How to Remove Dye Transfer Stains From Clothes

How to Remove Dye Transfer Stains

The Spruce

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 9 - 12 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0-$10

Unfortunately, you might find that your favorite pieces, whether a brand new pair of jeans or your most stand-out pink top have inadvertently stained your other clothes. Clothing dye, especially from new, never-laundered garments, is not stable and can easily bleed or transfer in the wash, as well as through precipitation and perspiration. Dye transfer stains on fabric can also occur from contact with colored paper and other dyed materials.

Removing dye transfer stains quickly is the best way to ensure success in eliminating the color. You can take many at-home measures to remove a dye-transfer stain effectively, using products you likely already have in your cupboard. Remember never to machine dry affected clothing until you have removed the stain, as the heat can set the mark and make it nearly impossible to eliminate. If you can't eradicate the stain in one go, allow the fabric to air-dry before beginning again. 

Stain type Dye-based 
Detergent type Oxygen-based bleach
Water temperature Cold
Cycle type Varies depending on the type of fabric

Before You Begin

This common laundry mishap demonstrates the importance of following the most important rule of laundering clothing: Clothes should be sorted. As soon as you discover a dye transfer incident in the washing machine, find the cause, such as dyed fabric or paper, and remove it from the washer. Even on fabrics labeled as colorfast, the fabric may take several cycles through the washer before dyes begin to set and cease to affect other clothes.

To clean the washer after a dye transfer incident, immediately fill the washer with hot water. Add one cup of chlorine bleach and run a full cycle before using it to wash any clothes.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

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

Materials

  • Water
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Oxygen-based bleach
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol (for leather upholstery)

Instructions

ingredients for removing dye stains

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

How to Remove Dye Transfer Stains From Clothes

You can treat most dye transfer stains at home using everyday household items. Follow these simple steps using a range of detergents and stain removals to work to eliminate the dye.

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

    Rewash all dyed-stained colored or synthetic fabric clothing using a nonchlorine (all-fabric or oxygen) bleach in addition to your regular laundry detergent. 

    rewashing clothing with oxygen bleach

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  2. Rewash White Cottons With Chlorine Bleach and Detergent

    Add 1/2 cup liquid chlorine bleach to all-white cotton clothing instead of using oxygen bleach. You may add the bleach to the dispenser or directly to the wash water with the detergent, followed by rewashing.

    washing clothing with chlorine bleach and detergent
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  3. Soak in Oxygen-Based Bleach

    Soak the stained 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 for how much product to use per gallon of water. Submerge the stained items and allow them to soak for at least eight hours.

    garment soaking in an oxygen bleach solution

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  4. Wash as Usual

    Wash as the garment's care label recommends once the dye stains are gone.

    rewashing clothing with bleach and detergent
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  5. Mix Solution and Soak

    Mix a fresh batch of the oxygen bleach and water solution, and soak for another eight hours or overnight before rewashing if the stain remains. Do not use oxygen bleach on silk or wool.

Tip

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

When to Call a Professional

If dye transfer has occurred on a dry clean only garment, do not try to solve the problem at home. Instead, take the garment to a dry cleaner as soon as possible. Be sure to point out the stain, and tell the cleaner what caused the problem. If you use a home dry cleaning kit, treat the stain with the provided remover before putting the garment in the dryer bag.

Additional Tips for Handling Dye Transfer Stains

If an initial round of at-home stain removal doesn't effectively remove the stain, repeat steps as often as you see fit. You can also try applying a mix of equal parts baking soda and white vinegar to your stained item and letting it sit for a few hours. Although you should be able to remove your stain using the above methods, you may visit a professional cleaner for specialized advice.

Always launder new, colored clothing in a washing machine or basin by itself before introducing other items, and sort your laundry by lights, darks, and colors. It's also important to empty your pants' pockets before machine washing, as debris in pockets can cause dye transfer stains as well. The best way to avoid dye transfer stains is to take preventative measures against staining.