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How to Wash Colored Clothes

I’m always worried when I wash colored clothes. There’s always a chance that the color will fade. Or I’ll end up with splodges of color from another garment. Is there a way to safeguard my colored laundry? How do you wash colored clothes?

Check the care label of the colored garment to determine if it is washable. Next, sort it into a pile of garments with similar colors. Make sure they are all washable at the same temperature. Wash the clothes with a laundry detergent specifically formulated for colored garments. Avoid chlorine bleach and optical brighteners, as these could dull the colors.

In this article, you’ll learn how to wash colored clothes. Discover how to avoid color bleed accidents and keep your colors bright.

How to Wash Colored Clothes

Why Do Colored Clothes Need Special Care in the Laundry?

The reason colored clothes need a touch of tender loving care in the laundry is the way the color is added. Fabrics don’t naturally come in a range of colors. Not even synthetic ones. They have to be dyed in different shades. Or they have color added during the manufacturing process.

Fabric dyes can be susceptible to fading, particularly when the garment is exposed to sunlight or washed using the wrong water temperature.

Although it’s unlikely your polyester top will fade in the washing machine, your cotton t-shirt might. As the garment gets wet, the fibers in the t-shirt relax and move away from each other. This movement is imperceptible to the human eye. But a minuscule gap is all dye needs to break its bond with the fabric and slip out to the freedom of the water.

When this happens, it’s known as a color bleed or color run. Usually, the cause is having the water temperature too hot for the garment to stand. Hot water helps the fibers relax more, leading to more dye escaping.

Synthetic fabrics aren’t immune to the dreaded color loss. They just lose it in different ways. As the color is embedded into the fibers when they are made, it won’t come out in the wash. It’s part of the fabric. However, synthetics like nylon and polyester can fade in direct sunlight.

Tumble dryers can cause fading too. Have you noticed that the dryer filter collects fluff after each drying cycle? It’s like a little rainbow of color that acts as a reminder of the clothes you dried. That fluff is lint and it’s also the fibers of your clothing coming away from your garment.

Machine drying your clothes is a damaging process for some textiles. The loss of lint and fiber integrity means a reduction in the overall brightness of your garment’s color.

Washing the colored clothes with the wrong laundry detergent can also lead to color fading. Some detergents contain bleach and fabric softeners. While the bleach can strip color from the fabric, a softener can add a layer of chemicals across the surface. This layer can make colors appear duller than they should be.

When washing colored clothes, it pays to know what fabric you are dealing with. Treating it in the laundry room will determine if your colors stay sharp and bright. Or fade to dull and gray.

How to Wash Colored Clothes

Washing Colored Clothes

Washing colored clothes takes a little bit of planning. There are some things you need to find out about your garment before you get it anywhere near the washing machine.

The first thing you need to find out is if the garment is washable or not. Trying to wash a dry clean only garment will end in tears, regardless of its color. Sometimes manufacturers say dry clean a garment because they know it will suffer a major loss of color if it is washed.

Next, you need to find out the correct temperature for the garment. You can’t wash colored garments that need a cold wash with ones that can stand a warmer dip. Nor can you machine wash a hand wash only item. Put both cold wash and hand wash garments to one side.

This step-by-step guide will help you navigate your way through a color wash. Follow these tips to ensure your colored clothes survive the laundry. Please note that these steps are for washable garments only. Dry clean garments should be taken to a professional cleaner.

You will need:

  • Several laundry baskets
  • Your colored clothes
  • Washing machine
  • Laundry detergent suitable for colored garments

Step 1
Sort your laundry according to color. Use different laundry baskets for light colors, dark colors, and white clothes. Light clothing includes pastel shades of blue, green, yellow, and pink. Dark colors can be dark blue, dark green, and brown. Have a separate laundry basket for reds as you’ll need to wash them separately from any other color. Black should also have a basket of its own.

Step 2
You can work with whichever color you like first. Just don’t mix them. Keep like colors together, so you wash blues with blues and yellow with different shades. I’m going to focus on yellow for this guide, but the steps are the same for any color.

