If you never read another word on my blog please read this post. I've done a LOT of testing on fabric bleeding and I want everyone to know my results. If you find the information valuable please share the link to this post and/or to this document. I have another post for FAQ and reader results that you can find here. You can also grab blog button code so that you have a link whenever you need it.
If you've been reading my blog for any time you know that I am a little crazy about controlling fabric bleeding in my hand dyed fabrics and in my quilts. My most recent instructions for dealing with bleeding quilts is here.
My newest round of testing started with this quilt from Cheryl Kotecki (made from my hand dyes and commercial fabrics) and my Fractured quilt. When I made my Fractured quilt I knew it would bleed because some of the hand dyes were from my early dyeing days when I did not process the fabric as long as I do now. Cheryl washed her quilt for the first time and it bled like crazy. We eventually determined that it was both the hand dyes (bleeding some blue) and the commercial fabrics (bleeding green). She followed my soaking directions and got almost all of the dye out but it took several sessions of soaking.
When I washed my Fractured quilt (using Dharma Textile Detergent) I had some serious back-staining using my process. I've never noticed this before but this quilt was purple and gold so it really showed. The quilt is made of half hand dyes and half commercial fabrics in each color. You can see the back-staining that happened on 3 of the commercial fabrics in these 3 photos (comparing an original swatch of fabric with the fabric in the quilt). In the first photo you can see that the fabric also faded a little but all 3 of these commercial fabrics looked dingy after the soaking process. None of the yellow hand dyes took up any of the loose dyes and only a few of the commercial prints did. But some did and that sent me on a quest to figure out why.
Testing the process
The quilt wasn't technically ruined. It's a scrappy quilt and was still purple and gold, just duller than the original. The owner would not know anything happened but I still needed to figure out what happened and why. I cut some swatches of fabrics that I knew would bleed and some of the gold fabrics that did absorb dye and one that didn't.
Does it matter if I use soap or dye catcher sheets?
Yes for soap, No for dye catcher sheets.
I tested hand dyed and commercial fabrics separately with 3 sets in each. I used Dawn Ultra Pure Dish Detergent because it was what was close by. A is the fabric in hot water with no soap and no dye catchers. B is the fabric with soap and hot water only. C is the fabric with soap and a dye catcher sheet and hot water. I soaked the fabrics for 8 hours.
Results: While the dye sheet absorbed some of the excess dye you can see that the fabrics in B and C are all unstained so the dye catcher sheet doesn't make any different at all. It's clear in this test that it's the soap that makes the difference.
But that didn't explain why the fabrics in my quilt absorbed loose dye but they didn't in this test.
Cound the type of soap matter? Yes and it's different from what we have all been taught!
Next I did the same test with 4 different detergents (left to right):
- Dharma Textile Detergent - this is the detergent that I've been using for washing out my hand dyed fabrics and I've never had a problem with any back-staining. This is what I used to wash the quilt. You can clearly see the back-staining on the commercial samples and this mimicked the results that I saw in my quilt.
- Dawn Ultra Pure Essentials Hypoallergenic dish detergent - A lot of people use Dawn dish detergent for washing bleeding fabrics. You can see that this worked great. The fabrics are the same colors as the original swatches. If you want to use other dish detergents be sure to test them first. Some contain bleach or other additives that might react differently with the loose dye particles.
- Kirkland Free & Clear Ultra Laundry Detergent - This happens to be the laundry detergent that I use and it worked great too. I would avoid using a laundry detergent with fragrance, color boosters or other additives without testing first. I fear that additives could cause different reactions with the fabric. Detergents with scents are made to make the scents adhere to the fabric. That's why you can smell the fragrance for weeks. It could possibly do that with loose dyes too.
- Synthrapol - Synthrapol is the industry standard for washing dye out of fabric. It's sold to the hand dyeing business but has been recommended for use on commercial fabrics too. It worked almost as well as Dawn but is more expensive and Dawn is easier to find.
I contacted Dharma about the backstaining that I had with the Textile Detergent. They created and tested this product for hand dyed fabric and did not consider commercial fabrics. They have taken my test results and are going to do some additional reserch on the product. I saw comments on the product page that some people did have backstaining problems with their hand dyed fabrics. My guess is that they were not using PFD fabrics. That doesn't make it right but it explains it.
I will be switching to using the Dawn Pure from now on. It's cheaper and available at my local Wal-Mart. It costs me $20 to have a gallon of Textile Detergent shipped to me. It's a lot less expensive to go to the local Wal-Mart to get my supply. Synthrapol is even more expensive that the Dharma Detergent.
Don't for get to soak!
This is where I remind you that you must soak the fabric/quilt to get out the excess dye. A 10 minute wash (as recommended on the Synthrapol page) is not enough! I showed here how time makes a difference. The full instructions for soaking are here.
Could I "repair" my quilt? Yes, sort of.
Finally I decided to soak my quilt again to see if I could get any of the back-staining out. While it would not all come out, much of it did. Here are the before and after photos with swatches of the original fabrics.
You can really see the difference most strongly in the last sample. Overall the quilt was a lot brighter after the re-soak. The quilt was saved!
I hope this information will help you and your fellow quilters if you ever have a problem with fabric bleeding. Please be sure to read the detail process document. You are welcome to copy and distribute that document to your quilting friends or customers as long as there is no cost to them and my author information remains on the document. You may also reproduce it in full (not this post) in your guild newsletter. If you are a blogger you can share a link to this post and the document on your blog.
Regarding the fabrics that I sell, I have been giving them a 12 hour soak for several years. Now I give them 2 12-hour soaks before I send them to your stash.