Fading clothes mystery
March 15, 2006 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Why are my darks fading? Is it the washer, dryer, temperature, detergent???

Since we moved and got a new washer dryer, all my clothes are fading and getting beat up quickly. The darks are fading so fast, especially reds and blacks, that new clothes look old in 5 or so washings.

Any ideas?
posted by traderjoefan to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
You might consult this chart from the Soap and Detergent Association, which posits that powdered detergent plus hard water might be the culprit. I prefer powdered detergent myself, as I've had trouble with some of the other items on that list, namely blue stains and greasy stains on my clothes.
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:54 AM on March 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Use detergent like Cheer Dark or Woolite Dark
Wash all dark clothes together.
Make sure it is on cold wash and rinse.
Wash on the delicate cycle.
Dry on the delicate cycle.

I've kept all my blacks, and there's a lot of them, pristine this way.
posted by pieoverdone at 9:13 AM on March 15, 2006

Don't bother with tumble drying on a low temp/gentle cycle. Invest in a clothesrack and hang your duds.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:18 AM on March 15, 2006

Also, you can turn dark items like jeans inside-out when washing.

Did you know that cleaners were originally called dyers/cleaners and clothes were re-dyed rather than cleaned?

You would buy a light suit and dye it progressively darker until you had a black suit.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:27 AM on March 15, 2006

pieoverdone nails it,---- there is this, amusing but not helpful google video
posted by hortense at 9:28 AM on March 15, 2006

Heat will fade darks. Check that your washing machine is giving you hot water on the hot setting, etc. My parent's washer was hooked up backwards and rinsed everything in hot water! I am sure a hotter dryer would have the same effect. Also, gas dryers are known for wearing clothes faster than electric.

If you moved far, the water and/or detergent formulation may differ. My mother swears that when we moved from Texas to Florida in the 70's she had a much harder time getting our clothes clean with the same brand of detergent.
posted by kgn2507 at 9:48 AM on March 15, 2006

The new washer is indeed "new," or just new to you?

When we moved into our house, the old washer that came with it was really hard on our clothes, it was almost like it was scrubbing them with rocks. We ended up bouying a front loader thats particularly easy on our clothes.

Another possibility, could the hot water in your new place be hotter than it was in your old place?
posted by Good Brain at 9:57 AM on March 15, 2006

As Good Brain kind of said, top loading machines are much harsher on clothes than front loading ones. Use the delicate cycle whenever you can. Unless you're washing diapers, towels, or seriously filthy clothes, anything more than a cold delicate wash is total overkill.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:19 AM on March 15, 2006

You might have more chlorine in your water at the new place.
posted by tomierna at 11:17 AM on March 15, 2006

I had a pair of dark jeans that I couldn't stop from fading, I'd wash with Cheer Dark, use cold water, gentle cycle, and line dry. But it didn't matter, they just kept getting lighter and lighter. Then I got a new pair and actually read the washing instructions, which said to dry the jeans on the 'hot' setting. Six months later they remain pristine.

The only thing I can think of is that somehow drying on a high temperature helped fix the dye -- much like drying stained clothes on a high temperature can prevent stains from washing out. So if you're already trying everbody else's advice and things are still fading, maybe try drying them on the hot setting. YMMV, of course.
posted by dseaton at 11:28 AM on March 15, 2006

One time, I washed a pair of black Levi's in a washer with soft water. After drying them, I couldn't believe the difference it made. They looked almost brand new. It would seem hard water really adds to the dingy faded look.

Also, I always hang-dry my jeans now and it makes a world of difference. I used to have to buy new black jeans at least once per year. I've had my current batch for almost three years now and they still look relatively new.

Obviously, you can't hang-dry all your clothes so maybe looking into a water softener would be an option.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:32 AM on March 15, 2006

Cheer Dark is really fun to say, sounding oxymoronic. It also keeps my black/navy/gray clothes nice and dark. I'm also careful to never do an all-white load before a Very Dark load, otherwise the lint is a problem.
posted by theora55 at 11:54 AM on March 15, 2006

Most detergents contain additives which "brighten" colors. They do this with compounds of Titanium Dioxide (the color in toothpaste and white paint) which are left on the fabric after washing. Needless to say, this effect is the same for dark colors. The "Dark color detergents" leave these compounds out of the formulation.

Fabric softeners work by coating the fibers with a thin layer of soap. That soap will discolor dark fabrics.

Some detergents contain water softening compounds, whose effect is to precipitate the salts which cause the hard water. Those precipitates can leave a visible layer on dark fabrics. Built-in water softening equipment filters these precipitates out.
posted by RMALCOLM at 1:57 PM on March 15, 2006

Obviously, you can't hang-dry all your clothes

This is not at all obvious to me. I hang-dry all mine. I prefer hanging them up outside, but have enough racks to do two large loads indoors if necessary.

On hot days, it's actually really nice to have a rack of cool damp washing sitting under the ceiling fan.
posted by flabdablet at 3:20 PM on March 15, 2006

From my gothier days, I can tell you that sunlight, washers, dryers, and sweat will fade black clothes.

Solution: never go out into the light, never do anything physically demanding enough to sweat, and always wear top+bottom underclothes so you hardly need to wash your duds. When you do, hang dry them indoors. Listening to Bauhaus while doing laundry is optional.

Goth fashion leads to the goth lifestyle, not vice versa.
posted by lemur at 3:41 PM on March 15, 2006

OK. So... yes, this is a new washer and dryer and top loading (my last one was not.) It sounds like these are my problems:

1. I use the normal setting (hot/cold) for practically everything. I will now use the delicate cycle for the darks which are usually my fancy things anyway. I will use cold.

2. I was using fabric softener sheets for darks too. I will stop doing that.

3. I already started drying at lower temperatures (sorry, folks, no hanging.) I will continue to do this.

4. I did use Tide brightening on darks! I will go and get the Cheer.

5. I may very well have hard water... you think my clothes are bad, you should see my hair, but that's another story.

hortense: I did NOT need to see this. Only in Italy!

schoolgirl report: this chart is great! I also have oily stains on my darks ocassionally. Damn you, dryer sheets!
posted by traderjoefan at 7:02 PM on March 16, 2006

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