely gone can go in the dryer or, to play it safe, they can air-dry until you're sure they're back to normal.

    inspecting the load a second time
    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu  

Instructions for Soaking Dye Stained Clothing

  1. Soak the Stained Items

    Mix a solution of oxygen bleach and cool water in a washtub or sink, following the product instructions. Submerge the stained items and allow them to soak for at least eight hours.

    preparing an oxygen bleach soaking solution
    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu  

    Powder or Liquid?

    You will have the best results if you use a powdered oxygen bleach formula rather than a liquid formula because the powder form is more stable than liquid formulas.

  2. Check and Soak Again (If Needed)

    Check the clothes again for unwanted dye. If the dye stains are gone, wash the items as usual. If they remain, mix a fresh batch of the oxygen bleach and water solution and soak for another eight hours, then check again, and wash or repeat the soaking process as needed.

    soaking garments a second time
    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu  

    Don't Give Up

    You may need to repeat the soaking several times, but this is the best way to get rid of the dye without damaging the fabric.

Tips for Washing Bright Colors Together

There are loads of old wives' tales and internet hacks out there about how to set dyes and prevent color bleeding, ranging from adding salt to vinegar to coffee to the washing water. In reality, these don't work on today's dyes and fabrics. Use a bit of caution instead when washing bright colors.

Best Temperature for Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach is effective at any water temperature; however, if your water is very cold, dissolve the oxygen bleach powder in one-quart of very warm water before adding it to the washer or soaking basin.

  • Sort and wash all new clothes with similar colors several times. It takes several washings before unstable dyes wash out; some may not bleed at first and then bleed after a few washes.
  • If you plan to wash it a dry clean only item, wet a cotton swab and rub it across an inside seam or hem. If there's color on the cotton swab, you'll have dye stain problems.
  • If you have brightly colored delicate items, hand-wash them separately.
  • Use cold water when washing colored items; it's gentle on fabrics and helps the color last longer.