How to Set Running Dye Colors in Fabric

Mary Ylisela

Some fabric colors, such as red, have a tendency to run the first few times they're washed. This can leave other clothing in the washing machine discolored by the bleeding dye pigment. Removing unwanted color from clothing is possible but much more involved than simply preventing it from happening in the first place.

A red shirt that bleeds can turn white clothing pink.

Use supplies from home to maintain an article of clothing's colorfastness and keep it from bleeding onto other clothing. Commercial products are also available for this task, but using supplies from home saves money and is just as effective.


Most color bleeding occurs with brand new garments. Always use cold water for washing and ensure you don't place your new colorful garments in with anything that could be ruined by color bleeding.


Color that has bled onto other garments will set into the fibers of the fabric if placed in the dryer. Remove the unwanted color first before drying.

    A bucket is handy for stain removal or setting fabric dye.
  1. Soak your garments in a bucket of straight white vinegar for one hour to set the fabric dye. This step is to be done prior to washing your laundry and can be done each time you wash, if needed or preferred. This is especially effective on brand new clothing that hasn't been washed yet.

  2. Fill your washing machine with cold water and the appropriate amount of laundry detergent. Cold water aids in the prevention of the fabric dye bleeding all over your laundry.

  3. Table salt maintains colors and helps remove stains.
  4. Pour 1 cup of table salt into the wash water to maintain colorfastness.

  5. Add 1 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle. The vinegar will brighten your colorful clothing while preventing it from bleeding onto other garments. Vinegar is also a natural freshener and deodorizer and will make your garments come out of the wash smelling fresh and feeling soft.