Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Gothic Homemaker: Dye fastness

Keeping your blacks, black!

What's a Goth's worst nightmare? I mean aside from when your blacks don't match... How about when your beautiful blacks fade to gray? It drives me crazy. For the last ten years I've strived to maintain the deep sultry dyes of my wardrobe with mixed success. I've found some techniques to work better over others and today I'm going to share those tips with you.

First, let's talk about clothing. Not all clothes are created equally, nor are they dyed the same way. The longevity of your garment is somewhat out of your hands. Clothing manufacturers will decide how to pre-treat the fabric of your garment, what dye to use and how to finish the dyeing process. This can result in different qualities and clothing lifespans. The finishing bath is actually pretty integral to the colour fastness of a garment. According to Textile Testing International's blog, fabrics are treated to a resin or enzyme finish after being dyed. Resin is supposed to improve colour retention but it can reduce the physical properties of the material, whereas enzyme treated fabrics are more resilient to laundering and better for colour retention.

There's no easy way to know how a company dyes the fabric in our clothing, we end up being left in the dark (no pun intended). But it's not the end of the world. TTI points out that a garment's longevity also relies on the consumer and their laundering practices. This means we should do our best to launder our clothes properly and avoid damaging the material. TTI suggests avoiding detergents that contain active bleach and opt for those containing enzymes instead. They also advise washing the clothes inside out, reducing the load size, adding fabric softener during the final rinse cycle, and reducing time in the dryer.

Heat from the dryer can cause colours to fade. I strongly recommend you don't over dry your clothing. I heard once that if you remove your clothing from the dryer while still damp and hang dry it, it can prevent damaging the garment. If you leave clothing in the dryer to get white hot, the fibers can become brittle and break down over time, this can cause colour fading. If you can leave the dryer out of your laundering entirely, your clothing might stand a better chance; try line drying or laying clothes flat to dry instead. Avoid using hot water if you can, it can cause fibers to swell and the dye to release, so do your best to wash in warm or cool water. I always wash my darks in cold water now and have had great success.

Something else to consider is how to maintain the shape of your garments. Too much wear can cause garments to pill which can change the texture and colour of your clothing. Washing machines that feature agitators can cause colour fading and damage due to friction. I've found my agitator has caused pilling and wear, and sometimes has created holes in my clothing! A front loading washing machine is a good investment if you don't like the idea of an agitator. If you're dealing with knits, like sweaters, it's probably best to hand wash them and lay them flat to dry. I've used both machine wash and hand wash for different knit garments and I've really seen the difference! My sweaters have held their shape and there's far less colour fading and pilling than those that were subjected to machine washing and drying.

Honestly, one of the most successful ways I've found to keep my blacks black are to hand wash them in cold water with a gentle detergent, and then to hang or lay them flat to dry in a shaded area. If you have no choice but to hang your darks on the line in the sun, turn them inside out so that the outside fabric doesn't fade. You might think hand washing and hang drying is high maintenance but it's really provided longevity to my favorite pieces and I think that it's totally worth it.

Dry Clean Only

You might be put off by the idea of washing something that is "dry clean only". While I can't say this for all garments, there are some dry clean only items that can be machine or hand washed. It's usually fairly obvious as to why a garment is dry clean only. For example, my wedding dress is dry clean only, this is probably because it's heavily beaded, has a tulle skirt, and features a satin bodice (satin is prone to water staining, a sometimes irreversible damage). If your garment is obviously an unusual and special material, and it's listed as dry clean only, it's probably best to follow the provided care instructions. However, if your garment is something like a polyester blend, you can probably hand wash it. Sometimes clothing manufacturers will instruct you to use "dry clean only" just to save their asses in the event that something goes terribly wrong with your garment. For example, if you wash it and it goes to crap it's your fault, if you dry clean it and it goes to crap it's the dry cleaner's fault, it's never the clothing company's fault...never...

My tips for hand washing dry clean only garments is to wash them in cool or cold water (this helps for colour retention) with a gentle detergent. After rinsing the garment thoroughly, you gently squeeze out excess water by hand (don't ring the garment or stretch it, it can lose its shape). Place the garment on an old towel and roll the towel up with the garment inside, then apply pressure; this releases any remaining water into the towel. Remove promptly and lay flat to dry. This has worked on a number of my dry clean only items.

Something you should know about dry cleaning is that it isn't a perfect solution. Aside from being something of an inconvenience and costly, dry cleaning actually damages the material of your garments over time. The chemicals are harsh and can smell bad, so it's not always the best solution. If you're uncertain of whether you should try hand washing your garment, check the care label for the fabric content and search for cleaning instructions online. If you're worried about the effects of the detergent or water on your dry clean only garment, do a spot test inside the seam allowance. I tried this on a bridal gown I'm working on, I tested it with water inside to see if it's prone to water staining. Don't do it anywhere noticeable! The spot test doesn't account for shrinkage, so again, it's best to research your material and ask around in online forums before you take the chance of washing dry clean only items.

