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Bleeding Care

Bleeding of a Quilt is an Emergency!

Fabric dye bleeding of a quilt is an emergency. If you have washed a new quilt or washed a quilt with other clothes and have color bleeding on the quilt, you will know firsthand it is an emergency and how awful it feels to not know how to fix it. Color bleeding occurs when fabrics get submerged in water, i.e., washing, causing the dye in them to leach out. It becomes a problem when the dye in the wash attaches to other fabrics. First of all, do NOT dry the quilt. Several things to consider;
  • The information in this article and reference information are intended for new or near-new quilts, not vintage quilts. With vintage quilts, there are more considerations because they may be more fragile.
  • If the quilt is not cotton, this process may be detrimental to your quilt.
  • The quality of water in your home will also affect the end result. Do you have well water with iron? City water may have lots of chemicals. You may want to use distilled water for washing a quilt.
  • No process is guaranteed.
BLEEDING
If you have a quilt that came out of the washer with bleeding on it, the following should be your first course of action.  There are many recommended by many individuals for eliminating bleeding on a quilt. I’m sure many work and some don’t, and some cause challenges down the road. If your quilt is made of cotton and not a vintage quilt, I recommend the following process.  I am cautious because of the use of hot water.   I am sharing information by Vicki Welsh that is detailed, thorough, and backed by research. Check HERE to read her document, SAVE MY BLEEDING QUILT, 2014.  The process gives you detailed instructions on how to soak and allow the dye to be released from the fabrics. The trick is to prevent the dye from grabbing onto other parts of the quilt. Here are the basic steps.
  • Fill a tub with approximately 140-degree water, enough to completely submerge the quilt and keep it under
  • Add detergent, agitate by hand to mix the detergent and water
  • Add the quilt and completely submerge and move around to soak move the soapy water around it
  • Drain the water and repeat, do not wring the quilt, squeeze
  • Soak for approximately 12 hours
  • Repeat the steps until the water is clear
  • Dry quilt as you normally would
Vicki recommends Dawn Dishwashing Detergent. If you can’t get Dawn or don’t want to use Dawn, you need to look for detergents with no perfume, no dyes, and no phosphorous. Detergents for sensitive skin will most likely fit the bill.  Several others I see recommended are ALL Free or Arm & Hammer Free & Clear. I personally have not used either of these.
WHY DOES FABRIC BLEED
The major reasons fabric dyes bleed are poor quality dye, inadequate washing and rinsing after dying the fabric, and not using fixatives to bind the dye.
PREVENTIVE MEASURES
Do not overcrowd the washer. The friction that occurs during washing causes micro-breaks in the fibers allowing dyes to detach from fibers and bleed out. Wow, right. Very sciencie.  Avoid harsh detergents and bleaches. Avoid extensive exposure to the sun. Not only will the sun cause fading, but dye is released with sun exposure.  Avoid washing in hot water. And lastly, as your mother told you, wash clothes of similar colors together (darks with darks and lights with lights) and consider washing quilts on their own.
MYTHS
Washing with vinegar or salt does not prevent dyes from running.
FIRST WASHING
If you are fortunate enough to plan for the first wash, use preventive measures and be prepared for potential bleeding.  It is highly recommended to test for colorfastness before washing for the first time. Typically reds are the biggest culprits, followed by purples, blues, and blacks. Test all colors. I have had bright yellows bleed.
Testing for colorfastness
To test for colorfastness, dampen a white cloth. Rub the wet cloth on each fabric of the quilt. If any color comes off onto the white cloth, the item is not colorfast. The dye will run when the quilt is washed. And you will cry. Or at least use a few choice words.
Facts you can amaze your friends with
Red dyes are not more susceptible to bleeding than other colors.  The challenge is the type of dye.  Red fabrics use a type of dye called direct dye.  Direct dye will bleed in every wash unless treated with a cationic dye fixative.  It is available for other colors, which make them just as susceptible to bleeding as red.  Fiber reactive dyes, the best quality dye, will not bleed as significantly.  The fiber reactive dye forms a covalent bond with the molecules and becomes part of the fiber.  Again, wow.  This is like science class.  Is it lunch yet?
Regular wash
If your quilt doesn’t appear to have bleeding challenges, wash with Shout Color Catchers as a precaution.  Wash on a gentle cycle and cold water.
Washing with potential bleeding
If you do have fabrics that are not colorfast, consider two things.
  • Use Retayne, a color fixative, to help make the dyes permanent.  Do this before washing. Instructions are on the product. You can purchase online. Add 140-degree water to your washer to a level that will allow the quilt to be submerged. Add 1 – 4 tsp of Retayne as recommended and run the washer on gentle for about 20 minutes. Rinse. HERE is detail information on Retayne. An alternative to Retayne is Rit Dye Fixative.
  • Follow the Retayne process with a gentle cold water wash.  Add several Shout Color Catchers, or a lot, to the wash.  Check the color catchers. If they are a dark color, run the quilt through again with fresh color catchers.
Subsequent washes
When you wash the quilt the following few times, or if you want to play it safe, always, add color catchers to your quilt wash cycle as a precaution.
CROCKING
Believe it or not, there are more issues a poor quilt can run into. If you really have bad luck, your quilt may show signs of crocking. Crocking is when dye of dry fabric transfers to another dry fabric. This would be most likely because the fabrics were not washed before using them for quilting. In this case, if there is significant crocking, follow instructions for bleeding. If it isn’t substantial, simply wash with color catchers. That’s a lot of information.  Stains from bleeding are quite unfortunate and I hope you will be able to save your quilts if this happens. You are now armed with a good bit of possible actions.  And information to avoid being in that position.  Although it happens to all of us.   I have one personal quilt with small areas of stains (magenta on pale yellow) from bleeding that I didn’t notice until after taking out of the dryer.  I have one other that is my camping bedspread, that I love, which has significant red and yellow stains.  This happened before I knew there were steps you could take to minimize or eliminate the stains.  It’s a shame.   The bedspread quilt is my very own fault for not washing the fabrics prior to using it in the quilt.  Lazy.  Taught me.  And to put in the back of your mind.  Does your quilter wash their fabrics before using them.  Believe it or not, not all quilters do.  Ask. Enjoy your quilts, with or without stains.  Snuggle Up.

