How To Remove Color Bleeding Stains From Clothes

Color bleeding stains can be frustrating to deal with. You wash a red shirt with your whites and suddenly everything is pink! Or a blue jeans leaves hints of indigo on your favorite white tee. While there are some stains that are impossible to remove completely, you can often salvage clothes that have bled color onto other items. With a little bit of effort and the right techniques, you can get rid of most bleeding stains and save your clothes.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about color bleeding stains and how to remove them. We will go over what causes the stains, the best methods for pretreatment, recommended wash cycles, advice for avoiding stains in the first place, and much more. With the information in this article, you will have the knowledge to banish those pesky bleeding stains from your laundry for good.

Remove Color Bleeding Stains From Clothes

What Causes Color Bleeding in Clothes?

Before we can tackle removing stains, it helps to understand what causes them in the first place. There are a few key factors that lead to color bleeding from clothes:

  • Dye transfer – Certain types of dye, especially cheaper versions, are more prone to running than higher quality dyes. When these dyes are exposed to water, friction, or other factors, they can easily rub off from clothes onto other items. Natural dyes like those made from turmeric, berries, and tea tend to bleed more than synthetic versions.
  • Fabric content – Some fabrics are more prone to releasing dye when washed. Rayon, modal, viscose and other semi-synthetics are especially prone to bleeding. On the other hand, natural fibers like cotton, linen, and wool hold onto dye better than synthetics. Silk can go either way.
  • Wash temperature – Hot water encourages dye to escape from clothing and spread onto other items in the wash. Cold water is less likely to cause bleeding issues.
  • Detergent – Aggressive detergents with added enzymes and bleaches can strip dye from fabrics, while gentler formulas are safer for keeping dyes locked in.
  • Wash cycle settings – High spin speeds combined with lack of pre-dissolving detergent can force dye out of fabrics quickly. More delicate cycles tend to produce less dye transfer.

So in summary, cheaper dyes, semi-synthetic fabrics, hot water, harsh detergents and rough wash cycles are prime conditions for color bleeding. Being aware of these factors can help you prevent issues down the line.

How to Pretreat Color Bleeding Stains

If you’ve already encountered color bleeding stains on your clothes, pretreating is crucial for getting the stains out. Pretreating involves applying a stain-removing product directly to the stain before washing to help lift it during the wash cycle.

Here are some of the best pretreating methods for bleeding stains:

  • Vinegar – White vinegar or apple cider vinegar work. Spray full-strength vinegar directly on stain and let sit for 10-15 minutes before laundering. The acid in the vinegar will help stop dye spread and lift stains.
  • Lemon juice – Like vinegar, the citric acid in lemon juice can help curb bleeding and remove leftover dye particles. Let juice-soaked stains sit for about 15 minutes before washing.
  • Color catchers/stripping sheets – These absorbent sheets are designed to attract loose dye in the wash water before it can redeposit on fabrics. Toss them directly in the wash on top of clothes along with detergent.
  • Salt – Make a thick paste with table salt and warm water and coat heavily on the stain. Let sit for up to an hour; the salt will help draw out and absorb excess dye. Rinse paste away thoroughly before washing.
  • Oxygen bleach spray – Bleach alternative sprays like OxiClean that contain sodium percarbonate can help lift set-in stains safely. Spray over stain, let sit 15 mins – 1 hour, then launder as usual.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – This bleaching agent can also be applied directly to set stains to help remove leftover dye particles. Always test first on an inconspicuous area for color safety.
  • Dish soap – For light stains, rubbing a few drops of Dawn or other dish soap into the fabric before washing may be enough to lift and emulsify the bleeding dye residue.

Following up pretreating with the right wash cycle and detergent is also key, which we’ll cover next. But pretreating stains ahead of time will give you the best chance of removal.

Recommended Pretreatment Products

  • Carbona Color Grabber Sheets, $4.99 – Pack of 20 sheets to attract loose dye in wash
  • OxiClean Max Force Spray – $19.97 for 32 oz. oxygen bleach spray
  • Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover – $14.97 enzyme-based spray pretreat

Washing Items with Color Bleeding Stains

After pretreating stains, the next step is choosing the right wash cycle and settings to avoid more bleeding while removing what’s left of the stain. Here are some tips:

  • Wash in cold water – Hot water just makes bleeding worse, so use the coldest setting safe for the fabrics. Lukewarm water also risks more dye transfer.
  • Extra rinse cycle – An additional rinse ensures all detergent and loose dye is removed, preventing redepositing on clothes.
  • Low or no spin – High spin speeds can force out more dye as fabrics rub together. Use a delicate, casual, or handwash cycle with slow/no spin.
  • Add salt to the wash – A 1⁄2 to 1 cup of table salt in the load can help grab dye molecules and keep them from spreading to other items.
  • Wash problem garments separately – Washing bleeding items alone prevents transfer of dye to other clothes in the load.
  • Hand wash if needed – For bleeding stains on delicates and handwash-only fabrics, hand washing gently in cold water is safest.

The best wash cycle for bleeding stains avoids any heat, uses extra rinses, eliminates or slows spin speed, and keeps the bleeding items isolated in their own load. Follow these guidelines and stains will have no chance to spread further in the wash.