Top Tips

So let's go over my best tips for black clothing longevity:

  1. Wash in cool water
  2. Hand wash or machine wash on a gentle/delicates cycle
  3. Use a mild detergent (with enzymes if possible) - NO BLEACH!
  4. Wash inside out if machine washing
  5. Hang dry or lay flat in the shade if possible
  6. Machine dry for short periods, remove garments while slightly damp and hang dry
  7. Test wash dry clean only garments in the seam allowance, hand wash whenever possible!

Got any great tips for keeping blacks black? Let me know!


1. Textile Testing International


  1. I never thought to dry my clothes inside out when I put my clothes. I am going to do that. Thanks!

    1. You're welcome! I actually learned that from one of my dresses a few years back, the care label suggested hanging in the shade. I've since read it a few times in articles too. I'm sure drying once or twice in the sun makes no difference but I think if it's done repeatedly clothing can fade.

  2. Unfortunately I'm a sweaty and lotion-craving person (I get rashes if I don't use lotion daily), so I can't use clothes that can't be washed at least 40 degrees, and preferably even 60. So, neither blacks nor whites last long in my house.

    1. Hmm, I guess in your case you could always re-dye a batch of blacks to get some longevity out of them. And if not, I'm sure you can rock gray clothing. Sometimes fading can make a garment more interesting. ;)

  3. I wash everything inside out....also zip up all the zippers. Unzipped zippers cause crazy friction in the wash. I also do the cold hand wash. That's worked well. haha I have bought clothes where the care instructions just said "do not wash. Do not dry clean" and I was like WTF do I do. I like dry cleaning, but the toxic by-products bother me. There are green dry cleaners here, but they are SO expensive. This was a useful post.

    1. Good call on the zippers, when unzipped they're more prone to chipping too. And I've seen those crazy care tags that say no wash no dry clean, usually it's followed by "spot clean" and I'm not sure I even understand that lol. I had a pair of pleather pants when I was a kid that had to be "sponge washed", it was horrible and time consuming and didn't stop the inside of the pants from yellowing. Some garments are just doomed from the start!
      I'm glad you found this post useful. :)

    2. Yeah... How do you "spot clean" BO? Cigarette smoke? The NYC subway? I don't have a problem washing things you aren't supposed to wash like leather, cashmere, silk, wool, but for some reason I never washed the "do not wash" stuff. Lol pleather. I always washed my pleather pants normally, then one day they just split in half like breakaway pants. It was embarrassing.

    3. Exactly! Spot clean is ridiculous, if the fabric is that fragile why even bother making a garment out of it? Maybe the do not wash label applies to vintage clothes lol. I've read that a lot of vintage dresses and tops featured removable armpit inserts, so you could take them out and not wash your dress for awhile. I even recall one chick saying on her blog that she *never* washes her dresses just wears this protective stuff underneath. I get that they want to preserve their vintage clothing, but clothes can still get mucked up from the outside. I hand wash my vintage dresses and all my special stuff in cold water. So far so good!

  4. Some excellent and seriously practical advice here. I'm the WORST with laundry. I mean I sort it into darks, colours and whites... but that's about it. I am super careful about not throwing things in the dryer though, my boyfriend shrinks EVERYTHING so he's not allowed to touch the washing machine haha.

    1. I'm happy to hear you liked this post! My guy used to shrink my clothes too! Now he always asks beforehand to see what's line dry or hand wash, then he lets me deal with whatever he puts aside lol. I'm glad he does this at least, it's far better than having to replace everything because it's shrunk or ruined.

  5. I wash as cold as I can - with a 65°C wash every other month to keep the bacteria at bay. I always air dry, we don't even own a dryer! And I redye the blacks when I think that the balck is faded to much. Although that happens at most once in 2-3 years...

    I never thought about washing inside out, but I do sometimes accidentally! ^^

    1. I wish I had more room to air dry, I have an itty bitty collapsible clothesline that can only hold a handful of items. I mostly just air dry my stuff, my fiance doesn't care either way, he's not laundry savvy. He used to throw everything in the same load (reds included); I'm amazed it never bled all over everything but his clothes looked awfully dingy lol. Hopefully one day I can eliminate the dryer completely, it'd probably help my hydro bill!

  6. Great tips, I try to not machine wash any of my clothes unless they get really dirty, then 40°C (Of course, working clothes 80°C+ but thats something else) instead I take my clothes to the shower each day & wash with my shower gel, result is nearly no fading, scents wont bite my perfume and its only a small amount of clothing to dry so I can leave them inside the flat for that!

    1. I knew someone who did almost the exact same thing with her laundry. She used dish liquid and said it worked wonders. I've always been curious to give it at try. I was using a mild lingerie detergent but didn't notice any benefit from it.


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