What Causes Your Clothes to Lose Their Color?

by Chance Henson

Prevent color fading by separating your whites, darks, brights and pastels before washing.

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When it comes to maintaining your wardrobe, you can save money and reduce waste by exercising diligence. The average American consumer spent $1,700 on clothes in 2011, so the savings can be significant, especially when it comes to keeping your dress clothes looking sharp. Keep your darks dark and brights bright through tried and true laundering methods and by avoiding practices that can damage fabrics and dyes.

Follow Instructions

Overlooking the instructions attached to your clothes is, perhaps, the most common cause of color fading. Always read the clothing care label attached to your garment, as it describes the best method for washing and drying to avoid permanent damage. Many care labels will also detail if your garment is colorfast, the thread count and the types of materials it's made of.

Colorfastness

Clothes that are not colorfast will fade easily and, if not handled correctly, can bleed into other garments. Although most care labels indicate whether or not your garment is colorfast, you can test clothes yourself to avoid accidental fading. Dampen a small portion of your garment in an inconspicuous area and allow it to set for two minutes. Gently blot the damp area with a white cloth. If dye transfers from your garment to the cloth, the item is not colorfast. Always wash non-colorfast items separately.

Darks and Brights

Dark clothes lose their color when improperly washed. Dark clothes should always be washed separately from white or bright garments. Set your washing machine to cold. Ideally, your darks should be washed between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Leaving your darks in the dryer for too long can also contribute to fading, so remove your darks as soon as they are dry or are slightly damp and hang them to dry. As with dark clothes, brights often fade when washed at incorrect temperatures. Wash brights in cool water and on short cycles to retain their color. Remember to turn garments inside out and separate bright from pastel colors before washing.

Avoid Sunlight

Ultraviolet light produced by the sun can cause bleaching and fading in dyed garments. Through a process called photodegradation, the sun’s rays actually break down bonded chemicals present in textiles and dyes, causing them to lose their rich colors. Avoid hanging dyed garments outside or regularly wearing your more expensive clothing outdoors for long periods. However, drying whites in the sun can keep them bright and pristine longer.

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About the Author

Chance Henson earned a B.A. in English literature and a writing minor from Lamar University. While interning at the "University Press" newspaper and "UP Beat" magazine he received an award for news feature writing from the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association. Henson went on to serve as content editor for "CUSH Magazine," eventually leaving to pursue the development of an online secular humanist educational publication.