Quilting Blog

Quilt or Dye: Make Your Own DIY Color Catcher!

It's every quilter's worst nightmare: you open up the washing machine to pull out your freshly washed creation for the first time, only to find that your reds and purples have bled all over your whites and lights. (Been there, done that!) It's an awful feeling after putting so much work into a project, but thankfully it's getting to be more of a thing of the past thanks to color catchers.

These store-bought sheets, found in the laundry aisle, soak up the dye sloshing around in your wash water and keep it from transferring to other fabrics. Having learned my lesson in previous projects, I now put three or four color catchers into my quilt loads when they contain previously unwashed fabrics. And so far, they've worked great.

For those who are looking to save some money, however, why not make your own? With only one main household ingredient, they're a perfect little project to protect your fabrics while keeping unknown chemicals out of your washing machine.

Here's an easy and cheap way to create your own DIY color catchers! 

DIY colorcatcher

Science (and safety) lesson: How does it work?

The primary ingredient in a DIY color catcher is washing soda. Also known as sodium carbonate, washing soda (or soda ash) is a powerful cleaning agent, used for descaling bathroom surfaces and dissolving black junk on the bottoms of cooking pans. It's a solvent that works by attracting dye and helping it bond to the fibers on the cloth of the color catcher, rather than the dye "floating" around in the water and being redeposited on other fabrics in unwanted places.

Please note that washing soda is NOT the same as baking soda, which is sodium bicarbonate. Washing soda is much, much more alkaline. It's great for lifting stains out of fabrics — it's also used for tie-dyeing to keep colors separate — but is also caustic and potentially irritating to skin, eyes and mucous membranes. Try not to touch it directly!

Step 1. Collect your materials

To make your own DIY color catchers, you'll need the following:

  • Several scraps of white felt or flannel, about 6" square. If using flannel, zigzag around the edges to keep your squares from fraying in the wash and "shedding" all over your fabric.
  • A large, wide bowl.
  • Very warm tap water, about 2 cups.
  • 2 tablespoons washing soda (found in the laundry aisle, likely next to the borax and laundry soap).

    DIY Color Catcher
    Photos via Right Sides Together

Step 2. Mix the solution 

In the large bowl, combine the water and the washing soda. Stir until all the soda has dissolved.

DIY color catcher: Mixing ingredients

Step 3. Soak the squares

Place all the felt squares into the water solution and stir them until they are saturated with water. Using gloves or tongs, squeeze out the extra water and hang them to dry.

DIY Color Catcher: Soaking the squares

Step 4. Put them in the wash

Ta-da! Your DIY color catcher is now ready to be used in the wash with your quilts and other fabrics. They can be reused several times until they become saturated with color. If you wash a bunch of previously unwashed fabrics (particularly warm colors like red and yellow), you should be seeing some evidence of dye on the color catcher. If you don't, this might be a sign that you need to increase the amount of washing soda in your original solution.

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14 Comments

Karen Wilson

Thank you for this info. I am new at this and was wondering about the dyes running into the white.

Reply
Myra

Often when I remove clothes from the washer, I find circles or entire areas where the color was missing, leaving lots of clothes unwearable and lots of towels ugly. Will the DIY color catcher stop this from happening? If not, do you know what will help to avoid items from looking bleach? I NEVER us bleach.

Reply
Marcia

Do the cloths need to be re-treated before each use?

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Lauren Lang

Nope! You can use them several times before you have to make new ones.

Reply
Yvie

Can you wash material with washing soda.before making it into a quilt? Will this set the color so it will not run later?

Reply
Lauren Lang

You can, and you can also prewash your colors separately if you prefer. This technique is particularly helpful for quilts that aren’t prewashed.

Reply
Stephanie

For additional cost savings, you can making your OWN washing soda out of baking soda.
Preheat oven to 400F. Spread a thin layer of baking soda into a shallow baking pan. Put it in the oven for half an hour. Mix around the soda and then flatten it into a thin layer again. Place in the oven for another half an hour until the composition of the soda has changed throughout. Place it in an airtight container once cooled and use as needed 😉

Reply
Bren

Great tip, Stephanie!
This is an older post, but as an FYI based on my experience, the cost of baking soda and washing soda are about the same price (at my local Walmart). I find that there is not enough cost savings between products to justify the cost of heating the oven, especially if it’s a/c season (almost year-round in my area)! 😊

I like to find cheap hacks, and my mom swears by color catchers. I’m about to make my first batch, using arm & hammer super Washing powder (sodium carbonate) and Squares cut from old cotton sheets and well-worn baby blankets. A square or two of each sandwiched and stitched should do the trick. If not so thread-bare, I wouldn’t be layering mine, just stitching the perimeter to prevent fraying.

Reply
Susan

I’m wanting to set the color in my new fabrics so they keep their vibrancy. Can I do this at the same time as using a color catcher?

Reply
Brenda

It is not easy to find Washing Soda or even Borax in the laundry aisle of Montreal supermarkets. I don’t know why. I can’t even find Shout colour catchers if I wanted to spend the money on them.
Can I use a different colour other than white for the felt or the cloths to make my own colour collector?

Reply
MARTHA HANDLEY

Does this really work? Why doesn’t the washing soda just wash out of the fabric squares? Will it work in a front loader machine that uses very little water? I am about to wash a large flannel rag quilt that has some very dark reds, purples, and browns and some white and beige prints. I’m so afraid it will bleed!

Reply
Sinikka Pappin

I wash several flannelette rag quilts at a time in the large washers at the laundromat. I add about a 1/4 – 1/2 cup of vinegar to set the colours. Never had a problem. (If your rag quilt has no been washed previously, it will shed a lot of threads & lint – that may be a problem for your drain…)

Reply
Brenda

I will follow this recipe. I just don’t understand this part as it is not so clear: “They can be reused several times”. Does this mean the same cloth/felt can be reused over and over OR do they have to be treated with soda again before reusing?

Reply
Melissa

Thanks! I’m out of the disposables and was looking for a less expensive replacement. I found this in a search.

One question: Do you think this would work with terrycloth washcloths?

Reply

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