Dye Bleeding: Causes and Cures

Dye bleeding is a fairly common occurrence plaguing drycleaners. Dye bleeding can occur in drycleaning, wetcleaning or spotting. It is important to pinpoint the source of the bleeding so proper remedies can be applied. Dye bleeding can occur due to several factors.

(1)          Poor dye fastness in manufacture-This means that the dyes are not properly applied or set during manufacture. Dye bleeding can occur in drycleaning due to solvent soluble dye or wetcleaning due to fugitive dyes to water. Bleeding can also occur in spotting due to wet and dryside chemicals used. It is not unusual for fabrics to be soluble in both wet and dryside solvents.

(2)          Hot solvent-Hot solvent induces dye bleeding. There are many drycleaners using solvent heaters to heat up their solvent and make it more aggressive. Hot solvent will make the solvent more aggressive giving it the ability to remove more dryside stains but adding to its ability to produce bleeding and dye transfer.

(3)          Poor dyes will bleed in wetcleaning even if proper dye setting agents are used. Dye bleeding is more apt to occur if the garments are not agitated enough to flush away loose dye. This means that garments that are soaked will tend to bleed and transfer dye more readily than if the garments are kept in motion by agitation.

(4)          Spotting-Dye bleeding and transfer can occur in spotting if the drycleaner does not use a white towel to contain the loose dye. The use of a towel is also necessary to detect poor dye fastness. The use of alkalis and protein formulas may increase the possibility of dye bleeding, especially on silk and wool.


(1)          Drycleaning-The cooler the solvent the less chance dye bleeding will occur. Cool solvent decreases the aggressive nature of the solvent. If dye bleeding does occur in drycleaning the drycleaner should re-clean the garments. Water and wetside spotting agents should not be applied since this will set the dye and change a dryside dye into a wetside dye.

(2)          Wetcleaning-Wetcleaning using an acid based detergent reduces the incidence of dye bleeding. In cooler water temperatures also reduced the incidence of dye bleeding. If dye bleeding does occur in wetcleaning the garment should be wetcleaned again, using adequate mechanical action so loose dye can be flushed away from the fabric.

(3)          Spotting-All spotters must use a white towel when flushing. Use a proper lubricant when applying mechanical action to a stain. The lubricant will tend to suspend the loose dye so it can be flushed away without settling on the fabric. If the dye bleeding is noticeable on a fabric it should be flushed with the steam gun and then using air and pressure to push the dye into the cloth while drying rapidly.



When dye bleeding does not respond to the aforementioned processes it may need a bleaching process. Do not use a bleach without testing, making sure it does not affect the base dye and will remove the dye that bled. Titanium sulphate is usually the most effective bleach to remove dye bleeding. It is not unusual however for other bleaches such as sodium hypochlorite to work on fabrics such as cotton, linen, rayon and polyester. The drycleaner can also attempt to use a mild solution of a bleaching agent, even if the base dye is slightly affected when testing. The drycleaner would make up a very mild bleaching bath and only immerse the garment in the bath for a few seconds before removing and rinsing.

Dan Eisen

Dan Eisen

Dan Eisen, former chief garment analyst for the National Cleaners Association, offers lecture, consultation and garment analysis service. He is the author of The Art of Spotting. He can be reached at (772) 340-0909, by email at cleandan@comcast.net or through his website at www.garmentanalysis.com. Dan Eisen, 274 NW Toscane Trail, Port Saint Lucie, FL 34986.

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