Choosing the Right Laundry Detergent

Detergent is also an important factor in conquering color bleeding stains. You want a formula that avoids excessive agitation but still effectively removes stains. Here are some ideal options:

  • Liquid detergents – These are typically gentler than powder versions, producing fewer suds that can strip dye. Look for clear, dye-free formulas.
  • Sensitive skin/hypoallergenic formulas – Made for not aggravating skin, these are also very gentle on dyes and fabrics.
  • Non-bio/gentle cleansers – These contain less enzymes and chemicals than standard detergents, so are less abrasive on dyes.
  • Color-protecting detergents – Specifically designed to prevent dye loss and bleeding. Great for problem fabrics.
  • Mild baby detergent – Extra gentle on fabrics and dyes while still effective at dirt removal. Safe for delicate clothes.

Avoid powdered detergents, heavily perfumed formulas, extended release beads/capsules, and anything with added bleaches or optical brighteners. Read labels and select a gentle, dye-friendly liquid detergent for best stain removal results.

Recommended Dye-Friendly Detergents

  • Tide Free and Gentle Liquid – $14.97 for 75oz
  • Seventh Generation Sensitive Skin – $15.49 for 45oz
  • Dreft Stage 1 Baby Detergent – $19.99 for 150oz

Using Laundry Additives

For really stubborn bleeding stains, you can also incorporate laundry additives into your wash routine. Here are some options:

  • White vinegar – Helps prevent redepositing of dye and aids stain removal. Use 1/4 to 1/2 cup per load.
  • Borax – Alkalizing water helps lock in dye. Add 1/8 to 1/4 cup to wash water.
  • Washing soda – Removes tough stains. Use 1/4 to 1/2 cup per load.
  • Baking soda – Mildly abrasive to help lift stains and brighten laundry. Add 1/4 cup.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – Helps remove set-in stains. Add 1/2 cup of 3% solution to wash.
  • Color catcher sheets – Absorb and trap dye released in the wash. Use 2-4 sheets per load.

Combining these additives with delicate detergent and the right wash settings can provide extra stain-fighting power on severe color bleed issues. Just take care using additives on delicates and test first in an inconspicuous area.

Recommended Laundry Boosters

  • Arm & Hammer Washing Soda – $13.97 for 55oz box
  • RIT Dye Magnet Booster – $7.47 for 5oz pouch
  • Carbona Color Grabber Sheets – $4.99 for 20 sheets

Laundry Tips to Prevent Bleeding

The best way to handle color bleeding stains is to prevent them in the first place! Here are some laundry tips to avoid ended up with pink socks and other dye disasters:

  • Wash new colored items separately – Brand new dark items especially may bleed excess dye the first few washes.
  • Sort by color – Always wash lights, mediums, and darks in separate loads. Similar colors won’t bleed onto each other as much.
  • Turn clothes inside out – This prevents abrasion during washing that can pull dye from clothes onto other items.
  • Soak new items in vinegar – Before washing, soak new colorful clothes in cold water + 1 cup vinegar for 30 minutes.
  • Use color catcher sheets – Throw these in new loads of darks or fabrics prone to bleeding as a preventive measure.
  • Wash with fabric softener – Softeners coat fabrics to help dyes stay locked in place during washing.
  • Buy higher quality clothing – Better dyes and fabrics hold color better. You get what you pay for with clothes.

Following fabric care instructions is also vital. If an item says wash separately or in cold water only, take that guidance seriously to avoid headaches.

Can You Prevent All Color Bleeding?

While it is possible to avoid most color transfer issues with proper laundry practices, some bleeding may still occasionally occur even with the most dye-stable fabrics. Very cheap dyes and fabrics just will not hold up to repeated washing cycles as well. In these cases, you may not be able to salvage the stained item no matter what you try. Don’t be surprised if budget clothing eventually bleeds after multiple wears and washes. Higher quality clothes really do save hassle in the long run when it comes to keeping colors vibrant and preventing stains.

For best results preventing stains, look for natural fiber, high quality clothing with dark, colorfast dyes. Always check fabric care instructions and launder according to guidelines. And know your wardrobe – if an item has bled previously, wash it separately going forward. Follow these rules, and you will avoid the majority of color bleed issues with your laundry.

When to Call in a Professional

For most bleeding stains, with enough effort you can typically restore clothes to a wearable state, if not completely pristine. However, if you encounter a severe case of dye bleeding that has ruined an entire load of laundry, or left obvious splotches or discoloration behind, the best move may be to call in a professional.

Dry cleaners and laundry services that specialize in stain removal have heavy duty tools at their disposal beyond what you can achieve at home. This includes:

  • Commercial ozone chambers to oxidize stains
  • Industrial steamers and high heat pressing
  • Concentrated chemical stain removing agents too harsh for consumer use

Professionals also have the benefit of experience dealing with every type of stain imaginable. A laundry pro can assess the fabrics involved and whether permanent discoloration has occurred, and let you know if the items can be salvaged or not.

For valuable, special occasion outfits, or sentimental bleeding-stained garments, utilizing professional stain removal may be worth the investment. Prices vary based on garment type and stain severity, but can range from $10 for a simple shirt up to $100+ for delicate fabrics like wedding dresses that require extensive treatment.


Dealing with color bleeding stains in laundry can be endlessly frustrating. But armed with the right knowledge, you can overcome most incidences of dye transfer and rescue your clothes. Use color catchers, prewash stained items with pretreatments, avoid hot water, choose gentle detergents, add laundry boosters and wash problem items separately. Follow proper laundry guidelines for new items prone to bleeding.

While you may occasionally lose the battle with bleeding stains, implementing these tips will help you win the war overall and keep your whites white and colors vibrant load after load. With some strategic planning and the stain removal methods covered here, you can eliminate the dye disasters and washed-out wardrobe fails.

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As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.

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