While The Gap clothing store chain may have made khaki slacks a must-have in the late 1990s, khaki-colored clothes have been a part of Euro-American life for many, many years. Unfortunately, the khaki dye is not always stable and treating stains can leave spots and discoloration. What's a khaki lover to do?
Even though the official definition of khaki refers to a color, many trousers are called khakis. Most are made of 100 percent cotton and are machine washable for easy care. However, many of today's khakis also contain some synthetic fibers such as polyester to reduce wrinkling and the need for ironing or spandex to give the fabric more stretch. Khaki-colored fabrics are found in coats, shirts, and household items such as tablecloths and drapes.
For any garment or household item, the key is to follow the cleaning directions on the care label. It is also important to follow good laundry practices such as never overloading the washer, using the right amount of detergent and adding it at the proper time, and selecting the best stain removal methods.
Causes of Spotting and Discoloration
Unfortunately, many khaki dyes are not stable and laundry stain removers and detergents can cause them to deteriorate and change color if applied directly to the surface of the fabric. Even your body chemistry can cause khaki dyes to change color.
Most commercial stain removers are alkaline in nature and can strip color. It is extremely important to test stain removers on khakis in an inconspicuous place such as an inside seam or hem before using. Some of the products can cause color loss or changes that cannot be reversed. Read stain remover product labels carefully and fully. Many contain warnings that they should never be used on khaki-colored clothing.
If you have khaki items that are heavily stained and feel that you must clean them right away without testing, it is best to soak the entire garment in the cleaning solution of choice. If discoloration happens, it will be evenly distributed over the fabric.
Most commercial laundry detergents contain optical brighteners that absorb ultraviolet light and reflect visible blue light to make your clothing appear whiter and brighter. If khaki garments have unstable dyes and use a detergent with optical brighteners, you will get spots that reflect light differently and can even look pink or blue.
Other culprits for the blotches that can appear on khaki clothes are medications containing peroxide, tooth-whitening toothpaste and products, chlorine from the pool, or even acidic foods (citrus juices). Staining from these products can even happen in the dirty clothes hamper through contact with other fabrics. These products contain bleaching agents that either remove color or cause it to change. For instance, benzoyl peroxide found in acne medications affects blue dyes. Since khaki is created by combining red and green dyes (green is created by combining blue and yellow dyes), the product affects the blue dye and leaves orange stains on khaki.
The body chemistry of some people’s sweat seems to oxidize the dyes of some khaki fabrics, leaving mysterious stains. These stains are usually in very specific areas such as those prone to exposure to excessive sweating.
Once this type of discoloration occurs, there is nothing that can be done to reverse the damage. So, be careful out there.
A British Army lieutenant, Sir Harry Lumsden, conceived the idea of khaki military uniforms in 1846. Sir Lumsden was the commander of a regiment in Northern India where the traditional uniforms were too hot to bear. The troops began to wear lightweight cotton and linen trousers to combat the heat. But the white fabrics were too detectable to enemy forces. Lumsden had them colored using mud and plant-based dyes. The word "khaki" comes from the Hindi-Urdu word meaning "dusty" or "earth-colored."
The U.S. military adopted khaki as an appropriate uniform color and it was first used in the Spanish-American War during 1898.
There are often great variations in how designers and clothing manufacturers define the color khaki. As the demand for the color increased, synthetic dyes often replaced plant-based dyes but the color is created by combining green and red dyes. The problems begin if the dyes are not set correctly and are unstable when exposed to perspiration, certain stains, and commercial detergents and stain removers.
Mendelson, Cheryl. Laundry: the Home Comforts Book of Caring for Clothes and Linens. Scribner, 2010
Raugh, Harold E. The Victorians at War, 1815-1914: an Encyclopedia of British Military History. ABC-CLIO, 2004