Ever notice how sometimes matching colors in parts of an outfit can look faded or notice localized areas where the color has disappeared? Color loss in all its forms accounts for a good portion of the garments analyzed every year at the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute’s International Textile Analysis Laboratory. The lab is internationally recognized as the CSI of drycleaning, deducing what happened to cause garments to become not ready-to-wear.

What causes color loss?

The reasons garments lose their color during wear and care are varied. Contact with bleach or a household cleaning product can disturb dyes, resulting in white discolorations. Direct sunlight can fade colors over time. Hair spray, hair preparations, and other moisture solutions can cause color loss. Perfumes and other alcohol-containing substances also have specific effects on color.

Other problems are inherent in the manufacturing of garments. Fugitive dyes – dyes that are not colorfast to water or cleaning solvents – are the biggest manufacturer-related problem reported by DLI’s lab. In these cases, the dyes on the garment dissolve when cleaned in drycleaning solvent or water—despite the instructions on the care label. The color loss may occur throughout the garment or be localized in certain areas. For instance, the pink flowers on a pink-and-white print may be solvent-soluble, and, after drycleaning, the garment may come out completely white.

Some dyes are more susceptible to loss of color than others. Pink, red, blue, and black are usually the most troublesome colors and can be expected to show some type of variance regardless of the precautions taken.

The degree of local color loss depends on the concentration of the staining substance, the dye’s sensitivity, and the length of time the substance remains on the fabric. Some substances can cause an immediate loss or change in color, while other substances can cause gradual color loss. Color loss caused by acidic or alkaline substances may be reversible if treated immediately, while other types of color loss, such as contact with alcohol or bleach, are permanent. Removal of the soils during washing or drycleaning usually causes the color loss to become more apparent.

Common Color Loss Culprits

Many consumers are not aware that dyes can fade if exposed to light, either sunlight or artificial light. With this type of color loss, fading is generally apparent on only one side of the fabric. The reverse side is usually unaffected. Certain dyes, such as blues, violets, or greens, are more prone to this type of fading than others.

Some dyes, such as pink, lavender, and red, can undergo color reactions (usually red to blue) from contact with water or any water-bearing substance, including perspiration. If this color reaction is noted soon after it happens, it can often be reversed by your drycleaner. However, in many cases, these dyes are so sensitive that restoration is not possible.

Fume fading (gas fading) develops when air comes into contact with heated surfaces and forms nitrogen oxide gases. These gases then react with certain dyes, usually those found on acetate and nylon, and cause them to change color (usually blue to red). Fume fading usually occurs on both sides of the fabric.

Some dyes will exhibit a color change when exposed to an acidic or alkaline substance. Contact with fruit juice, beverages, foodstuffs, and other acidic substances can cause blue dyes to turn red; contact with perspiration, household chemicals, toiletries, and other alkaline solutions can turn blue or green dyes yellow. Alkalies can also decompose fluorescent brighteners on white fabrics, causing them to discolor. If treated immediately, most acid/alkaline color reactions can be neutralized and corrected by your professional cleaner.

Contact with alcohol can dissolve certain dyes, resulting in permanent color loss. This is especially common on dyes used on acetate and silk. The alcohol content of most colognes and perfumes is capable of causing this reaction.

Consumers are often not aware of the harmful effects home cleansers, hair products, floor scouring products, disinfectants, and other agents can have on their clothes. Some dyes are extremely sensitive to bleach, and even mildly concentrated bleaches such as chlorine can cause immediate, permanent color loss.

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