The Natural Way to Keep Fabric from Fading

If you've been sewing or quilting for any amount of time, you've probably come across the age-old dilemma of whether or not to prewash your fabrics. In addition to getting any shrinkage out of the way before you sew with the fabric, prewashing can keep dark fabric dyes (reds and purples) from bleeding onto lighter-colored fabrics.

But wait...don't you want the vibrant dyes to stay in your fabrics, thus keeping them bright and pretty?

Fortunately, there are several natural remedies to help fabric colors stay bright when laundered. To keep fabric from fading in the wash, follow these simple quilting hacks for using some well-known items from around your house! Don't let those brilliant hues escape your fabrics, especially if you've already invested hours into stitching up completed projects, like a garment or quilt.

Colorful Quilt
Photo via Craft Buds

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Here are a few suggestions for how to keep fabric from fading, the natural way.

Salt

Add a tablespoon of salt to the wash, and the chloride will help our clothing pack a colorful punch when it comes out of the dryer. The reason? Chloride found in salt actually helps to seal the color in fabrics, thus keeping it from fading. Try this out on your finished quilts to keep the colors bright, or treat your clothing. Everything, including handmade garments, should come out of the wash with all of its color intact.

But what if your fabrics have already faded? Some say that salt can actually help restore the brightness of over-laundered and dull fabrics.

Cold water

Washing fabrics in cold water will not only help you cut down on your bills, but it will also help to keep your fabric colors from fading. Pair the cold water cycle with a color brightening detergent to boost your colors in the wash.

Vinegar

Did you know that white vinegar can help to keep fabric colors from fading? If you add ½ cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle, the liquid will freshen up your laundry and help colors maintain their intensity. Prior to a first washing, you can also soak dark fabrics for 30 minutes in water mixed with ½ cup of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt to help set the dyes. Organic Authority shares more tips on using vinegar to help fabric colors set.

Baking soda

It's not just for keeping your teeth white (or erasing odors from your fridge). Baking soda can also be added to your laundry to help fabrics maintain their brightness. Add ½ cup of baking soda during the wash cycle to try it out.

Sheer Purple Blouse on a Hanger
Photo via Lindsay Sews

Air drying

If you want to help your fabrics maintain their color after washing, you can let them hang to air dry. But remember to keep them out of the sun for best results, since exposure to the sun can fade fabrics even quicker than a spin cycle.

Do you how to keep fabric from fading? We'd love to hear your tips to help keep fabric colors bright!

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22 Comments

Jean Kilmer Roberto

Don’t hang your quilt in the sun!! Ask how I found out…..

Reply
Jane

just a comment on baking soda; As many of us remember, before dishwashers we were able to get the stains out of coffee and tea cups when we used the baking soda DRY in the cup. When it became wet it was no longer abrasive and would not take the stains out. DRY baking soda will permanently remove enamel from your teeth so not a good idea to help whiten them. I am speaking from a dental hygienists point of view.

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Lady Bug

Thank you! And I am in favor of Jane’s comment about baking soda. I have a question can acidic food like orange juice help natural dyes from extracting its bright color? Thanks ^.*

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Joanne Gruba

I like vinegar when I wash my fabric. But I will try the other. Thank you so much.

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CDJ

I read in your article that “Baking soda can also be added to your laundry to help fabrics maintain their brightness.” But I also read in another site that baking soda has a slightly whitening effect on laundry. How can I be sure it won’t fade my coloured laundry? I would rather avoid vinegar as it can damage elasticated clothing in the rinse cycle. In your view what is the best way to boost or protect the colours in my washing – I use natural grated soap + baking soda & soda crystals for white with great result. But I am still looking for the right recipe for coloured clothing. Many thanks

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Stan

Thanks for the info about salt and vinegar. You give the quantities of salt and vinegar, but don’t give the amount of water to mix them with. I going to guess that the amount of dilution is really important!!!

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Rachel

I know for sure that the salt and vinegar work. The reason isn’t that they have magical properties that help set color in the fabric. The water that comes into our homes from our water treatment plants are filled with bleach and chloride, they products listed above help neutralize the chemicals in our water. Therefore preventing the fading. I learned recently to always hang dry quilts and fluff in dryer after. I am curious about batik. I have never worked with it. Has anyone washed several times and had fading issues. I know they bleed to begin with because of how it is made. Just curious.

Reply
Ali

Salt, vinegar and soda ash are mordants that help prepare fibers to accept dye during the dying process. They ar only effective during the dying process and won’t help retain dyes afterwards. To retain dyes in your fibers you need to use Retayne available from Dharma. If you have a dye running use Synthrapol also from Dharma to remove the unset dyes. Yes they are chemical solutions but the only way I know of to deal with these problems. The term “natural” is very misleading…arsenic is very natural and so is lead….but you wouldn’t want to use them. I think the term you are looking for is nontoxic but to get the vibrant colors in modern fabrics they are all complex chemical mixtures.

Reply
Michael Groth

You are absolutely correct about salt, vinegar and soda ash. This article reminds me of some of the misleading hacks found all over Pinterest.
I always say, if you want your fabric to retain its color, buy better fabric at the outset. I went cheap on fabric once and that was enough. Since I started buying better fabric, I don’t have the issue of colors fading.

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Cindy

Thank you for posting this. It will help me a lot with my sewing, etc.

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Bea Farris

I am curious if using salt over time will damage a washing machine.

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Kim M.

Make sure to be very conservative with the vinegar or you will get “acid” washed clothes! I faded a set of sheets with too much vinegar.

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Karen K

I use vinegar when I am printing on fabric. I either use freezer paper or a spray semi adhesive to attach the fabric to the paper and then place this combination into the jet printer. Print my photo or whatever I want and then I peel off the paper and hot iron the fabric and then soak the fabric in vinegar and then rinse and iron again. This will keep the fabric and print from running and from fading. Easy and great for all the projects where you want to use your photos.

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Yvonne

To keep my bathing suits from fading and the elastic from deteriorating, I keep a bottle of chlorine remover for fish tanks by the sink. I fill the sink, put a capful of chlorine remover in the water, then soak my suit five minutes. Don’t rinse again as the water from your faucet has chlorine in it. My bathing suits last twice as long.

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Okonji

Tried salt in water for a black T-shirt and there wasn’t that much usual black colour in the water. It was great result for today.

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Pickles

My friend tried that -adding vinegar to rinse cycle to lock in color- but she’d always end up smelling like a salad.

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Cindy

Many thanks for all who shared your results using whatever you used and the results!
So happy that I came across Craftsy.com when asking how to set colors as there is sooo much more on this site that I found!!! Love what I’ve found so far.

Reply

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