How to Remove Dye Transfer Stains From Clothes and Upholstery

how to remove laundry dye stains

The Spruce 

Whether it is a red sock, blue jeans, or a batik blouse, some clothing dye is not stable and will bleed or transfer onto other clothes. You may have noticed this when you get new blue jeans and wash them for the first time with underwear that then turns blue; that is dye transfer. A stray hot pink post-it in your shirt pocket or the purple construction paper airplane in your kid's school pants can also leave a dye stain if it goes through the washing machine.

Dye transfer from paper happens when moisture from perspiration, rain, or a trip through the washer causes the dye to leach from the paper onto the fabric. Brightly colored uncoated papers like crepe paper, construction paper, and sticky notes are most likely to create stains. If this happens to you, you should try to treat the stain at home. You can do it easily with materials you likely already have.

Stain type Dye-based 
Detergent type Oxygen-based bleach
Water temperature Cold

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour to 9 hours (depending on the severity of the stain)

Before You Begin

This common laundry mishap is yet another reason to follow the number one laundry rule: Empty all pockets. This is followed closely by another important laundry rule: Clothes should be sorted. Just because something has not faded before does not mean it never will. Even on fabrics labeled as colorfast, sometimes it takes several trips through the washer before dyes begin to wash out and affect other clothes in the washing machine.

As soon as you discover that a stain incident occurred in the washing machine, find the culprit (fabric or paper) that caused the damage and pull it out of the washer.

Do not dry any clothes in a clothes dryer until you work the stain entirely out of the fabric. Drying the stain in a clothes dryer will make it difficult to fully remove it.

If dye transfer has occurred onto a dry-clean-only garment, do not try to solve the problem at home. Instead, take the garment to a professional dry cleaner as soon as possible. Be sure to point out the stain and tell the cleaner what caused the problem.

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Soaking basin or sink
  • Clean white cloth (for upholstery)

How to Remove Dye Transfer Stains From Clothes

  1. Rewash Colored Clothes With Oxygen-Based Bleach and Detergent

    If the dye-stained clothes are colored or made of synthetic fabrics, rewash all the clothes using a nonchlorine (all-fabric or oxygen) bleach in addition to your regular laundry detergent. Do this before you put the clothes in the dryer.

  2. Rewash Whites With Chlorine Bleach and Detergent

    If the dye-stained load of clothes is all whites and made of cotton, you can add 1/2 cup liquid chlorine bleach instead of oxygen bleach to the bleach dispenser or wash water along with detergent and rewash.

    How to Avoid Bleach Blunders

    Never use chlorine bleach on any type of colored clothes. Also, do not use it on synthetic fabrics like nylon or polyester.

  3. Soak Tough Stains in Oxygen-Based Bleach

    If you have already dried the clothing or the dye transfer is very heavy, you will need to soak the clothing before rewashing. Mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (such as OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite) and cool water. Follow the package directions as to how much product to use per gallon of water. Submerge the stained items and allow them to soak for at least 8 hours.

  4. Wash as Usual

If the dye stains are gone, wash as recommended on the care label.

How to Remove Dye Transfer Stains From Upholstery

If you find discoloration on upholstery, the most frequent culprit is blue jeans. When you are wearing jeans with unstable dye, they can transfer dye to the chair or couch fabric. Take a look at ways you remove these transfer stains from fabric or leather upholstery.

  1. Make a Cleaning Solution With Oxygen-Based Bleach

    To remove the dye stains from fabric upholstery, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach and cool water in a small container. Follow the package directions as to how much product to use per gallon of water.

  2. Blot Onto Upholstery

    Dip a clean white cloth in the oxygen bleach solution and blot the dye transfer on the upholstery. Keep moving to a clean area of the cloth as the dye is transferred to the cleaning cloth. Do not over-saturate the upholstery cushion because excess moisture can cause mildew problems in the filling.

  3. Air Dry

    Allow the solution to air dry away from direct heat and sunlight.

  4. Use Rubbing Alcohol for Leather Upholstery

If the dye transfer has happened on a leather couch, use a bit of isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) on a clean white cloth. Work from the outside edges toward the center of the stain and keep moving to a clean area of the cloth as the dye is transferred. Allow the area to dry completely and use a leather conditioner to keep the leather soft and supple.

If the stains remain on the item of clothing, mix a fresh batch of the oxygen bleach and water solution and soak for another 8 hours before rewashing. Do not use oxygen bleach on silk or wool. Also, if the upholstery stain persists, repeat the method as needed with a fresh solution of oxygen bleach and water each time.