Red Dye Bleed

A friend of mine has a sweatshirt given to him by the Carpenters back in the 1970s. It's a white cotton sweatshirt with the Carpenters' logo stitched in red. Over the years, the red dye has bled down and has given the area under the logo slightly pink for a couple inches. Does anyone know how he might be able to get the pink bleed out without damaging the sweatshirt or the logo?



ronhuber's picture

I have a hairdresser friend who often has his white shirts stained with hair dye. He uses bleach and a Q tip. I guess one little dab with a Q tip would not ruin the shirt. If it does work, he should then soak the shirt in vinegar water to set the red colour.

CLABBERS's picture

Thanks Ron, I'll pass along the info. Thanks.

Tallguy's picture

Red dye is well-known to be furtive. That is, it does not stay where it was put, and will leech out into neighbouring fibres, especially when wet. There are several reasons for this (below) and ways you can prevent this from happening. But first, some definitions:

Crocking is the colour transfer that occurs when fabric rubs against something, such as furniture, shoes, or skin. This happens when the dye has not properly adhered to the fabric. Some dyes only sit on the surface of the fibres – indigo is a common one and will rub off on anything, including your skin. (Ever experience blue legs when wearing a new pair of jeans?)

Colour bleed occurs when the fabric gets wet and dye leaches out of the fibres. This commonly occurs in the washing machine and can result in colour transfer between items in the load, most noticeably if wet clothes are left piled on each other.

Colour fading is when the fabric has lost much of its dye and therefore lacks vibrancy and depth.

There are a number of reasons for the dye to crock, bleed, and fade. For example:
• Poor quality dye
• Incorrect dying technique
• Incorrect dye used for the type of fabric (not all dyes work on all kinds of fabrics)
• An excess of dye left in the product because the item was not properly rinsed out during the dying process
• The manufacturer has not used fixer or ‘mordant’ to bind the dye to the fabric
• The mordant has washed out of the fabric due to prolonged hot washing and so is no longer holding the dye to the fibres
• Wear and tear: friction between fabrics that can cause micro-breakages in the fibres and lead to the release of dye
• Bleaching, which can be caused by the fabric's exposure to bleaching products, heat, and/or sun.

A common myth circulating the internet is that washing the item in either vinegar or salt “sets” the dye and prevents it from running. Unfortunately, this is not true. Although vinegar does help set some acid dyes, it only works during the dyeing process and not for cotton dyes. Acid dyes are used on animal fibres, and do not work on plant or synthetic fibres. Similarly, salt is used in the dying process to encourage the fibre to take the dye, but it will not stop the colour from running or crocking after the garment has been dyed. If you tried salt and it appeared to work, it's only because the additional washing has removed the last bits of the unattached dye.

The only real ways to prevent colour transferring and fading are the following:
• Treat your fabrics with a colour fixative such as Retayne or Rit Dye Fixative. Dye fixatives reduce colour bleeding in fabrics where the dye has not been properly fixed or washed out. This dye fixative can often "fix" or attach these loose dyes and prevent further colour bleeding in your fabrics. These dye fixatives are particularly popular with quilters in order to reduce bleeding between the patches of fabric. However, be aware that they are not very effective on polyester and acrylic materials.
• Do loads of laundry that are the same colour and be aware that it’s not just new clothes that run. The chemical fixers or mordants used to hold the dye to the fibre can wear off after repeated washing, so always wash similar colours together to prevent colour run, regardless of the age of the garment and how many times you may have washed it before. Red especially never seems to stop running!
• Many of us over-wash our clothes for fear of being seen as dirty or smelly, but with delicate clothes you should try to wash as little as necessary. Before washing an item, ask yourself: “Is it really dirty, and does it really need to be washed?” If it only has an odour, try airing it (most effective on a porch on a rainy day) or using an odour eliminating product like Febreze. If it’s only dirty in a small area, then spot clean it – just like the dry-cleaner does. Jeans in particular should not be washed very often at all.
• Wash with cool or cold water. Hot water tends to open up the fibres of the fabric which encourages the dye to escape and run. If you live in a very cold area, the water may get too cold during the winter so set the washer to “warm” 30ºC (86ºF). Make sure you are using a detergent that is designed to perform in cold water.
• The friction that occurs during a wash cycle can cause micro-breakages in the fibres and lead to the release of dye. This is one of the reasons why you see fading in fabrics over time. You can minimize this friction by washing heavy items like jeans in a load together. Also, fasten zippers and hooks and turn items inside out. This is particularly effective with jeans.
• For clothes that fade quickly (like jeans), use a short wash or a gentle cycle to help reduce friction.
• Try using a colour catcher product such as Shout colour catcher sheets in your wash. The sheets are designed to absorb and trap loose dyes, but be aware that they are not completely failsafe. Washing with like colours is the only way to prevent color transfer.
• Don’t leave wet clothes in a pile or sitting in the machine for too long as this gives the colours time to leach out.
• Since the sun can act as a bleach, dry your clothes in the shade and try not to use the dryer. Using the dryer is the best way to wear out your clothes!
• If your garment has bled heavily and become discoloured despite following the care instructions, then you should consider returning the item for a refund.
• For faded clothes with plenty of wear left in them, try re-dying using the home dye kits that are available. Be aware that newly dyed clothes will often run at first if you have not rinsed out all the excess dye.

Simply by turning my clothes inside out during both the washing and drying process and using cool water, there is a significant colour difference between the inside and outside of my clothes. The inside of the garments becomes much more faded than the outside. This process helps maintain vibrancy much longer, greatly extending the life of my garments.

And finally, to prevent colours from running into different sections of your garment, avoid buying anything that is made with several different colours together or with items that are pieced together of several fabrics.

CLABBERS's picture

Thanks for the suggestions. The garment has never been washed and it is cotton.