Updated: Nov 16, 2020
For most laundry items, you should feel confident that you’ll get great results when you read the garment label and follow our corresponding washing instructions for that fabric. Certain items, however, should be tested before washing to avoid color bleeding or adverse reactions to water. When in doubt, it’s always best to play it safe. Avoid a mess—just test!
ITEMS TO TEST FOR COLOR BLEEDING
HOW TO TEST FOR COLOR BLEEDING
ITEMS TO TEST FOR WATER REACTIONS
HOW TO TEST FOR WATER REACTIONS
TESTING “DRYCLEAN” & “DRYCLEAN ONLY” ITEMS
Most fabrics should be stable if manufactured properly, but certain fabrics will release dye, which could stain other items in a load. A spot test and color bleeding test should be performed on any items with the characteristics below before washing. If you discover that an item bleeds during the test, simply take it to the dry cleaners. Or, if the garment is a solid color, wash it alone.
Silk: Silk commonly bleeds. This is normal. As long as the item is one solid color, keep washing! Color-blocked items: These are garments constructed from different cuts of fabric (usually of different colors) that are sewn together. Commonly, one fabric can bleed onto the other(s) during washing. If you find that any bleeding occurs when you test, don’t wash the item. Example: A black-and-white dress where each color panel is made from a different piece of fabric Items that contain two or more colors: In some cases (particularly items that are new to washing), one color can bleed into the other(s). If it bleeds when tested, don’t wash the item. If not, go ahead and wash it. Example: A green-and-navy striped shirt.
Find an inconspicuous area on the item, such as a seam or hem, and dip it in warm water. If you are not able to submerge a part of the item in water, you can do a “spot test.” To spot test, wet a clean, white, lint-free cloth and blot the item. If dye releases into the water or onto the cloth, you’ll know that, if washed, there would be bleeding onto the other areas of the fabric. In this case, you should wash the item alone. Or, you can opt to have it drycleaned. Note: If a brightly colored item continues to rub off-color even after washing (on a bra strap or undershirt, for example), keep washing it alone or with like colors until it stops bleeding.
Rayon: While rayon is designed to be a washable fabric—it was created as a replacement for cotton during WW2—some rayon items will react poorly when washed. Unless the label on a rayon item specifically says that it’s washable, test it before washing. Beware: Rayon is often mislabeled as viscose (which is a non-washable material), so it’s important to test rayon items before washing them. Note: One of the reasons we test rayon before washing it, is that viscose is sometimes mislabeled as rayon. Viscose: Viscose should never be washed. Items labeled “Dryclean” or “Dryclean Only”: Many items labeled “Dryclean” can actually be washed, such as wool or silk. Look to find out if (and how) you can safely wash it. If the fabric cannot be washed or if you would prefer a professional cleaning or pressing, set this item aside to bring to the dry-cleaner. If the item says “Dryclean Only,” we recommend you go ahead and dry clean it. However, sometimes garments are mislabeled. If you suspect that the item can be washed, do your homework. First, look up the fabric to see if it’s washable. If you find that it is, err on the side of caution and test the item before washing. How to Test for Water Reactions Find an inconspicuous area on the item, such as a seam or hem, and submerge it in warm water. Look for changes in character or texture in the wet area: tightening, shrinking, stretching, warping, or the formation of ripples or wrinkles. Also be on the lookout for fabric elongation, which may not happen instantly. If you encounter any of these problems, dry clean the item. Note: If you’re not able to submerge a part of the item in warm water, you can do a “spot test.” To spot test, wet a clean, white, lint-free cloth and blot the item.
“Dryclean” items: Many items labeled “Dryclean” can actually be washed, such as wool or silk. Simply look up the fabric in our Dry Clean At Home Guide to find out if (and how) you can safely wash it.
“Dryclean only” items: If the item says “Dryclean Only,” we recommend you go ahead and dry clean it. However, sometimes garments are mislabeled. If you suspect that the item can be washed, do your homework. First, look up the fabric to see if it’s washable. If you find that it is, err on the side of caution and test the item before washing. Caution/ Disclaimer I recommend washing techniques based on the principles of textile science. However, not all garments perform and react as science would predict.
For example: I once washed a dress labeled “100% Silk.” Silk has a maximum shrinkage capacity of 2%. Since the dress shrank about 10%, I believe that the garment was mislabeled. Don’t worry—most garments are made, tested, and labeled properly by their manufacturer. However, if you’re concerned about a particular item, simply test it before washing to avoid unexpected outcomes.
Other unexpected outcomes that I’ve encountered: 1. Unexpected shrinkage 2. Color shifting or bleeding despite proper fabric care 3. Hardware or buttons discoloring or leaving marks on a garment 4. Leather buttons or jean tabs transferring color onto fabric