Fading Sheets
January 11, 2008 8:05 AM   Subscribe

why are my blue sheets fading to grey?

I have very expensive Barbara Barry bed linnens. I wash the sheets and pillow cases weely in cold water with a mild detergent and fabric softener and dry in "medium" dryer. The blue color is getting lighter and lighter, greyer and greyer, no longer matching the blue on the duvet cover (which I wash less frequently) or on the matching silk throw. I have searached previous ask metfi's and no, I am not using any acne medicine. Is it the fabric softener? There is a sticker on my washer that claims "downy fabric softener preserves colors from fading". I was previously using "cold water tide" but have switched to "deft", if that's the cuprit, it's too late to tell, but please help me figure this out to save the next sheets I buy to replace these.
posted by Lylo to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
Do you have really hard water? If a lot of minerals are getting into your wash water, it could make the colors on your laundry seem duller.
posted by sugarfish at 8:15 AM on January 11, 2008

Response by poster: I don't think my water is that hard. I live in downtown Chicago and have never had the signs of hard water such as problems with getting soap out of my hair, etc
posted by Lylo at 8:19 AM on January 11, 2008

Oh, no, with lake water you shouldn't have any trouble. Sorry!
posted by sugarfish at 8:26 AM on January 11, 2008

Things fall apart. Short of museum-quality, climate-controlled storage, I don't think there's any way to completely prevent your sheets from fading.
posted by box at 8:36 AM on January 11, 2008

You might want to stop using detergent and fabric softener altogether and use a very delicate lingerie wash instead, which is meant to be easier on delicate fabrics and not break the fibers and dry them out as much.t
posted by rmless at 8:43 AM on January 11, 2008

Response by poster: so I'm wondering, does fabric softener prevent fading as the sticker on my washing machine claims, or does it contribute to fading?
posted by Lylo at 9:01 AM on January 11, 2008

They say vinegar in the water prevents colours from running... you might try that with the next set?

I'd contact the company if this has happened really quickly... if they're so fancy-pants they should at least be high-quality!
posted by loiseau at 9:17 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

How chlorinated is your water? Sometimes I'd swear what I smell coming out of the tap here first thing in the morning would whiten coal.
posted by jamjam at 9:23 AM on January 11, 2008

Use Cheer or Woolite that is marketed for dark clothes. It's not as easy to find now as it once was (I used to get it at the grocery store, now I have to go to Target), but it does make a difference.
My roommate and I both swear by it to keep our gothy blacks their blackest.
posted by Kellydamnit at 9:24 AM on January 11, 2008

Best answer: If the sheets are new, then it's probably a defect in the dyeing of the cotton fabric. Fabrics are treated with a mordant (the type depends on the dye used) to set the dye - in the case of cotton, the mordant is pre-applied to the fabric before the dye is applied. Occasionally, this step is done incompletely (resulting in blotchy fading), or too lightly (all-over fading). Or, the dye is applied too heavily (lots of running before the fabric settles down).

I would try to return the sheets to the store, or contact the manufacturer for replacement.

(I was a detergent formulations scientist long ago)
posted by Flakypastry at 10:04 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I second (on preview, third) contacting the company. If for no other reason than that they might appreciate the feedback. Explain that you had this experience with their product fading, that it was disappointing, and that you're unlikely to recommend them to others. Suggest that maybe it was a bad dye lot? And maybe they could replace them for you if they think that might be the case. And express woe that this fading issue makes your experience with their product so much less pleasant. (i.e. you want to love the sheets, but you just can't!)

Honey-not flies.
posted by Stewriffic at 10:06 AM on January 11, 2008

City water can have various chemicals in it that can cause fabrics to fade (yes, even bleach). Not much you can do really other than use color guard detergents like suggested (or look into water softeners which hook in at your water intake and remove most impurities...roughly $1k on average for one that can handle a house). What city do you live in? Most water treatment plants will have their treatment process available somewhere.

If you're on well water however get your water tested once every 2 years or so. You'll want to be concerned about nitrates, acidity, alkaline (hardness), arsnic, etc... A water softener for well water is well worth it, and adds a little to the value of the house if you decide to resell.
posted by samsara at 10:19 AM on January 11, 2008

Ah, you live in Chicago. Here is the water treatment process.
posted by samsara at 10:22 AM on January 11, 2008

I'd say it's the South rising again!

Okay. Bad joke. Sorry.
posted by The Giant Squid at 6:16 AM on January 12, 2008

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