Check the care label to determine the temperature at which each item can be washed. Put cold wash items and hand wash items in one pile. Have another pile for clothes that can be washed in warm water and another for hot water items. If any label says, “not colorfast,” put it in a pile on its own. You’ll need to wash that separately.

Step 3
You should have at least one pile of yellow garments that can be washed in a similar setting. Next, check the fiber content. Refer to the care label on the garment. You don’t want to wash a yellow fleece sweatshirt with anything that sheds lint. If you do, your sweatshirt will come out of the machine, looking like it has been in a yellow blizzard.

Step 4
Program your washing machine to a temperature suitable for a load of laundry you are washing. Choose a gentle cycle to protect the fibers in your colored clothes. Add the right amount of detergent by matching the dosage on the packaging to the dirt level of your washing. Make sure you use a laundry detergent specifically formulated for colored clothing.

Step 5
Turn your laundry items inside out and add them to the machine. Make sure they are all separate and not tangled together. Start the machine and come back when the cycle has ended. Remove each item and give it a little shake to untangle it from other items and lessen the chance of wrinkles.

Check the garment care label once more. If it says, the garment can be machine dried, put it in the dryer on a low heat setting. The lower temperature will help preserve the color of your garment. Otherwise, air dry the clothing on an external clothesline or internal clothes rack.

Step 6
Repeat the above steps for all the other color piles in your laundry room. When drying dark clothes, avoid the dryer and air dry them outside. Keep them out of direct sunlight, as the sun can fade dark colors.

What Causes Colors to Fade?

The colors of your clothing can fade naturally over time. It’s due to the number of times the item is washed and how often you wear the garment. How you wash your colored clothes also makes a difference. If they are washed incorrectly, they may fade.

In this section, we’ll look at the three main causes of color fading. Although it’s not always possible to prevent colors from fading, these tips will help keep your colors bright for longer.

Color Bleed

A color bleed or run happens when the dye is released from the clothing. As the garment gets wet, the water encourages the fibers to part, and dye leaks through the gaps. It floats out into the surrounding water and either soaks into other garments or gets washed away.

The more color bleeds out of your clothing, the more faded it will look. Color bleeds are annoying on two levels. Not just the fact your garment has lost its vibrance, but the color can stain other garments in the wash with it.

Color bleed accidents can be avoided. Always check the garment’s care label to make sure you know what temperature to wash it at. Too hot water is one of the main causes of color bleed.

If your clothing doesn’t have a care label, wash the colored garment in a cold or hand wash. This will ensure minimal bleed and no other garments will be affected.

For new colored garments, always assume they will bleed color and wash them separately. That way, if your gut instinct is right and they do bleed, only the wash water will pick up the color.

Exposure to Sunlight

Sunlight is both good and bad for clothes. It can dry clothes naturally and kill any nasty bacteria that can cause smells. But, it can also fade colors.

The reason is that the sun is a natural bleaching agent. Dark clothes like blacks and dark browns are particularly susceptible to fading caused by the sun. This is due to the composition of the dyes used to achieve those colors. It’s also because, being darker, the fading is more obvious.

Although colored clothes will dry better on a sunny day with a light breeze, make sure their exposure to direct sun is limited. If your clothesline is located in an unshaded area, keep the drying time to a minimum. The less chance sunlight has to hit your colored clothes head-on, the less they will fade.

Better still, dry your clothes inside your home. That way, they get the benefits of air drying without the excessive fading properties of sunlight.

Exposure to Chemicals

Washing colored garments with chemicals can be a recipe for disaster. There are two substances that are particularly damaging to that vibrant splash of color on your favorite shirt. Bleach and optical brighteners.

Although oxygen bleach is considered safe for use on fabric, some darker clothing can suffer from color loss when you use it. Oxygen bleach is hydrogen peroxide based, so it is a less stringent product than its more powerful cousin, chlorine bleach. But, you still need to do a spot test on your garment before you use it.

Chlorine bleach is a definite no when it comes to colored clothes. While true, it will remove stains and colors you don’t want. It’s not fussy about what shades it removes. Those accidental color bleeds are history with chlorine bleach. Unfortunately, so is the color of your garment.

