How to Remove Dye Transfer Stains from Clothes and Upholstery

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Whether it is a red sock, blue jeans or a batik blouse, sometimes clothing dye is not stable and will fade on other clothes. If you've ever worn blue jeans that haven't been washed, you may find that your underwear is blue; that's dye transfer. The same thing can happen when brightly colored paper like construction paper or sticky notes get left in a pocket and go through the washer. Learn what to do.

How to Remove Fabric Dye Transfer Stains from Washable Clothes

The first thing to do is find the culprit that caused the damage and pull it out of the washer. If the clothes are colored or 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.

If the 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. Do not use chlorine bleach on colored or synthetic fabrics like nylon or polyester.

If you have already dried the clothing or the dye transfer is heavy, you will need to soak the clothing before rewashing. Mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach - OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Oxygen Bleach, or Seventh Generation Oxygen Bleach are brand names- and cool water.

Follow the package directions as to how much product per gallon of water. Submerge the stained items and allow them to soak for at least eight hours. Check the clothes and if the dye stains are gone, wash as recommended on the care label. If the stains remain, mix a fresh batch of the oxygen bleach and water solution and soak for another eight hours before rewashing.

The oxygen bleach is safe for all washable fabrics - colored or white except silk and wool.

Shop for Oxygen Bleach on Amazon.com

This is why clothes should be sorted. Just because something hasn’t faded before doesn’t mean it never will. Sometimes it takes several trips through the washer before dyes begin to wash out and stop clinging to the unsuspecting!

How to Remove Paper Dye Transfer Stains from Washable Clothes

That stray hot pink Post-it in your shirt pocket or the purple construction dinosaur in your kid's school pants can leave a dye stain if it goes through the washing machine. This is yet another reason to follow one of the clothes hamper rules: Empty Your Pockets.

Dye transfer from paper happens when moisture from perspiration, rain or a trip through the washer causes dye to leach from the paper onto fabric. Brightly colored uncoated papers are most likely to create stains - crepe paper, construction paper, sticky notes.

Most of the dyes can be removed from washable fabrics if you take the time to soak the clothing before washing or rewashing. These stain removal techniques will work if the dye bleed is on white or colored washable fabric.  Just remember to use oxygen-based bleach - NOT chlorine bleach!

As with fabric dye stains, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (brand names are: OxiCleanTide OxiNellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite) - and cool water. Follow the package directions as to how much product per gallon of water. Submerge the stained items and allow them to soak for at least eight hours or overnight. Check the clothes and if the dye stains are gone, wash as usual. If they remain, mix a fresh batch of oxygen bleach solution and soak for another eight hours then wash.

How to Remove Dye Transfer Stains from Dry Clean Only Clothes

If the dye from a colored paper or some unstable fabric has transferred onto a dry clean only garment, don't 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.

How to Remove Dye Transfer Stains from Upholstery

If you find a 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.

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 per gallon of water.

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 problems with the filling.

Allow the solution to air dry away from direct heat and sunlight. Repeat if needed with a fresh solution of oxygen bleach and water.

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. 

For more stain removal tips: Stain Removal A to Z.