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Submitted by Lorene Bartos, UNL Extension Educator

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Do the following terms cause you concern when it's laundry time? "Wash in Ice Cold Water"; "Color May Wash Down"; "Color Rubs Off"; "Designed to Bleed"; "Do Not Use Detergent"; "Turn Inside Out to Launder"; "Wash Before Wear" or "Use Cold Water". When these terms appear on a garment's care label, it is a clue the dye may not be stable.

Garments with unstable dyes may fade or run under certain conditions, causing damage to the garment itself or to items laundered with it. These conditions can include abrasion, long soaking time, hot water, use of bleach on some stains or pre-treating products.

If there are no warnings on the label, it is probably safe to assume the fabric is colorfast. The "colorfast" means the fabric retains its original hue without fading or running and can be satisfactorily washed. However, that does not mean it's safe to mix colorfast fabrics in with any type of wash load.

Almost all new fabrics contain a small amount of excess dye that can come off during the first few washing and/or wearings. Any new, colored garment should be washed before it is worn. For this wash, and the next few washing, launder it with like-color garments.

Some colorfast fabrics contain dyes that will transfer to the wash load every time the fabric is washed. This can occur even if the fabric itself does not lose color. Bright red or orange dyes on cotton fabrics are a particular problem.

Color loss can occur immediately after the first wash. Or, dyes can remain stable for several washing, and then suddenly fade. Or, the fading can occur gradually each time the garment is washed. The latter occurrence is referred to as wash-down.

Even the choice of detergent can influence color loss. To an effective laundry detergent, an unstable dye is the same as loose soil -- it washes both of them away. The better the detergent performs, the more loose soil and/or dye it removes.

On cotton fabrics, certain types of bright red, yellow and blue dyes can be completely removed if they come in contact with liquid household bleach. If a color safe (oxygen) bleach comes into contact with certain dyes, especially those used to create turquoise, olive and rust colors on cottons, it can cause spots of color to disappear.

Blue Jeans that Have fadedSome dyes, especially the blue dyes that are used in cotton jeans, come off when the fabric rubs against other things. This is why jeans sometimes lose their color along seam lines and garment edges. If jeans rub up against the washing machine's agitator post during laundering, streaks may appear where the color has rubbed off. For this reason, some manufacturers recommend turning their blue jeans inside out before washing.

In addition to following the care label direction, consumers can take certain precautions to avoid color loss. All laundry products should be used according to the package directions. As a general rule, always add detergent to the washing machine first, add the water and then the clothes.

To determine the sensitivity of a dye to a laundry product, the Soap and Detergent Association suggests diluting two tablespoons of the product in a cup of warm water. Soak an unexposed area of the garment in this solution for 20 minutes. OR, apply a pre-treatment product directly to an inconspicuous area of the garment. Rinse in warm water and air-dry. If the color changes or runs, try another type of product. Also try water alone. If the latter removes color, you may want to return the item to the store. Dry cleaning is a possibility but it does not guarantee the color will not fade or run.

The often asked question is "How can I set the dye in fabric?" Will soaking the item in vinegar or salt water work. Research shows there is no guaranteed way to set the dye. The important thing to do is read the care label and follow the instructions.

Laundry needn't be a fear, if one reads the care labels and follows directions.

Ask Lorene

(This resource was updated May 21, 2008 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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