Save my Shirts!
June 13, 2006 8:22 AM   Subscribe

How can I stop the color from disappearing from t-shirts?

Pretty much every light blue and light grey t-shirt I've ever owned has lost color, first in splotchy patches that eventually grow to consume the entire shirt. It looks kind of like I spilled bleach on them -- except I didn't -- so I can only assume the dye has somehow reacted with my sweat or something. Or maybe it somehow washed out of the clothing, I don't really know what's happened. This whole process usually takes only a few washes and wears. This happens regardless of how careful I am to follow laundering instructions, wash in cold water, etc.

I like these colors, and I'd like to keep wearing things that are these colors, so I'm wondering if anybody has any advice on how to treat these shirts to protect the dye and prevent this from happening.
posted by dseaton to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
you've mentioned that you follow the laundering instructions but just in case here is what i do, as passed to me by my dear mum:
1. tum the shirts inside out before putting the in the machine.
2. use the "delicate" fibers program on the machine.
3. be gentle on the washing powder.
4. get the shirts out of the machine as soon as it is done with the process.
5. hang them to dry on one of those in-doors racks (direct sun will wreak havoc on the colours).
posted by sierra13 at 8:40 AM on June 13, 2006

Try a different washing detergent? Perhaps the one you are currently using isn't the most gentle and/or it has some bleaching agents. It may, I suppose, also be the chemical makeup of your water. And a different detergent might work better with your water. I suffered little to no color loss with All Free and Clear before moving to Charlie's Soap (I was getting bugged by even the amount of odor in All, but that's neither here nor there).

The way you describe the patches does sound like some sort of bleach. Do you like eating/using a lot of lemons or pure lemon juice? It's acidic enough to bleach colors out of a lot of fabrics.
posted by skynxnex at 8:58 AM on June 13, 2006

make sure you use cold water.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:10 AM on June 13, 2006

I've also been told that you should soak new clothes in a sink full of cold water and a cup of white vinegar before you wash them for the first time. That's supposed to help color retention.
posted by andifsohow at 9:50 AM on June 13, 2006

An old roommate in college always added vinegar to the machine when washing her jeans and teeshirts (in cold water), so they wouldn't fade. I can't remember if she had an exact amount -- maybe a cup for a large load?
posted by penchant at 9:52 AM on June 13, 2006

Definitely don't use bleach or detergent with bleach or other harsh cleaning agents. Get Tide Free, All Free and Clear, Woolite or another of the hypoallergenic liquid laundry detergents. That's about the gentlest—while still being effective—thing you can use to clean your clothes.

If you use those, you should be able to use the normal cycle with warm water. As you noted, hot water isn't good—it can strip too much color from clothes. But warm water should be an acceptable medium. Don't use powder—it has a tendency to clump and wash clothes unevenly, and possibly even abrade fabric in cases.

And definitely do as sierra13 notes above and turn your shirts inside-out before washing. Keep them inside-out when you put them in the dryer—that way any printing or the outside of the fabric can't come in contact with the super-hot surface of the dryer drum and melt or fade.

In addition, when you take your shirts and other clothes out of the washer, shake the wrinkles out before putting them in the dryer. That probably sounds inconsequential, but a lot of the problems people experience with wear and tear on clothes have to do with wrinkles in the wash getting too tight and out of hand. There have been previous AskMefi threads addressing clothing damage from just that. If your clothes are shrivelled little balls after a tough washing, throwing them in the dryer that way will in many cases just "burn in" the deep wrinkles, which will wear out the fabric and any printing on it very quickly (and make it so you have to spend extra time ironing your clothes, which will definitely hasten the wearing-out process).
posted by limeonaire at 9:59 AM on June 13, 2006

(1) Cold water only. Always.
(2) Inside out.
(3) No dryer ever (heat breaks down the pigments). If you must use the dryer use low setting.
(4) Never hang in the sunlight to dry -- I just throw them over the shower curtain rod to dry.
(5) For black and navy clothes, you may want to get Woolite for Darks.
posted by GIRLesq at 10:51 AM on June 13, 2006

P.S. the vinegar trick only works with certain dyes. It's really for new clothes -- you don't need to do it every time.
posted by GIRLesq at 10:52 AM on June 13, 2006

This might sound trivial, but try putting the detergent in before the clothes and mixing it with the water first. That way you eliminate any chance for the detergent to 'clump' or unevenly settle on the clothing.
posted by deceptiv at 1:03 PM on June 13, 2006

Is your water heavily chlorinated? That could be having a bleaching effect on your clothing.

This water test kit includes a chlorine test:

This link: says the level of chlorine they put into water shouldn't be a problem for most modern dyes, but I've had tap water with so much chlorine in it that I could taste it, which seems like it could be a problem.
posted by IvyMike at 1:50 PM on June 13, 2006

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