How to prevent Colour bleeding (& try to remove the spread color from clothes)

Techniques to prevent different colored fabrics from bleeding onto each other during washing, protect your clothes from unwanted color transfer and to salvage any garments that may have been affected by color bleeding.

For me “Color bleeding” refers to that feeling of panic I get when I look at a newly washed clothing with color blotches. Like this one.

color bleeding on a scarf

Color bleed means that the color/dye of one piece of clothing (or area) has transferred to another clothing (area) – totally unintentionally and unpleasantly – usually in the wash.

The experts will call color bleeding “Dye transfer”. I will call it Disaster.

Dye Transfer is the technical name given to the color bleeding in which the bright /strong colored dye moves and settles on lighter colored areas. It is not only the fabric that bleeds – Sometimes stitching threads may bleed, high-contrast fabric trims can also bleed into your garment.

Nowadays textile dyeing is more advanced than it was a few years ago and color bleeding is not the most common of laundry woes a homemaker has to endure. But even then, it happens. And mostly it is the end of that garment’s usefulness. Dye transfer is mostly irreversible.

Prevention is the way out of the mess you have in your hands. 

How to prevent bleeding of colors in clothes


Add Salt to the wash. Salt can help set the colors and minimize bleeding. Add 1/2 cup to the washing water.

Give a White Vinegar Rinse. Add half a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle. Vinegar can help lock in colors and prevent bleeding.

Buy quality clothing made of color-fast fabric

The type of dye used, chemicals used to dye, heat, etc will determine if a fabric will bleed or not. A high-quality garment with a “Colorfast” mark on the clothing care label is a guarantee that it will not bleed.

Colorfast labeling on the care label of your clothing means that the dye has been tested and will resist fading or bleeding. For eg., Navy blue jeans which are color-fast will not bleed in the wash. Denim usually bleeds some in the first wash.

Even if you have color-fast clothing, some caution is preferred as there is rarely any guaranteed 100% color-fast dyed garment

Determine which clothing will bleed

If you know that the yarn that makes the fabric has been dyed first (before it is made into the fabric) – you can be assured that it is a good deal ahead in the quality of colorfastness. If the fabric is dyed after it is made there is a higher chance of bleeding. A digital inkjet printed design is mostly dye fast.

colors of bright blue bleeding on to orange

Thread dye bleeding is common in clothes with machine embroidery designs. This is especially common with rayon thread embroidery.

Polyester fabrics are dyed with disperse dyes that chemically bond with fiber and hence they have excellent colorfastness. Pigment dyed fabrics have a greater chance of bleeding.

Silk fabrics with bright colors almost always bleed.Other Natural fabrics like cotton and linen, all show a tendency to bleed. 

Some fabrics may not bleed but you cannot be sure about that unless you tested it. You can rub a corner of the fabric with a white cloth. If the color transfers to it you will know that you have to be extra careful. 

One way to know (not fully reliable) if a bright colored garment may bleed is to see if it is marked “dry clean only”.

If you are absolutely terrified of bleeding and the garment does not say colorfast, do not buy clothes with contrast bright colors/fabric prints with light and dark colors.

Sort clothes before washing

Sort and wash separately new items with similar colors, at least for the first few times they’re washed. Separate light and dark colored clothes.

white lingerie turned pink due to color bleed

I would like a pink bra but not this  patchy pink, in place of the milky white one I put into to wash. The result of washing white and pink together.

But the advantage of white clothes with dye transfer is that you can bleach them white again. Check out the posts on washing white clothes so they remain white and stain removal from white clothes and the correct use of bleach.

How to remove color bleeding from clothes & wash properly

If in doubt, give for dry cleaning, that is my policy. Dry cleaning is recommended for combination colors that have a tendency to bleed. 

If you want to wash the clothes at home, remember that most bright colour clothes will bleed a little. It may be the loose dye in the fabric. This will stop in the subsequent washes. Use a mild detergent when washing the fabric.

Use gentle cleaning techniques and detergents. Hand washing in cold water with a gentle detergent and a flat drying on a stand is preferred for bright colored clothes that are susceptible to bleeding.

On bright clothes which may bleed you should use only mild detergents. Do not test the dye with harsh detergents or bleach.

If there is a dark fabric adjacent to a light colored fabric – give it for dry cleaning for the first few washes or atleast once.

bright dark colors bleeding into light colors

Do not expose clothing to high Temperature i.e Do not use hot water to wash colored clothes which may bleed.

In high temperatures, the color bleeding chances are more. So use only cold water to wash clothes with bright dyes.

Add color fixatives to the wash

If you are sewing, use the fixatives in the pre-washing of fabrics, even before cutting them. If you have a garment, use these fixatives in the first wash.

There are commercially available color fixatives like Retayne and Synthropol – these can be added to the rinse water to prevent bleeding of clothes. It is used for natural fabrics like cotton, linen and also for rayon.

Take the fresh fabric and then soak in the color fixative dissolved water – hot water is usually used. (Follow the instructions in the package of the fixative) Work the fixative in the fabric for about 2 minutes.

There will be clear instructions on how to use it. You will have to use wooden spoons to stir the fabric and need a big pot to keep the fabric. Afterwards the fabric is rinsed in clear water.

A home made fixative that many people try is a solution of common salt. Many vouch that keeping the garment soaked in salt solution fixes the dyes.

Another recommended home remedy is to soak the garment in cold water with a drop or two of citric acid or acetic acid for 1 to 2 min before washing in lukewarm or cold water.

Related post: How to wash dark clothes; How to prevent fading of clothes ; Textile care recommendations. 

Subscribe to get weekly notifications of posts in your email

Yes, I want to

Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

3 thoughts on “How to prevent Colour bleeding (& try to remove the spread color from clothes)”

  1. Thank you for this, I’m hoping to make a dress from a non colourfast, hand printed fabric and I intend to “fix” the dye before cutting it out. Washing will probably help with any shrinking too. Any further tips would be welcomed.

    • Hi Helen
      Hand printed fabric may bleed – considering you are cutting it, why don’t you cut a small piece and wash and see if it runs. Then no need to buy expensive fixatives etc. When washing Do not soak the fabric – and do not rub. Hand wash and dry in shade.

Your opinion is important. Leave a comment