There’s more bad news with bleach. As it works, it can leave white marks behind. So not only does it remove all the color from your garment, but it also stains your clothes.

Optical brighteners are chemicals added to some laundry detergents to boost the brightness of your garments. Unfortunately, although they may deliver on the promise of brighter whites, they can have the opposite effect on colored clothes.

They work by adding a layer of brightening agent across the surface of your garment. It’s known as a fluorescent coating and can boost your garment vibrancy. However, over time this coating can hinder the natural intensity of your dark blue dress, making it look dull and lifeless.

How to Wash Light-Colored Clothes

In some ways, washing light-colored clothes is easier than washing darker shades. There is less dye in them, for one thing, so they have less color to lose. You still need to give them a tender touch in the laundry room.

As with darker clothing, you need to sort them into different shades. Put your pastel yellows, blues, and pinks in separate piles. Just because the dye content is lower, it doesn’t mean they can’t bleed. They can, which is why you should have a separate pile for your white clothing too.

Check your garment’s care label. It will tell you if the item can be washed with other clothing. If it says wash separately, hand wash it on its own for the first wash. That way, you’ll be able to tell if the color will run without damaging any other garment.

Once you have separated all the non-colorfast garments, you should be left with a pile of colorfast items that can be washed together. These should all be lightly colored and may even include garments with stripes or polka dots.

The one thing you should never wash with light-colored clothing is darker garments. Dyes used in dark colors, like brown, black, and even navy blue, are pretty intensive and are attracted to lighter garments like a magnet. Always keep your dark colors away from your light loads. If those cute polka dots are black, don’t wash them with your whites or light-colored clothes.

Before washing in your machine, double-check the water temperature for each item. Make sure they can all be washed at the same heat. Anything needing a lower temperature should be kept out of the load. Washing a garment in water that is too hot is likely to cause a color bleed even if the garment is colorfast.

When you wash lightly colored items, choose a gentle cycle and use a detergent designed for colored garments. This will ensure the colors stay bright and last for longer.

You can dry your light clothing in a dryer or outside on a clothesline. The care label will tell you whether your garment can be tumble-dried. If you use your dryer, keep the heat low, and don’t over-dry the garment. You’ll need to keep your colored clothes out of direct sunlight for external drying. Otherwise, the sun will speed up the fading process.

Can I Wash My New Blue Jeans With My Yellow Hoody?

Yes, if you want your yellow hoody to turn green. Otherwise, no it’s not recommended. It’s not a good idea to wash new blue jeans with your yellow hoody or any other garment.

Because of how they are dyed, color can bleed out of jeans like there is no tomorrow, especially after the first wash. New blue jeans, in particular, are notorious for bleeding dye. Black jeans are similarly problematic in the wash as they also lose excessive color.

Your new jeans should always be washed separately from anything else. Regardless of whether they are the traditional indigo or dyed black, jeans are famous for. Or any other shade, for that matter. One of the endearing qualities of denim is its ability to look faded and worn over time.

That fading process is partly due to the dye seeping out of your jeans and into the wash water. Dye doesn’t like being homeless, so it will look for a garment to leach into. Unfortunately, it won’t return to your jeans. Where’s the fun in that? Nope, it will head straight for your yellow hoodie.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with green hoodies. But, being accidentally dyed green isn’t going to be as attractive as a hoodie intended to be green. For one thing, the dye escaping from your jeans won’t cover your yellow hoodie uniformly. You’ll get green splotches with visible under a layer of yellow.

You bought your hoodie yellow for a reason. Don’t wash it with your new blue jeans to keep it that way. The only things you should wash with blue denim are other blue denim items.

Can I Use Chlorine Bleach on Colored Clothes?

No, using chlorine bleach on colored clothes is not a good idea. Chlorine bleach is excellent for killing germs and is often used for whitening white clothing. You can also use it to remove food stains. But chlorine bleach can’t tell the difference between an icky mustard stain and the color of your shirt.

