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How to Do a Fabric Bleed Test to Make Sure Dyes are Stable

Perform a Test if You Aren't Sure Dyes Won't Bleed in the Wash


How to Do a Fabric Bleed Test Janet Wickell

Some quilting cottons bleed (lose their dyes) when washed, especially fabrics with vivid colors like red and purple. The dyes can stain other fabrics in your washload or, even worse, patches in a quilt that took ages to make.

Perform this easy fabric bleed test on any cotton fabrics you suspect might not be stable.

Bleed Test the Fabric

  1. Submerge a small piece of a fabric in soapy water -- a 2-inch square is fine. Use the same soap and water temperature you normally use to wash fabrics and quilts.
  2. Let the fabric sit in the soapy solution for about 30 minutes, then check to see if the water is discolored. If it is, the fabric bleeds and the dyes could potentially damage other fabrics.
  3. If the water is clear, try one more thing to make sure the dyes won't transfer onto adjacent fabrics when wet. Remove the patch and, without rinsing, place it on a white paper towel. Wait a bit and check to see if dye has transferred onto the toweling. If it did, chances are good that it will transfer dye onto adjacent patches when your quilt is washed.
  4. Rinse out the soap and dry your test patch, then perform the bleed test again. If bleeding continues, do not use the fabric in your quilts.

If you must use a fabric that bleeds or transfers, purchase a commercial dye fixative, such as Retayne, to help make the dyes more permanent. Treat a snip of fabric, following the instructions carefully, then try the bleed test again.

A product called Synthrapol, sold by companies that cater to fabric dyeing, helps keep colors suspended in the wash, where they are prevented from staining other fabrics. Some quilters use a product called Color Catcher®, which resembles dryer softener sheets. Just toss one of the 'catchers' into the wash, where it absorbs loose dyes. 

Most fabrics produced by companies that cater to quilters do not bleed, but it's a good idea to do a bleed test on all vivid fabrics until you have a good understanding of which fabrics you can trust.

Fabric Helpers


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