Help For a Bleeding Quilt

A few weeks ago Lynn sent me the following comment. It led me to write this week’s post:

“I recently finished a quilt, washed it with color grabbers and still had the colors bleed.  Purchased the fabric at a reputable quilt shop and began a class using the batik fabrics the same day.  My question is would you please speak on fabric preparation before beginning process and also ways of rectifying disasters such as this?
Normally I wash all fabric before starting, besides bleeding have had unequal shrinking concerns, but when taking a class, this is not always possible.”

Yikes! I have only had this problem happen to me once, many many years ago, and I never did get the stains out. It was a scrap quilt in blues and one of the fabrics bled to the back of the quilt just a little, along the quilting lines, wherever that fabric happened to be in the quilt. I didn’t notice it right away and was grateful it was on the back. I simply use it and ignore the problem, but that probably isn’t the best way to deal with it :-).

I wrote Lynn back with supportive words and questions. She sent me this picture with her response:

“Actually didn’t dry it before noticing the bleeds and even washed it using color grabbers and cold water. After trying all suggested remedies: oxyclean, borax, dawn and finally bleach, (lighter fluid was the exception), I carefully painted worst bleeds with bleach.  Not totally gone, but much better.  Very glad this was going to be my quilt and not made for someone else.

Here’s a picture of her finished quilt. It is lovely!

So – I’m hoping this post will be the start of some information sharing that will help all of us with future problems. As most of us know, color bleed occurs when fabric gets wet and dye leaches out of the fibers. This commonly occurs in the washing machine and can result in color transfer between items in the load.

So here are a few of my own thoughts, and some recommendations I got off the internet:

Prevention is the best solution!

Pre-wash your fabrics! Especially if the quilt is made to be used and washed (I have to admit I don’t always wash the fabrics I use in my art quilts because I don’t plan to ever wash them, but I realize this is not a super wise decision).

I’m always concerned that putting all the fabrics in the washer with a color catcher to pre-wash them may not stop a problem, so I typically fill the sink with a couple of inches of lukewarm water and, beginning with the lightest value fabric, I submerge the fabric and then squeeze out the excess water. If the water stays clear, I throw that piece in the dryer and go to the next lightest fabric. If one of the fabrics does bleed, I continue to rinse it, change the water, rinse it… until it stops bleeding. If it doesn’t after 4 or 5 changes – I don’t use that fabric! When all the fabrics are “safe” I throw in a color catcher/grabber and turn on the dryer. This has worked well for me.

In Lynn’s case, she didn’t have the chance to pre-wash her fabric because she took the class the same day she purchased her fabric. I have had this happen and my solution was to cut a small piece (2″ square) from each of the fabrics that look like possible bleeders, get them wet, squeeze the water out, and lay them on a white piece of paper towel. I leave them for 5 to 10 minutes and if the paper stays white, chances are they’re ok.

Another good idea is to put a color catcher/grabber sheet in with every quilt you wash.

Too late – the quilt came out of the washer bleeding!

Lynn tried some of these options, and didn’t have perfect results, but they are a good place to start:

Don’t let it dry!!!  I’m not kidding – if you let it dry the stain will set and be much harder to remove. Make a paste of a color-safe, oxy-bleach mixed with lukewarm water (not actual bleach!) Spread it over the stained area and allow it to penetrate for 5 minutes. While that sits, mix the oxy-bleach into a bucket full of lukewarm water (follow manufacturers instructions for amounts). Once dissolved, stir in one gallon of cool water and submerge the quilt in the mix. Let soak for one to five hours. Rinse well and repeat if needed.

As I did some research on the web, variations on the above instructions came up again and again. If your quilt does dry it would still be worth trying this process.

Another suggestion I found was in a comment to a blog from “Sarah” who said Carbona Run Remover is “amazing, amazing, amazing! Doesn’t do a darn thing to the colors that are supposed to be there, but gets the ones out that aren’t.” You can find information on this product at: . 

She also recommended Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover. I found both at Walmart and JoAnn’s on-line, and I think I need to purchase them to have on hand – just in case.

I have one more suggestion for a quilt that has dried and no amount of effort or product gets the stain out. My dear friend, Sharon Rotz, had this problem with one of her wonderful quilts. It was featured in her book “Log Cabin Quilts With Attitude”:

I remember her telling me about it years ago, so I emailed her and asked if I could share her story:

“As far as the efforts to clean up the bleeding quilt, I used quilt soap, dye magnet sheets in washer, then desperately, laundry detergents and finally appliqué. On the up side, the quilt is very soft from being washed so many times!”

Appliqué is a good option if all else fails. The worst of her quilt’s bleeding was on the back so, in keeping with the garden theme, she appliquéd fabric printed with seed packets!

She even added a few packets to the front. Here’s a detail photo:

Well done Sharon! 

So now it’s your turn. Do you have a story about a bleeding quilt? Was the outcome good or not so good? Any fixes we haven’t touched on yet? Have you tried any of the products or ideas mentioned with success? Please share so we can all learn!

8 Opinions

  • Carol Krause said:

    I recently used Synthrapol on a print fabric where the red bled into the off white background. It removed the stains nicely.

  • Margit Kagerer said:

    Thank you for the tips.
    I had some bleeding years ago and appliqued patches over the areas. Another problem: I once had thread bleeding after I wet the quilt to block it. Fortunately the unruly colors were only on the back. It was not a quilt for a show.

  • Cynthia Eggers said:

    I use a lot of batiks in my applique and I always prewash them in synthrapol, thus never having a problem with bleeding. Reds, blues, and purples are the worst for bleeding. Retayne is another good produect for excess dye removal’

  • Cheryl Parker said:

    I normally wash all my fabrics as I buy them. I’ve skipped washing minkee fabrics, since I haven’t had a problem with them UNTIL I used red minkee. It turned the quilt background fabric a pale pink. Unfortunately the quilt was for a baby BOY. I had to make another quilt. The pink quilt was given to a baby girl. Thank goodness it bled evenly, not in clumps. Now I wash the minkee, too.

  • Anne Oelke said:

    I had a green bleed when I spritzed a block before pressing. By that point the green was already in about 19 of the blocks. I used Synthrapol in hot water and soaked and swirled the blocks. It removed the runs and the excess dye from all the blocks. I air dried the blocks before continuing the quilt construction. I haven’t washed the finished quilt yet, but will use color catchers when I do. Since I usually prewash my fabric, I’m not sure how this piece ended up bleeding—but at least the Synthrapol saved me from ripping apart 19 blocks.

  • Doris Ast said:

    I wash all fabrics and especially the batiks bleed, even the light colors. I use Retayne on them. With some fabrics a rinse or two will eliminate the excess dye and also use color catchers.

  • Lynn Stephens said:

    Using my finger carefully dipped in bleach I dabbed the bleeds (thankfully white background) and the washed it. Did not machine dry it! Repeated the process 3 times. Thankfully only very small tint left, but some of the color in the wings was also washed out. Used Ink Intense colored pencils by Derwent and colored those areas. Very pleased with the results.
    Thank you Chris for answering my question and doing the research.

  • Geraldine Sharp said:

    I have turtleneck tops (content mostly silk) which had food stains. Oxyclean not recommended for silk but I used it anyway and stains are gone. Red batik treated with Retayne seemed to be good to use, but a few water spots caused bleeding. Will try Synthrapol. Thanks for all the other suggestions.


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