It will strip any color it comes into contact with. Whether they are color bleed stains, food spills, or the color of your garment. Worse, chlorine bleach can sometimes cause stains. As it works, it can leave behind little patches of white. Technically, these aren’t stains as such. They are where the bleach has removed all of the colors and left a bare space. A bleach spot on your blue shirt isn’t going to look attractive. Nor will it be easy to fix.

Another thing to watch out for with chlorine bleach is your fiber content. Some fabrics are bleach intolerant. Synthetic materials are easily damaged by bleach. It’s not just the color you’re risking by using chlorine bleach. It’s the whole garment!

There isn’t any reason to use chlorine bleach on your laundry. It doesn’t matter what color your clothes are. They can be white, light, or dark. Chlorine bleach has the potential to destroy them. If you must use bleach, look at the garment’s care label first. A little triangle with a cross-through means the item cannot be bleached.

Oxygen bleach is a fabric-friendly alternative. Made from hydrogen peroxide, it is safer to use on most fabrics. Hydrogen peroxide is a lot safer for colored garments as it lacks the harshness of chlorine. Check that little triangle on your care label. You can use oxygen bleach if it has two diagonal lines in the center.

How Often Should You Wash Colored Clothes?

Colored clothes should be washed as often as they need to be. However, that doesn’t mean you have to wash every item of clothing every time you wear it.

The fabric in our clothes goes through the wringer when you wash it. Quite literally, in some cases. A wringer is a traditional device that forces water out of garments under extreme pressure. Modern washing techniques are just as hard on fabric. From the agitating motion of the washing machine, the harsh centrifugal forces from the spin cycle, to the constant tumbling in your dryer. It’s a veritable workout for your laundry.

Unfortunately, your clothes don’t come out of the washing workout with improved abs. Every time you wash your colored garment, the color fades, fibers fray, and it starts looking worse for wear.

To keep your colored clothes, and your white garments, looking newer for longer, don’t wash them too often. You should only wash them when they look dirty or have a noticeable odor. Shirts, chinos, dresses, and sweaters don’t need washing daily.

To freshen up your colored shirt between washes, you can hang it on a clothes hanger on the back of a door. That way, air will flow around and help dispel any lingering smells from the armpit area. You can also hang it on an external clothesline for a refreshing waft in the breeze.

Some colored clothing needs to be washed every time you wear them. Colored underwear and socks need to be washed regularly as they are more likely to get smelly sooner.

The nature of the garments means they are closer to body parts that can harbor bacteria. You should change your underwear and socks daily and make sure they are washed after every wear. They will fade and wear out faster, but they are designed to.

How to Dry Colored Clothes

How to Dry Colored Clothes

Drying colored clothes takes a little care and a bit of thought. Just as white garments can go dingy over time, your colors can fade, especially if you dry them incorrectly.

One of the things that cause colored clothes to lose color is drying them in a dryer. These days most colored garments are dryer friendly, meaning a quick tumble is acceptable. But, you have to follow the directions on the care label.

Leaving your yellow shirt in a dryer for too long will lead to overdrying. Instead of losing moisture, the garment color will fade. You should always make sure dryer time is kept to a minimum and remove your colored garment as soon as the dryer stops.

Similarly, colored items should be dried on low heat. Too much warmth will see those vibrant hues dim and lose their vibrancy.

Be careful what items you put in the dryer together too. New-colored garments can still bleed color even in the dryer. So make sure you don’t put any white garments in there at the same time.

Line drying colored garments is a great way to preserve the item’s integrity and protect the color. You do have to remember to keep darker colors out of direct sunlight, but overall, air drying is a relatively safe option. Better still, they come back inside smelling of fresh air, which can be more pleasing to your nose than laundry detergent.

Best Way to Wash Colored Clothes

Before you wash your colored clothes, check the care label. This will tell you if the garment is washable. You’ll also find out the temperature and washing cycle you should use.

Remember to sort your laundry into piles of similar colors. Then check they can be washed at the same temperature. Make sure to use a laundry detergent designed for colored clothes. This will help protect the colors and keep them vibrant for longer.

If you liked this article, let me know in the comments. Has it helped you avoid color bleed accidents? Are your colored garments staying bright for longer?