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

Clothing dye, especially from new, never-laundered garments, is unstable and can easily bleed or transfer in the wash. In particular, watch out for a brand-new pair of jeans or brightly colored shirt; the dyes in these items are often the culprits. Clothing dyes can also bleed when it rains or when you sweat. In addition, these stains can occur when the fabric comes in contact with colored paper and other dyed materials that touch your clothing.

Get rid of color bleed stains as quickly as you can by using the cleaning power of oxygen bleach. It eliminates the dye's chemical bond on the fabric when oxygen is released and mixed with water which gets rid of the stain. Oxygen bleach can be used on all colored materials and washable whites but never on silk, leather, or wool. You can also try chlorine bleach on whites.

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 color bleed 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 essential rule of laundering clothing: Clothes should be sorted. As soon as you discover a color bleed incident in the washing machine, find the cause and remove it from the washer.

To clean the washer after a color bleed incident, immediately fill the washer with hot water. Add one cup of chlorine bleach and run a complete cycle before washing clothes.

When choosing if you should use liquid or powdered oxygen bleach, both work equally well. However, you might get better results using a powdered formula instead of a liquid form because the powdered form is stable longer. The liquid form begins to degrade the moment it gets bottled. Even unopened, most liquid oxygen bleach only has a shelf life of six months. Meanwhile, powdered bleach can last several years.

Warning

Most importantly, don't confuse oxygen bleach with chlorine bleach. They are entirely different products. Chlorine bleach will remove desired colors and damage fabrics.

If you plan to wash a dry-clean-only item, do a colorfast test. Wet a cotton swab, and rub it across an inside seam or hem. If dye appears on the cotton swab, the item can bleed and cause dye stains on your other clothing.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Soaking basin or sink

Materials

  • Water
  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Oxygen-based bleach
  • Chlorine bleach

Instructions

ingredients for removing dye stains

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

How to Remove Dye Transfer Stains From Colored Clothes

Follow these simple steps to remove stains from colored clothing.

  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 without signs of unwanted color can go into the dryer or on a clothesline.

    rewashing clothing with bleach and detergent

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

  2. 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

  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.

    Tip

    Oxygen bleach is safe to use in high-efficiency front-load and top-load washers and standard washers. It's effective at any water temperature; however, if your water is very cold, dissolve the powder in 1 quart of very warm water before using.

    garment soaking in an oxygen bleach solution

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  4. Recheck and Wash as Usual

    After rewashing, recheck each piece of clothing for traces of dye. Any items that still have unwanted color must be soaked and rewashed according to the garment care label. Clothes that came out with the undesired color completely gone can go in the dryer. Or, to play it safe, air-dry until you're sure they're back to normal.

    inspecting the load a second time

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu  

  5. Repeat, If Stain Persists

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

    garment soaking in an oxygen bleach solution

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

How to Remove Dye Transfer Stains From White Clothes

Follow these simple steps to remove stains from white clothes.

  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 without signs of unwanted color can go into the dryer or on a clothesline.

    brightly colored item that has the potential to bleed dye

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu 

  2. Rewash White Cottons With Chlorine Bleach and Detergent

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

    adding chlorine bleach to the drum

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

    Tip

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

  3. If Stain Persists, Soak in Chlorine Bleach for 5 Minutes

    If the color bleed stain is still on the clothing item, mix a solution of 1 gallon of water and 3 tablespoons of chlorine bleach in a basin. If you have multiple items, soak them separately.

    Fully submerge the item for five minutes. You may notice the color coming off immediately, or it may take the full five minutes. Do not let it soak longer than that. After five minutes are up, rinse out the bleach solution. If it's gone, wash it as usual.

    If a trace of the color bleed remains, repeat for five minutes and rinse.

    soaking garments in chlorine bleach for five minutes

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu  

  4. Wash as Usual

    Once all dye traces are gone, wash according to the garment care label. Clothes that come out of the wash cycle with the undesired color gone can go in the dryer. Or, to play it safe, air-dry until you're sure they're back to normal.

    Washing the garment as usual

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

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

  • Repeat if it doesn't work the first time: If an initial round of at-home stain removal doesn't effectively remove the stain, repeat the steps. 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.
  • Try a commercial color run product: If several rounds of soaks and washes still don't get the stain out, consider getting a commercial color run remover product for the affected garment or rewash the item separately using a commercial color catcher sheet.
  • How to handle new clothes: Sort your laundry by lights, darks, and colors. Always launder new, colored clothing in a washing machine or hand wash it in a basin by itself before introducing other items. Even fabrics labeled colorfast may take several cycles through the washer before dyes begin to set and cease to affect other clothes.
  • Empty pockets: It's also important to empty your pants' pockets before machine washing, as debris in pockets can also cause dye transfer stains.