Why does washing my colored clothes make them blotchy so often?
August 2, 2006 7:12 AM   Subscribe

What's causing my clothes to occasionally come out of the wash with blotchy spots where the dye has been lightened/removed?

I've noticed that sometimes, my colored clothes come out of the wash with blotches where the dye has been lightened/removed somehow.

Somtimes it seems to happen in sweaty areas (like the neck fold on my turtleneck, turning from camel to a light orange, or the neckline on my summertime shirt), but sometimes it just happens randomly (streaks on the front of my blue t-shirt).

It seems to happen mostly when I use Tide liquid detergent in my parents' washer (not when I use Seventh Generation at the laundromat). If possible I'd like to find a way to work around this while not forcing my parents to purchase a different detergent and not having to lug a thing of Seventh Gen home myself.

Does anyone know why this might be happening? How can I avoid this? I'm losing more shirts than I'd like!
posted by cadge to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have the exact same problem as you. At first I thought it was from my acne cream--it has peroxide in it so it may cause bleaching. But supposedly it's also caused by adding the detergent last. The correct way is to start running the water, add the detergent, then put the clothes on top of it. This will prevent the pure detergent from sitting too long on the clothing and causing fading.
posted by Anonymous at 7:23 AM on August 2, 2006

This sounds like a problem with bleach in the washer along with over-stuffing the poor machine. There are several flavors of Tide, some of which have bleachy stuff in them. You might be up against one of those.

Would not a (partial) solution be to lug a thing of Seventh Gen home once and leave it there? It's not as though it takes up a ton of space.

Also: don't stuff the washer. Unlike laundromat machines, most residential washers do extremely poorly under such conditions.
posted by majick at 7:24 AM on August 2, 2006

There could be some left over bleach in the machine. You might want to add the detergent in first and add water to mix it thoroughly. Follow the wash machine's recommendations as to the quantity of detergent, not the instructions on the side of the detergent. Then add your clothes.
posted by JJ86 at 7:28 AM on August 2, 2006

I had this problem occaisionally in the past, and the above recommendations are spot-on (pun intended).

Let the water run a little while, then add the detergent, then the clothes. Also, I find that using less detergent than the instructions say works just fine, presuming your stuff isn't really filthy. Ease back on the soap.

Check this (sort of related) article from the Straight Dope:


Towards the end he concludes (non-perfectly scientifically, of course) that laundry washed in plain water wasn't noticeably different than laundry washed with detergent. I personally think that our culture these days is extremely phobic about cleanliness, and we're all egged on by companies who sell soap and such. Good luck.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:51 AM on August 2, 2006

Overloading, as other have mentioned, can cause a tie-dyed effect where some of the areas that are more wadded-up than others aren't exposed to the same amount of detergent. Try adding the detergent first, letting the machine fill a little bit, then adding the clothes, but making sure they are loose within the machine. The clothes should fill about half the volume of the washer when they're wet.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:52 AM on August 2, 2006

It's the liquid detergent.

Have you looked at those clothes under a black light? Heh. They glow.

I've always had bad luck with liquid detergent because of that reason -- you must put it in before you put the clothes in or else you'll get sploches due to it just sitting and soaking into clothes. I'm terrible remembering that, so generally I find that powder detergent is easier. Adding it before or after doesn't make any difference -- no spots!
posted by jeffxl at 7:52 AM on August 2, 2006

I've had a few items of clothing splotch when I got sunscreen on them. Usually in locations close to the area of sunscreen application: tank top straps, the waistband of shorts...
posted by penchant at 8:15 AM on August 2, 2006

I think it's a bleach issue. I had the same problem you are having. As soon as I stopped using bleach, I stopped getting streaks.

I routinely throw clothes in, put liquid detergent on top and turn on the water, and haven't had any problems doing my laundry with that method.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:23 AM on August 2, 2006

Like MegoSteve, I've never seen this problem with liquid detergents. Powders, on the other hand, can easily cake-up and bleach an area, especially in over-stuffed machines.

Most machines these days have separate ports for adding liquid bleach. Is there no chance that some residual bleach from a long-forgotten use is occasionally getting spat out?

Also, are you using a liquid fabric softener? Some of those can stain fabrics as well.

And, does anyone actually follow the usage directions on the detergent packages? Fill the tub with water, then add detergent, then add the clothes? I've never seen anyone do anything other than dump the clothes in, start the water, and pour in the detergent. Walk away to other chores.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:31 AM on August 2, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for your advice, everyone!

I already put the liquid detergent in first, run the water, and then wait until it's dissolved before adding my clothes. I did not do my last load of laundry, though (the one that resulted in two beloved shirts getting blotchy). I suspect that the guy who did it did not let the detergent dissolve.

In the future I'll try less detergent, lighter laundry load, and seeing if my parents' washer has a liquid dispenser (rather than pouring it directly into the machine).

Also, good idea about leaving a container of Seventh Gen at their house! I'll bring one the next time I go there and hopefully avoid Tide altogether.
posted by cadge at 9:05 AM on August 2, 2006

Is the laundromat machine by any chance a front-loader?

Many front loading machines are designed to dispense the detergent, bleach, and fabric softener at appropriate times during the cycle, thus circumventing the problems that might occur when, as Thorzdad pointed out "I've never seen anyone do anything other than dump the clothes in, start the water, and pour in the detergent. Walk away to other chores."

Front loaders also use less water and less detergent, don't have an agitator taking up space/getting tangled in your clothes/creating additional wear and tear on your clothes, and in my limited experience spin the clothes much faster after the final rinse, thus getting more moisture out of them before they ever get to the dryer.

For that matter, I bet when you do laundry at home, you don't pounce on the machine the minute it stops, do you? Perhaps the combination of not-completely-dissolved detergent, an older top-loader that doesn't spin/drain as well as it used to, and letting clothes sit for a half hour until your favorite show is over is to blame.

On preview, also consider the water quality at both locations. Do the parents have/need a water softener?
posted by ilsa at 9:09 AM on August 2, 2006

Response by poster: Ah! The laundromat machine is a front-loader, and the parents' machine is not. And now that I think of it, I suspect that the parents' machine just has a little container for dispensing bleach, not actual liquid detergent.

There's definitely a wait on attending the just-cleaned clothes, too. I'll try avoiding that.

Water quality - another good question. I'll investigate!
posted by cadge at 9:28 AM on August 2, 2006

schroedinger, although you aren't the asker of this question, I just wanted to point out that acne cream may very well be the source of your problems. For a couple of years when I was a teenager, I was a nightly user of Clearasil's "vanishing cream." Over that same period, I ruined dozens of items (clothing and linens) with bleached spots.

Learn from my mistakes! Ask your doctor about other, non-bleaching options for skin care.
posted by anjamu at 10:29 PM on August 3, 2006

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