how my dyed clothing has held up after washing

How dyed clothing holds up to washing over a year

You guys know i love dying things – and I’ve done a lot of projects over the last few years using my beloved RIT dye. One of the most common questions i get asked every time I post about a dye project is how the dyed clothing holds up after lots of washes. Up until now i had no idea, because I tend to keep my clothing on a wide rotation, and so no individual items had been washed enough yet to be a good test.

But since I’ve been wearing my pink jeans almost once a week since i made them, I finally have a good comparison for you!

The verdict? YES the jeans have faded! Am i upset? Absolutely not. The funny thing is, until i looked at these photos i didn’t realise they had faded at all. How funny is that?? Anyway – it took about a year for them to fade from a dark pinky/maroon to the lighter pink they are now. I could probably redye them to get them back to the original colour – but i must admit, i actually like their current colour best of all (happy accident).

I think the real question is whether they would have faded so much if I’d used some sort of setting agent. RIT recommends adding salt to the dye bath to help with setting – and to be honest i’ve never done this, because i always forget (naughty meg!!). Anyone had any experience with using setting agents in the dying process?

Even after this, i really don’t feel too stressed about the idea of my dyed clothing fading for 2 reasons:

  1. As I mentioned before, these jeans are on HEAVY rotation in my closet and get washed way way more than anything else i wear. I’ve dyed many other things that haven’t faded much and i believe it’s because they don’t get washed/worn as much.
  2. Every piece of retail clothing i’ve bought that started out a bold colour has ended up fading over time too. I bought a pair of black gap jeans 3 months ago that are now dark grey, so i think this is an issue that goes beyond home dying.
It’s certainly not enough of an issue to stop me from using dye at home. What do you think??

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  1. says

    I think they look lovely faded! If nothing else, it adds a different dimension and outfit possibilities to the jeans. I haven’t dyed a lot of clothing I wear on a daily basis, but I do know one thing I add when I handwash my vintage sweaters (the original dye can sometimes bleed) is a splash of white vinegar to help retain the dye and keep it from bleeding. Perhaps if someone was really concerned about the fading of a dyed garment, a bit of that in the wash would help? I also have found that using a natural detergent for our laundry has helped stop some of the worse fading I was having issues with when using a detergent that had harsher chemicals.

  2. says

    Ooh, but these faded so prettily! I’ve used the salt before (and vinegar, and pre-mordanting with alum: I wanted strong colors!), but I don’t know if it did much to prevent fading. The wool we dyed to use as a medieval reenactment tent hasn’t been washed since dyeing, but it has faded substantially in the sun. Hm!

    All the same, I am definitely going to acquire a bit of red RIT to liven up my great-fitting-but-ugly-tan pants! Can’t believe it didn’t occur to me before now. I wonder if we could use blue dye to refresh faded store-bought denim, too! :)

  3. says

    Remember that dyes for cellulose (cotton, hemp, etc) are different than dyes for protein (wool, silk, etc). Casey’s suggestion of vinegar applies to protein dyes (because they are set with acid [and heat]), but vinegar will not do much for cellulose.

    I have not done much with dyeing cotton, but I believe you need to use dyes called “fiber reactive dyes” for the best results. Lightfastness and colorfastness are known… problems? properties? of cotton dyeing – who doesn’t own a black shirt that has turned cloudy grey with repeated washing?

    Paula Burch’s site is a great resource for the DIY dyer.

    Start here for cellulose dyes:

    And a bit about salt:

  4. Alex says

    RIT also makes a fixative (as do other brands – there is another one called Retayne) that i assume does a lot more than the salt (I do that, too). After you dye something, you put in through the wash on it’s own with a little bit of the fixative. Since you you throw your dyed garments in the wash after dying anyway, you wouldn’t even have to add a step to the process!

    • Amanda says

      After you wash the dyed clothes for the first time they will “bleed” out a lot. I do a lot of tie dye, and I always wash the shirts by themselves two or three times. After that they don’t bleed any more. Then I do a quick run of the washing machine with nothing in it – this makes sure to get any of the leftover dyes out. All clean! Doing the rinse afterwards is the most important part, and I usually leave a sign on the washer, just in case someone else in my house got the sudden urge to do laundry before the final rinsing.

  5. Suzi says

    I, too, like all 3 pinks. I was thinking of dying some khaki pants my son broke a blue ink pen on. My concern is whether dying them dark blue will leave color inside my front loading washer.?.

  6. Candace says

    I use RIT dye from time to time on things that won’t see a lot of wash and wear and it’s fine. The salt doesn’t do much as a setting agent, IMHO, and I haven’t tried the setting agent they sell over the counter.

    The obvious step up in dying is Procion dyes and heat. The agent used to set Procion is soda ash and urea to brighten. These are going to offer you professional and long lasting results but they are more complicated and you have “contaminate” a boiling pot (ie…you can’t cook with it again after you use it for dying).

    Also I find that how you shock and wash the dyed textiles determines how set your color remains. You have you literally take it from boiling into COLD with a setting agent and then “walk it down” from cold to warm until the water runs clear, then use a mild soap for a quick wash before drying.

    • Sasha says

      While it’s true that you can’t use the container you used for dyeing for cooking again, fiber reactive dyes are used in cold water for cottons and other plant fibers. I like to use 5 gallon pickle buckets for big items, plastic salad boxes for small items, and peanut butter jars for low water immersion techniques. Paula Burch’s website referenced above is truly a wonderful resource for all things dyeing.

  7. says

    Good to hear! I have big plans for dying some white pants this spring, cuz colored jeans are so in right now!, but I haven’t thought ahead much on the dye. I’m thinking I’ll use iDye, might hold up longer than RIT… but I also don’t care if they fade a little afterwards! I DO worry about them coloring other things in the wash, though!

    • MegMeg says

      I’ve been meaning to try iDye myself – I’ve been hearing so many great things about that brand.
      Meanwhile, i’m tooootally terrified of dyed things staining other clothing too, worst nightmare!! Thankfully i haven’t had any issues yet – phew!