10 ways to remove colour run from your washing

Disaster! Damn that sock/shirt/towel that has just turned your linen bed sheets into a tie-dye attempt that should have stayed in the 70's.

I'm not saying I can guarantee how to remove colour bleeds from your washing. But here are the most recommended remedies to get dye from clothes out of your bed sheets.

But before we start...

Washing a stain is a pain

Before we start, it will help if you understand how it happens. 

Colours hold onto fabrics through a colour fixer or 'mordant'. The quality of the colour and the effectiveness of the colour fixer are different for different fabrics and different methods of production. 

No single colour should technically run more or less than others, but reds and indigos seem to be harder to fix than other colours. 

Some fabrics will bleed in hot water if the colour fixer is affected by heat. 

Also, the hot water opens up natural fibres increasing the opportunity for the colour to run. Alternatively, colours in fabrics will run at a later stage as the colour fastener wears down from washing. 

So it is best to wash in cool or cold water, and keep colours, whites and darks separate, and to wash any suspicious new fabrics by themselves initially.

But the real question here is how do you fix a colour run in your washing?

Tip 1: Get on top of it

No, don't jump up and down on it screaming. But don’t leave those bed linens in the laundry sink either. Just like red wine on the carpet, tackle these stains early. Oh yes, and whatever you do, avoid drying them in the dryer or re-washing them in hot water.

Tip 2: Identify the culprit

Is it one sock that stained your sheets, or did a pair sneak in? Is it two different shirts? It is best to separate colours from whites before you wash. 

Make sure you identify all of the non-colourfast items before you try to rectify the situation if this hasn't happened.

This is just the reason why I like to have lots of the one colour - partucularly in bedding or bathroom towels and other linen. Its easier to see the the culprit.

Tip 3: Divide and conquer

Separate the laundry sheets and clothes and any other linens that happen to be in there. Identify any sheets or pillowcases that aren't affected. Perhaps it’s just the side or corner of your flat sheet that needs saving.

Run an empty wash cycle through your washing machine first, to make sure there isn’t any residual colour in the machine.

Re-wash the un-affected clothes with some of the following de-stainers to guarantee they are unaffected by any residual colour.

Tip 4: Bleach and wash

Use non-chlorine, oxygen-based bleach on the affected bed sheets or linen while the laundry is still wet. Use the bleach in cold water, and combine with regular laundry detergent in a wash.

The top two oxygen-based bleach on the market according to ranker are Bio-Clean and Oxiclean. I use the Aussie brand Sard Wonder Power.

Be careful when using this method as you may find other colours are affected by the bleach, and your clothes or linen come out worse than the stain you are trying to fix.

Tip 5: Use a commercial colour remover

I have had to use a commercial colour remover twice in my laundry lifetime, and the first worked very successfully. The second time wasn’t so successful. I think it was just too much material for the remover.

So make sure you are generous with the colour remover. Buy two or more, as you should only need to clean it once. My favourite is Dylon SOS Colour Run Remover. It even comes in a pack of six. Sard now have a pack too.

The product reviews remain quite polarised. We think trying everything is better than trying nothing.

Tip 6: Vinegar (not with bi-carb soda)

Firstly, we want to point out that equal parts of white vinegar and sodium bicarbonate seem to be a favourite recommendation in the online world.

However, we recommend that you do not use them together. Their chemical compositions neutralise each other out when combined. It’s a little technical, but here is a good explanation of the science behind it

White vinegar on its own can be used, and the general recommendation is to use a cup of vinegar in your washing and wash as usual. Alternatively, leave the stained sheets to soak in laundry liquid and vinegar.

If anyone has had real-life results from this remedy, we would love to hear the details from you.

Tip 7: Dishwashing liquid and scrub

Another favourite for grease stains (and stains in general) is to use regular dishwashing liquid in concentrate form, scrubbing ‘on the grain’ with a scrubber. Scrub with a regular scrubbing brush or a toothbrush for spots.

A word of warning with this one. The reason this method seems to get stains out of your washing is that you are pushing a degreaser into the strands of fabric. This will, to some extent, damage the fabric.

However, I think you will agree that slightly worn fabric in one or two areas is better than a rainbow display on your white linen pillowcases.

I like this one and it does work. But be warned. When you get enthusiastic with it, there thends to be too much bubble action - and too many suds when you do put it back in the washing machine.

I will scrub with my nails and my envorionmentally frienly washing liquid, and somtimes even combined with Sard (the prestain remover one) in smaller areas - particularly on kids clothes. 

I have had some success on small stains on sheets, but this just isnt practical for large scale infiltration on bedding or towels, or a whole wash of work shirts.

Tip 8: Don’t give up (the big guns)

It you dont have time, and your head hurts from pulling your hair out, skip to  tip 9. Otherwise....

Keep at this. Use a commercial soaker like nappy san, or any of the above overnight, or the best part of a week.

It may need to soak for more a couple of days, or use several different methods mentioned in this post.

Unfortunately reversing a colour leak can take a lot longer to remedy than it does to create.

I have been known to try the above and my more domesticated sisters seem to be very successful with this one. But I just dont have the time or the patience, or evern the time to try for the patience. Thats why I like the next tip the best.

Tip 9: Bleach Baby! (the real big guns)

Warning - this is not for everyone. But....

If you are on a time limit and need to make the bed because Aunt Betty is coming to stay, or you have exhausted all of the above options, then consider adding your regular household bleach to your washing. You know, the Demestos in the cupboard.

Yep - this is one of the reasons why I use all white sheets and towels in my Airbnbs - because I may have to bleach those 'holiday stains'....

The only thing I have found this doesnt work on is rust. Go figure.

I just put it in undiluted like regular washing liquid in my front loader.

Do you dare to try it slightly diluted and mixed very well with some water on other colours? I would love to know your results. 

I now have a lot of spotted light grey towels and two-tone tea towels because I got too enthusiastic with this; but this works equally well on socks, shirts, underware or anything in the wash that was white. 

Tip 10: Prevention is better than cure

You probably don’t want to hear this again, but prevention is better than cure.

It is best to wash colours separately to your whites and darks. Also, hot water tends to compromise the colour fastener of some materials, so washing in cool to cold water will be better for your sheets in many ways.

This is also what we recommend for our natural fabric bedding. Our fabric care recommendations can be found here for linen and here for bamboo.

Good Luck!