How to Remove Dye Stains From Clothes

Help! My Colors Ran in the Wash

How to Remove Dye Stains From Clothes

 Microzoa/ Photographer's Choice/ Getty Images

No one wants to open the washer and find a load of laundry looking 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 not chlorine bleach, which can remove desired colors and damage fabrics.

Illustration of how to remove dye stains from clothes
Illustration: The Spruce / Catherine Song 
Stain Type Dye-based
Detergent Type Oxygen-based bleach and laundry detergent
Wash Temperature Varies

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 5 to 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes (depending on wash time) to 8.5 or more hours

Before You Begin

The first thing to do is 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 to dry on a clothesline. Anything that has unwanted color, even the slightest bit, should be rewashed until the color is completely gone before it is dried. Drying items with color bleeding in a hot dryer will set the unwanted color.

What You'll Need

Supplies:

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

Tools:

  • Washing machine
  • Soaking sink or tub

Instructions

  1. 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.

    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.

  2. 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.

  3. Soak the Stained Items

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

  4. 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. 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.

Oxygen Bleach and Cold Water

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.

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:

  • Sort clothes correctly, and wash all new clothes with similar colors several times. It can take several washings before unstable dyes are washed out, and some may not bleed at first and then start bleeding after a few washes.
  • If the garment is labeled as dry clean only, wet a cotton swab and rub it across an inside seam or hem. If you see color on the cotton swab, you'll have dye stain problems if you choose to wash the item.
  • Hand-wash brightly colored items separately or wash them in the washer with similar clothing. Jeans bleeding blue dye onto other blue jeans won't do much harm.
  • Use cold water when washing colored items because it is more gentle on fabrics and will help the color last longer.