Although indigo is traditionally a natural dye made from plants, today's denim manufacturers often use a synthetic form. Garment-care tags usually recommend laundering jeans – especially a darker wash – in cold water before wearing to prevent the indigo from bleeding onto other fabrics. However, excess dye sometimes continues to bleed and stain in the wash, or when the jeans rub against light-colored fabric. You may be able to remove the dye from washable clothing if the stain is fresh.
Treat the stain with a pre-treatment spray, liquid or gel. Alternatively, you can also use a heavy-duty liquid laundry detergent. Rinse the garment thoroughly.
Launder clothing with diluted solution of chlorine bleach if the garment is white and the tag indicates that bleach is safe for the fabric. Fill the washing machine with the hottest water appropriate according to the tag. Add your regular laundry detergent and 1/2 cup of liquid chlorine bleach before adding the garment. Wash normally.
Launder colored garments with color-safe, non-chlorine bleach. Fill the machine with the hottest water appropriate for the garment, then add a capful of liquid non-chlorine bleach or a scoop of powdered non-chlorine bleach. Add the garment, then wash normally.
Inspect the garment carefully to be sure the stain is gone. If the dye is still visible, repeat the appropriate steps.
When the stain is successfully removed, dry the garment as directed on the care tag. Never dry the garment if the stain is still visible. Usually, set-in dye stains are impossible to remove.
- Always read the label on laundry detergent, pre-treatment products and bleach, because directions and amounts of specific products often vary.
- If nothing works and the blue jean dye is still visible, you may be able to remove the dye with a commercial color remover product. However, the product will usually strip all of the color from the garment.
- Never use chlorine bleach on colored garments because the bleach will fade and discolor the fabric. Use non-chlorine, color-safe bleach if you are unsure, because the products are gentler and less toxic.
- Never combine chlorine bleach with household cleaners, especially products that contain ammonia. The mixture can create toxic fumes.
M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.