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So, I have an odd dilemma with two pieces of clothing I own:

  1. Vintage 1982 dark green 100% cotton Atari promotional Centipede t-shirt.
  2. Modern 2018 dark blue 100% cotton denim button down shirt from Uniqlo.

While both of these items were made decades apart, they both share an amazingly annoying attribute: They both bleed their dyed color like crazy.

I can’t wear the Atari t-shirt anymore (too small) but I would like to wash it and make sure the dye doesn’t bleed out anymore. The denim Uniqlo shirt seems like a selvedge material, and even the white buttons on it show signs of the dye bleeding out.

If I simply soak either of these items in a sink in warm to hot water without any detergent, I can pull them out as little as 15 minutes later and the water is dyed. Deep enough it almost seems as if a frozen ice op was dropped in the water. Washing in a washing machine doesn’t seem to help.

What can I do to stop the dye from bleeding out like this? I have read articles like this one and this one online but I seem to get more confused than anything else. I’m not too worried about garments fading as much as I am worried about dyes leeching out. I simply want to stop the bleeding!

Should these 100% cotton items be soaked in salty water? Or vinegar? Or something else?

I mention that these were commercially dyed (by the manufacturer) because some commercial products for after-market dyeing exist to prevent those items from bleeding. But I doubt they would help in the case of items that are commercially dyed on a factory level.

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    Bleeding, leeching, and fading are related because bleeding of the dye results in a faded garment. Some garments are not made to last so much as to celebrate the moment. I would think that anything you can do would help. – Stan Jul 21 '18 at 4:47
  • @Stan True. But if what you say is true, the 1982 t-shirt is then a museum piece, but what about the 2018 denim shirt? I’d like to know if there is anything simple that can be done. Boiling with salt? Soaking in vinegar? – JakeGould Jul 21 '18 at 4:51
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    STOP experimenting with your collection. Get something of less value to use for your tests. Use Crash Test Dummies. Search for "mordanting dyes for the fabrics you have [cotton, etc.] Good luck. Don't be in a rush. Wait to read the replies. – Stan Jul 21 '18 at 5:01
  • @Stan Your tone is not helpful. And “my collection” is a contemporary shirt that I will wear for a few years and then toss and a vintage t-shirt from 1982 that is already beat up. Please check yourself. – JakeGould Jul 21 '18 at 5:10
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    Jake, A collection can start with a single piece. Value is a personal desire for an item. Interpretation of tone is difficult to ascertain from comment text, if not impossible. You are defensive for no reason. You are doing the exact opposite of what you need to do. I [a chemistry major in university] leave you to your own resources. You don't need or want my aid at this point so I'll wish you good luck. – Stan Jul 21 '18 at 5:23
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This answer offers no hacks I'm afraid, other than only washing the garments in cold water.

I've never found a solution to this problem down the years, but I can tell you that washing the items in cold water reduces colour bleed significantly, and the hotter the water you use, the more dye leaks out. I resigned myself years ago to always using one of those Colour Catcher sheets in a washload where something I know bleeds is going to be part of the contents. Dye loss is usually significantly reduced over years - unless you're washing in very hot water.

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A mordant is used to stabilize colors, helping them adhere to the fabric.

For cotton, various aluminum salts may be used, and the choice will affect the final color of the garment.

Alum is fairly inexpensive, and might even be available in the baking section of a supermarket (though it is gradually disappearing from foods, due to possible connection with Alzheimer's dementia).

Aluminum acetate is available as Burow's solution in pharmacies, but that would probably not be an economical way to get it.

N.B. Expect that post-mordanting will change the color and feel of the garment, and possibly reduce durability. It also might not solve the issue of color bleeding.

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Soak the clothing in salty water (sea consistency) for at least 10 minutes. It worked for my clothes. Hope it will work for yours

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