How do I set the colors now? Does washing with salt or vinegar help?

Hi Paula, We bought a newly tie-dyed T-shirt from a vendor on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, CA recently.  I need to wash it now and checked its colorfastness by putting it in some cold water to see if the dye would leave the fabric.  It quickly turned the water pink.  How do I set the colors now?  Does washing with salt or vinegar help? Or do I need to get some Synthrapol laundry detergent as your web page mentions?  thanks!  Mary

No, washing with salt and vinegar will not help. Vinegar might even strip the dye. See 'Is there any way to "set" dye in purchased clothing or fabric?', from the FAQ section of my website.

Many dyers swear by Synthrapol for removing excess dye. Ordinary detergent is good enough, though. The real key is to use first cold water without ordinary detergent for the first rinsing (presumably already done before you bought your shirt), followed by repeated washings in HOT water, with detergent, to remove excess unattached dye. With luck your tie-dyer may simply have skimped on this step, or perhaps your water is a little different than theirs, chemically,  so one more hot washing is required. If s/he did the dyeing properly, the only problem now will be a little bit of excess dye that still remains to be washed out. A properly made tie-dye, made using fiber reactive dye and soda ash, has already had its dye set, but it might also have a bit of excess dye that has yet to be washed out.

If your shirt is of reasonably high quality, it will quit shedding excess dye after about two or possibly three launderings in hot water. To save water, you can leave the shirt to sit in hot water halfway through one of the washings - just turn off the washing machine for half an hour or so, then go back to turn it on and complete the cycle. Soaking in hot water helps to remove excess unattached fiber reactive dye.

If this does not work - if dye continues to come out even after several washings in hot water, or if the brightness of the dye is visibly diminished by washing in hot water - then it was made wrong and should be replaced by the vendor. This is very unlikely if quality dyes and a recipe using soda ash was used, but it is actually quite likely if all-purpose dye was used. Good dyers do not use all-purpose dye for tie-dyeing cotton t-shirts, though. If all-purpose dye is used, the garment should be labeled "hand wash separately in cool water, or dry clean".

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Posted: Monday - October 17, 2005 at 10:14 AM          

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