Clothing color loss happens when two elements come together during washing: hot water and aggressive agitation cycles.
After 10 years of industrial garment washing and home washing testing, I’ve learned when color loss happens.
When water temperatures reach in excess of 140°F, color loss begins to become a risk. Home water heaters have a default setting of 140°F (the US Department of Energy recommends setting home water heaters to 120°F).
Putting a jean or shirt in very hot water alone may not activate color loss, however when the fabric is agitated aggressively in very hot water, color loss becomes a risk. Conversely, agitating a garment in cold water will not activate color loss. Both heat and agitation must be present to put your garment at risk.
Hand washing garments minimizes agitation, making it the best method to minimize color loss. But hand washing is unrealistic for most people. The next best method is machine washing in cool or warm water on a less aggressive agitation cycle.
Set your washing machines’ water level so that your garments will be suspended in water, rather than packed into the machine. Garments suspended or floating freely in water will experience less abrasion with other garments, reducing the risk of color loss from abrasion.
After washing, hanging your garments to dry will not expose them to heat or agitation, making it the best method to minimize color loss when drying. Machine drying creates fiber loss (the fibers are found on your dryer’s lint tray screen) eventually resulting in greater color loss.
Garments or textiles that are not color sensitive (white underwear, white sheets) can be washed in hot water on aggressive agitation cycles.
For tips on caring for your jeans, visit our How to Wash Jeans article