How to Get Color Bleed Out of Clothes So They're Good as New

Oh that sinking feeling when you pull your favorite white t-shirt out of the wash and it's suddenly pink. Here's how to remove the color bleed.

Updated January 18, 2024
Laundry Turned Pink by Red Sock

If there's one shared human experience most of us have had, it's pulling pink things out of the washer that were previously white. Color bleed in the laundry is an annoyance, but it's sadly part of life. Even when you sort your laundry, sometimes that errant red t-shirt gets in with your white towels.

Unless you're totally into the new color your t-shirt is sporting, don't throw your previously white items in the dryer and set the dye. And don't throw them in the trash! We've got tips for how to get color bleed out of clothes, and they really work! Color bleed removal may take a little effort, but it's totally worth it to save your favorite T or towels.  

How to Get Color Bleed Out of Clothes

Recently, my hubby pulled his favorite shorts out of the laundry. They were pink. As he lamented about never being able to wear those shorts again, I flew into action. Okay — I moved sort of slowly, but I took the following steps. 

Color Bleeding Stains Infographic

Step 1: Do NOT Put the Clothes in the Dryer

If you accidentally dye your clothing, the most important thing is not to put the clothing in the dryer. Heat can set the dye, and you'll be stuck with your new splotchy color. But if you catch it coming out of the wash, removing it can be fairly easy.

Step 2: Make a Laundry Detergent Solution and Soak 

Laundry detergent is your first line of defense to remove color bleed. You'll need detergent and a toothbrush.

  1. Fill a container or sink with a gallon of water.
  2. Add two tablespoons of detergent directly to the dyed area if possible.
  3. Work it around with an old toothbrush.
  4. Allow it to soak for 30 minutes.
  5. Rewash the garment and check.

Step 3: Try Vinegar to Remove the Color Bleed

For this, you'll need 1 cup of white vinegar. You can try this before the laundry detergent if there's only a faint color bleed, or do this afterward if the color bleed remains. 

  1. Fill a tub with a gallon of water.
  2. Add 1 cup of white vinegar.
  3. Soak for 30 minutes.
  4. Check to see if the color bleed has faded.
  5. Rewash garments.

Step 4: Remove Tough Color Bleed Stains With Oxygen-Based Bleach

If the laundry detergent and vinegar methods didn't work, it's time to escalate. This includes color-safe oxygenated bleach. Since it's color-safe, it can work on both white and colored clothing. If you use the other type of bleach, you'll need to know how to remove bleach stains from your colored items to keep them from being ruined.

  1. Put the affected laundry back in the wash.
  2. Wash with the appropriate amount of oxygen-based bleach.
  3. Check the laundry after the normal cycle.
  4. Make sure the dye transfer is completely gone before drying.
  5. You can even line-dry the clothing just to be sure.

Related: Feeling Blue About Bleeding Jeans? Here's How to Make It Stop

Step 5: Use Hydrogen Peroxide to Remove Dye Transfer Stains on White Items

If the items were previously white and you'd like them to be white again, then hydrogen peroxide is your next line of defense. 

  1. Create a 1:1 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water in a tub.
  2. Soak the garment for 30 or so minutes or until the color fades.
  3. Rinse and rewash.
  4. Allow the garment to air dry.
Woman's hands washing white clothes

So You Threw It in the Dryer

So yeah. I don't inspect every item of clothing that comes out of the wash, and I'd guess you don't either. Sometimes, you'll miss a stain or two and toss it in the dryer. Don't panic. All isn't lost. If the above methods didn't work, or you've already dried the clothing, then you'll need something a lot stronger. Commercial cleaners like Rit and Carbona are designed to remove color bleed from laundry.

  1. Read all the instructions on the package to ensure this product works for your color or type of clothing.
  2. Mix the product according to the instructions.
  3. Soak the clothing for the recommended time.
  4. Launder as normal.

How to Avoid Color Bleed on Clothing

We get it. Life's busy. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The true key to removing color bleed is avoiding it in the first place, which you can do with careful laundry sorting. 

  • Wash new clothing separately. New clothes are more likely to bleed, so washing them on their own can help to avoid color run.
  • Pay attention to clothing care labels. Not only do they tell you if your clothing bleeds, but they provide necessary washing instructions.
  • Sort your clothing properly. Keeping likes with likes helps everything to come out perfectly.
  • Don't let the laundry sit in the washer. Moving clothes quickly to the dryer or line ensures wet colors aren't sitting next to each other for extended periods where color bleed can occur.

Dealing With Dye Transfer on Clothing

While a dye-transferred undershirt might become your favorite new lounge shirt, it doesn't have to stay pink. Rather than having to deal with a mishap, try to remove the chance of one.

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How to Get Color Bleed Out of Clothes So They're Good as New