Tips and Tricks: Stop Fabric Colors from Bleeding – New Quilters

One of the worst moments you can experience as a quilter is putting a quilt into the wash for the first time, then taking it out and seeing to your horror that one or more of the fabrics in the quilt has bled dye onto other parts of the quilt.

I’ve had that happen, and believe me, it’s no fun at all! Here’s the sad story: I made a Valentine’s quilt with pink and red hearts on a white background. When I washed the quilt to remove the basting spray, the red hearts left pink splotches all over the white background I had spent hours free-motion quilting.

Tears were shed that day.

Which Fabrics Bleed Dye?

When it comes to color bleeding, dark fabrics are the worst offenders. Black, brown, dark blue or green, and especially red fabrics are notorious for leaving the kind of marks on quilts that you really don’t want.

But there is an inexpensive counter-measure that claims to keep dye from bleeding onto your quilt: Shout Color Catcher.

ColorCatcher comes in sheets that look like fabric softener sheets. Using the product is simple: you just drop one sheet or two (for larger loads) into the washing machine with your fabrics or quilt. Any dye released by your fabric is supposed to be trapped on the the color sheet, not on the rest of your fabric.

Does Shout Color Catcher Really Work?

The blurb on the box claims that you can mix colors without fear. But a little online research showed that not everyone thinks the product works. Consumer Reports ran some tests on Shout Color Catcher and its competitor, Carbona Color & Dirt Grabber, and found that the sheets didn’t work any better just washing without them. They recommend simply separating lights and darks in the wash.

But quilters don’t have that luxury. Our patterns depend on artful mixtures of light and dark fabrics, and the colors we have so carefully sewn together can’t be separated for washing.

Online reviews by other quilters are mixed. Some people swear by the sheets and never wash anything without them. Others say they tried them and got dye stains anyway.

When I first wrote this post, I ran an informal test on some red and white quilt fabrics. The results were inconclusive, but promising. The ColorCatcher sheets picked up some red dye, and no red bled onto the white fabric. I thought it was a good enough result to keep an open mind.

Then I had a genuine dye bleeding emergency.

I spent quite a few hours free-motion quilting a baby quilt with large expanses of white fabric and some blue borders. When I washed the quilt to remove the marking pencil that had helped me keep my quilting lines straight, DISASTER!

There were big blue-gray blotches all over my beautifully quilted white areas!

I put the quilt right back in the washer with three ColorCatcher sheets and held my breath until the wash cycle was over.

Result: all the blotches were gone, and the color sheets were saturated with blue dye. Color me a true believer!

I plan to use the sheets any time I wash a quilt that has a mixture of dark and light or white fabrics.

I prewash most of my larger fabric yardage. I will also use the sheets when I prewash the fabric colors that experience tells me are likely to bleed: red, brown, dark blue, dark green, and black.

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Felicity Walker

Felicity Walker is the author of the best-selling Quilting for Beginners book series and other books for quilters. She has been quilting for nearly twenty years and loves finding easier, faster, and more fun ways to make quilts.

  • Be careful putting them into the dryer … A friend told me that they will actually release the colors back on fabrics in random spots. Shari, have you experienced anything like that?

  • Shari says:

    I’ve been using Color Catcher for many years and have had no problems. When I’m doing a load of heavy bleeders like red, dark blue, dark green, etc I do use use 2 sheets. The manufacturer also recommends putting them in the dryer with the fabric as well. Not sure why, but I’ve had no accidents after prewashing. I’ve also included them in the box with quilts that I gift to non-quilters.

  • Dorothy says:

    I am busy making red and white quilts to commemorate Canada’s 150th birthday and as I sew I am praying that these great color catcher sheets work well. I plan to wash each quilt separately and hope that the red doesn’t run. I will keep you posted.

    • Good luck, Dorothy! If you are using largish pieces of red, you might consider prewashing them to check for bleeding and/or try to wash out any excess dye onto the Color Catcher sheets. Use two Color Catcher sheets per load, as other quilters have recommended to me. That’s what we would do. Small pieces of fabric are hard to prewash without losing their shape or having excessive fraying.

  • Rosemary says:

    I use Color Catcher both on quilts and my laundry. I seldom have enough dark/light clothes to make a single load worth it, so I throw in one or two sheets, and always see the Color Catcher absorb something.

    • Other people have suggested using two sheets instead of one. I’m going to try that next time I have a quilt with colors I think might bleed. In our test load, we only used one sheet.

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