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We get stains sporadically appear on specific articles of clothing. The stains appeared on brand new Patagonia brand sweater that we washed for the first time as well as an older t-shirt. The other clothing items in the same load are intact and entirely stain free. The stain pattern is uneven, there are larger blotches (around the size of a quarter) but also tiny specks. Our washer is brand new but the dryer was bought used. The stains are embedded and not removed by rinsing or hand washing.
What can we do to avoid this? Is it possible that the laundry detergent we use is specifically affecting and discoloring some clothes and not others?

Stained T-shirt

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    If you add detergent powder directly to the wash, don't. Use a non-bio liquid, and dilute it before pouring. Let plain water wet the clothes before adding the detergent (so they don't immediately soak up concentrated detergent). Not all dyes are colour-fast. May 31 at 15:47
  • Thanks for the advice @WeatherVane. We used liquid detergent, undiluted. What do you mean by non-bio?
    – Dealec
    Jun 1 at 1:46
  • That it also happened to an older (previously washed) T-shirt in the same wash is interesting. If the T-shirt was with other stain-free clothing in previous washes is an issue to consider. Even if the drier was never used before, that the bulk of the clothing was unaffected, tends to rule out the dryer. Were the effects darker or lighter on the T-shirt than the new item shown in your photo? Many things to consider with the first occurrence. Good luck.
    – Stan
    Jun 1 at 2:52
  • The stains on the older t-shirt had a different pattern (fainter) and I'm starting to wonder whether they were there before but I just noticed them (the t-shirt belongs to one of our kids so stains are not uncommon)
    – Dealec
    Jun 1 at 14:45
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    You don't turn the sweater (like a pull, or a trouser) with the inside out / on left when putting into the washing machine?
    – Buttonwood
    Jun 5 at 17:56
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Logically, solving this problem involves identifying the cause. Identifying what is — and what is not — in common is the first step.

Repeated loads of laundry done with as few differences as possible will help you isolate a probable cause — which you can remove.

The "problem" is that you'll get the occasional "evidence" of an ongoing issue until you solve the mystery.

On the other hand, this is lifehacks…

Hack: View the problem as a benefit. Keep Washing. Set aside the stained clothing when it happens.
Rock the stained clothing… create a stylish personal fashion statement such as those by Paul Smith whose Paint Splatter T-Shirts sell for up to £150 Sweatshirt, for £230!

Paul Smith Paint Splatter T-Shirt

Good luck.

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I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that perhaps the stains are due to bleach. Your shirt may be dyed with a combination of colours, and a small amount of bleach may affect the red dye more than the blue, which would explain why the stains look like they were made with something blue.

Bleach is a powerful and highly corrosive chemical, even in small amounts. You should carefully examine the whole process undergone by the shirts, and whether bleach might have become involved at any stage. Perhaps the laundry was sitting in a pile near the washer when you put in bleach for another load. Maybe you cleaned something near the shirts with a bleach solution. Maybe you were handling bleach while wearing the shirts. Maybe you did a load of laundry with bleach before you did the shirts, and some bleach was left over in the system (some washers have bleach dispensers ... maybe not all the bleach was used in a previous run).

The best way to avoid problems with bleach is: don't use bleach, for anything. Modern detergents can brighten and lighten laundry well enough with harmless enzymes. Bleach will eat away at the innards of your washer, destroying seals and causing leaks. Bleach will ruin the elastics on items like underwear and fitted sheets. Bleach-based cleaners will get on your clothes and will eat away the seals in your plumbing.

(If you're going to switch from bleach-based cleaners, make sure you switch all of them at once; you should completely throw away all the bleach-based cleaners before you switch to ammonia cleaners. If you accidently mix the two types of cleaners, you could bring about a chemical reaction that releases deadly chlorine gas ... yet another reason to avoid bleach.)

If you do use bleach, be very careful. Dilute it with water before it lands on anything you're trying to clean with it. Use it only on whites with no elastic (towels and top sheets, not fitted sheets). Don't pour it from the bleach container into the washer; pour it from the original container into a glass measuring cup with a lip which is sitting in a sink, and then pour it from the cup into the dispenser in the washer. The load after using bleach, put water in the bleach dispenser to dilute and clear out any remaining bleach. Change into old clothes before handling bleach.

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  • Interesting suggestion, i will put a spot of bleach on the inside of the sweater and see how it affects the fabric. I'll keep you posted.
    – Dealec
    Jun 1 at 14:42
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    Bleach reacted as expected, which is to say that the color faded. So doesn't look like it was the problem.
    – Dealec
    Jun 2 at 13:23
  • I see. Grasping at straws, but maybe try testing a dilute solution of water and bleach? Jun 2 at 21:59
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Some fabric softeners, whether used in washing machines or as sheets put in dryer, can stain.

However, the stains look like the color of the dye itself changed, e.g. due to alkaline conditions acting on a vegetable dye that acts as a pH+ indicator. You might experiment on the shirt, if you consider it ruined, by putting it in a bag or bottle with enough water/vinegar mix (50/50% or so, not critical) to saturate it. Stir and/or squeeze the garment a bit, and let it sit overnight.

Let me know if that made the color more uniform. If it's too red, you can try the same thing with baking soda solution to make it bluish.

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  • Yes, it does look like the dye was chemically affected, I'll try your solution and post the result. We don't use fabric softener.
    – Dealec
    Jun 1 at 14:43
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Isolate which part of your laundry routine is causing the damage to your clothes.

Begin your detective work with a careful inspection of freshly-washed articles. Look at each one carefully to determine if there is any discolouration, however slight.
It is important to locate any problems before you dry them.
Heat will "set" many stains (which are always darker than surrounding fabric) so they will become virtually impossible to remove. Heat from the dryer will also increase the effects (further darken) of the problem.
Look carefully and systematically—inside and out.

Did you spot any problems?
Yes? That's Bad. The problem is with the washer.
No? Good. Now, dry the articles and inspect each article carefully.
Were there any problems?
Yes? Bad. The problem is with the dryer.
No? Great. Next load of clothing to test.

Then, as the saying goes, "rinse and repeat."

As soon as you isolate the problem to either the washing or drying phase, you can start to examine each step of either phase to identify (and remove) the offender.

Good luck.

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