8 replies on “Bleeding of a Quilt is an Emergency!”

Once the red has bleed into the rest of the quilt and it has been dried is there any hope for it. Will the dawn soap help after the fact. Thank you.

Ouch. If the quilt has been dried, Dawn may not be helpful. I am in the process of doing testing of several stains to see which solutions work or work best. I personaly have a quilt that was seriously stained because of bleeding, red and yellow on beige, several years ago. It was a bedspread, I used it infrequently. I use it often now. I have discovered that the stain has started to fade. I use color catchers every time I wash it though. I was very encouraged. You may just wait it out but definitely use color catchers when you wash it.

Acela

Thank you for posting this. I spent months making a Bali wedding star quilt and finished extensive custom quilting. I had a few blue marking pencil marks to delete and decided to pop it’s a cold wash to remove them. It resulted in lots of bleeding from backing fabric. I immediately sprung into action following these direction. The quilt is air drying and I think saved. So grateful! Jean Roth

Thank you so much for this article. I was in a panic. I had a beautiful quilt with white background. High quality quilt cotton. The dark pink bled all over the white. Even with several color catchers in the wash.

I used Dawn as recommended. Soaked and the quilt was saved!

Now I have another – washed with several color catchers and only one of the fabrics picked up the red dye from the backing. None of the others have a spot of red. All flannels.

It’s soaking now. I have high hopes the one fabric will be beige and not pink when done.

I’ve learned my lesson – I will always pre-wash dark colors!

Thanks for a great article and much needed help.

I’m so glad it was helpful. If it doesn’t completely come out, wash a second time. The heat from the dryer will set the stain so if you can air dry. Then each time you wash it will fade a little more.

I was finally putting away my Christmas quilts and tried to find any information on red dye stains. I had washed two quilts separately in cold water using All Free detergent and color catchers. The quilts were white with red appliqués. Both of them had the red dye bleed onto the white cotton fabric. Because I was in a hurry at the time, I did dry them and I knew I shouldn’t have. I’m afraid the one may be a loss but if there’s a chance at reducing the red/pink, I’ll give it a try. Thank you for your article!

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