While the quality of fabric has improved over the years, many fabrics still bleed. As discussed in the blog post from 16 October 2020, To wash or not wash your fabric, that is the question!, when fabric is washed, some of the excess dye will leach out, particularly from fabrics that have rich and vibrant colors, such as reds and purples. If you do not pre-wash your fabrics, when you wash your completed quilts for the first time, you might fear that dye will bleed from some fabrics onto adjacent parts of the quilt. This is a legitimate concern, but fear not, there are products that can aid in fixing or catching excess dye, during washing, preventing it from staining other parts of your quilt. This blog post will discuss the differences between three of these products: Retayne, Synthrapol, and Color Catchers.
Retayne is a color fixative. It should be used in pre-washing your commercially dyed cotton fabrics before you use them in a project, not after you have completed your quilt project. By locking the dye into the fabric, Retayne prevents future bleeding. Since it fixes colors, Retayne helps fabrics to retain their vibrancy. Note: only one application of Retayne is necessary.
To determine if you should use Retayne, you should test your fabric using the following procedure:
- Dampen a small square of 100% cotton white muslin.
- Place it on top of the colored fabric to be tested.
- Iron the fabrics with a hot iron until dry.
- Inspect the muslin. If there is any transfer of color, then treat your fabric with Retayne.
How to use Retayne
- Hand Wash Directions: Add 140 ̊F water to a pot or tub, enough to fully cover the fabric you’re treating. Then add one teaspoon of Retayne for each yard of fabric. Add the fabric you wish to treat and soak for 20 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove the fabric, rinse it in cold water, and immediately hang it to dry.
- Washing Machine Directions: Follow the same steps above, setting the water level appropriately in your machine and using a 20-minute wash.
- Note: Retayne does not work in energy-efficient top and front loader washing machines. Those washing machines do not supply enough water to treat your fabrics with Retayne properly. You would need to follow the handwashing directions.
- After the fabric has been treated with Retayne and used in the construction of your quilt, subsequent washes should use cold or cool water, never hot water.
Synthrapol is a special detergent that suspends dye particles, so they do not reattach to fabrics. People use Synthrapol as a pre-wash, after-wash, or as a wetting agent for painting and dyeing fabrics. Synthrapol removes the excess dye from fabrics and suspends them in the wash water, so they will wash away and not bond to other fabrics. When treating cotton fabric with Syntrhapol, you must use hot wash water. Because Synthrapol washes out excess dye, the fabric may appear to be lighter in color.
Fabric dyers use Synthrapol as a pre-wash to remove sizing, oils, fingerprints, and other impurities that can interfere with the dying process. They often then use Synthrapol when they wash their dyed fabric, to remove and suspend excess dye particles, so they can be washed away.
Synthrapol can be used to:
- Wash hand-dyed fabrics before using them in a garment or quilt.
- When fabric has already been pieced and quilted, and bleeds into the adjacent fabric.
- To soak fabric before dying.
How to use Synthrapol
Hand Wash Directions: Use the sink, a plastic tub, or an old enamel canning kettle (that are not used for food preparation). Add water heated to 140 ̊F. Add one teaspoon of Synthrapol per gallon of water then immerse your fabric/quilt. Stir for 5 to 10 minutes. Rinse well in warm water and hang to dry.
- Washing Machine Directions: Fill your machine with 140 ̊F water (note the “hot” water setting on your machine may be either hotter or colder than that temperature). Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of Synthrapol and then add your cotton fabrics or quilt. Let the washing machine run for a 10 to 12-minute wash cycle with a warm rinse, then dry.
Color Catchers are small, treated rayon sheets that catch excess dyes. The way this product works is similar to Synthrapol, but instead of suspending the excess dye particles so they can be washed away, Color Catchers attract and absorb the excess dye particles. The sheets act like a sponge/magnet as they absorb and trap extraneous dye particles, locking them away so the dye will not be re-deposited on other fabrics.
How to use Color Catchers
- Place 1 to 3 sheets in the washing machine (depending on the colorfastness of your fabric), start the water, add detergent, and then fabric/quilt. Wash as usual, then remove the sheet(s) before transferring the load to the dryer.
- Note: The manufacturer recommends that, for front-loading washing machines, you should place the color catcher sheet(s) in a mesh bag and place it at the back of the drum, before adding to the wash load.
Retayne, Synthrapol and Color Catchers are three products that can be used to prevent bleeding. All three are effective and the one you choose will depend both on your personal preference and the specific circumstances in which it will be used. If you pre-wash your fabrics Retayne will set the fabric dye before you piece a quilt and keep your colors vibrant. If you have a quilt that has experienced bleeding, use Synthrapol. Use color catchers to grab dye in the wash but remember they will not reverse a bad bleed.