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Here Are All the Ways to Prevent Color Fading in Laundry

A woman in a gray shirt sorting colorful laundry in a laundry room
Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock.com

When you’re doing laundry, it can seem like fading is a necessary byproduct of washing thoroughly. What if it didn’t have to be that way? All you need are a few easy tips to keep your favorite clothes from fading.

Washing light and white clothes is one thing—they can be treated with products that might lighten as they clean and remove stains, and you won’t notice much difference. On darks and brighter colors, however, the fading is much more noticeable. Fortunately, it’s actually pretty easy to keep that from happening. Here are a few of the simplest tips to keep your clothes looking just as vibrant as the day you bought them.

Wash Clothes Inside Out

A pair of hands holding up a black garment in front of a washing machine

One of the best hacks for keeping your dark and brightly colored clothing from fading is also one of the simplest. It doesn’t even require you to make any changes to your usual washing routine in terms of water temperature, detergent, or any other settings. All you have to do is turn the clothes inside out before putting them in the wash.

By turning the garments inside out, the outside—the visible portions that you’re trying to protect—will not be taking the brunt of the agitation from the washer drum, from the water, and from the detergent. Instead, the unseen inner sides of the garments may fade over time, but the visible parts will stay vibrant, all while getting the clothes just as clean as ever.

As a bonus: this method also helps to avoid other unsightly washing damage, like fraying and fuzzballing.

Look For Detergents That Don’t Cause Fading

Black bottle of Woolite laundry detergent; white bottle of Seventh Generation detergent in a laundry basket
Woolite/Seventh Generation

Detergents can be one of the main culprits causing your clothes to fade. If your detergent contains bleach or similar ingredients, you may find your dark and brightly colored clothes getting a little dull and faded over time. Certain detergents, especially powdered detergents, also may leave behind residue that causes a similar, dulled appearance.

To avoid fading, look for detergents that are specifically formulated to keep your clothes looking like new. Formulas labeled as being for darks or colors, or ones with language like “color safe” or “color preserving” on their labels or descriptions, are your safest bets. A detergent like Woolite Darks Defense gets your clothes clean and removes stains, all while avoiding damage to the vibrancy of the dyes.

Woolite Darks Defense Liquid Laundry Detergent

Protect dark and vibrant clothes with a detergent formulated to clean without fading.

Alternately, you can look for a detergent that is specifically formulated to be free of bleaching agents, dyes, perfumes, and other ingredients that leave residue or alter the appearance of garments. Try something like Seventh Generation Concentrated Laundry Detergent, a concentrated liquid that only needs a small amount of its hypoallergenic, plant-based formula to get clothes clean without worry.

Seventh Generation Concentrated Laundry Detergent

Gentle and scent-free for cleaning without leaving residue.

Add Vinegar to the Wash

A bottle of vinegar on a shelf; a jug of vinegar next to cleaning supplies

Ah, white vinegar: one of the most versatile household ingredients. It can help remove stains on your laundry, but did you know it can help preserve color too? While it doesn’t technically protect colors from actual fading, it removes one element that contributes to a faded, dull appearance.

The acidity of vinegar works to restore fabrics to their previous colors by removing detergent residue that has built up on clothes. Because detergent is alkaline, the particles stuck to the fibers will be loosened and swept away by the acidic vinegar. With the layer of detergent residue gone, the underlying color will be on full display once again.

All you have to do is add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle. Before using vinegar, however, check the fabric and care label: certain types of fabric, like rayon and silk, can be weakened or damaged by the acid in vinegar. If you’re unsure about the stability of the material or the dye, test it on a small, inconspicuous area first to make sure the vinegar doesn’t interact with the dye to actually change the color.

Lucy's Family Owned - Natural Distilled White Vinegar

The easy solution to remove residue that's dulling your clothes.

Use Fabric Softener

A bottle of fabric softener on top of a washing machine; a hand pouring liquid fabric softener

Fabric softener is an optional step for many people, but it can be a very helpful one when trying to avoid fading dark and colorful clothes. Adding fabric softener to a load of laundry doesn’t just make them feel soft and smell great—it also provides an extra layer of protection against the elements that make them fade.

The idea is fairly simple. Fabric softeners work by coating the fibers of garments to reduce static cling and wrinkles, which also helps to soften the feel of the fabric. That same coating, however, can also reduce friction in the wash. Less friction between garments means less fading, fraying, and fuzzballing. Your best bet for this approach is a traditional liquid detergent, rather than options like laundry “beads.”

Downy Ultra Liquid Laundry Fabric Softener

Keep clothes fresh and fade-free with friction-reducing fabric softener.

Air Dry After Washing

Clothes hanging on a vertical rack in a laundry room; three sweaters laid out flat on a drying rack

Tumble drying clothes is great for convenience, but it’s not always the best option when you’re trying to preserve the color and texture. The rough-and-tumble motions of the dryer drum can cause friction and microtears on the fibers, while the heat itself can weaken the fibers and fade the dye.

To avoid this problem, consider air drying your clothes instead of throwing them in a dryer. Outdoor clotheslines aren’t ideal—they expose your damp, freshly laundered clothes to dust and pollen, as well as sunlight that can also fade. Instead, set up drying racks indoors. You can either go with a flat option, like this mesh drying rack from OXO, or a vertical, collapsible rack like this Honey-Can-Do drying rack, depending on how many pieces you need to dry and whether they need to be laid flat or not.

OXO Good Grips Folding Sweater Drying Rack

Dry clothes flat to preserve their shape and color.

Collapsible Clothes Drying Rack

Air dry your clothes to avoid heat damage and fading.

It’s actually pretty easy to keep your clothes from fading in the wash—all you need are a few helpful products and a careful laundry routine. By following these tips, and by following other routines like regularly cleaning your washing machine, you can ensure that your clothes look (and smell!) fresh for a long time to come.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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