What is Dye Bleeding?

Dye bleeding occurs when an unstable dye transfers from the fibre in the presence of water. This is often confused with the phenomenon of crocking, which is essentially dye bleeding, but when the fabric is dry.

It is the transfer of a coloured substance to another and is most visible in areas of high contrast. In other words, light coloured or un-dyed fabrics can readily accept the mobile dye and absorb it onto the fibre surface. Because of this absorption / adsorption process, the colour balance of the fabric changes. For example, in an area of fabric where white fibre resides next to an unstable red dye, bleeding will cause the colour of the white area to adopt a pink appearance.

Causes of Dye Bleeding

There are three main causes of dye bleeding in fabrics and the first of these conditions is poor cleaning method and chemical choice. Most dyes are acid set into the fibre, which means the bonding process between the dye and the fibre is controlled using acids. The introduction of an acid set dye to highly alkaline cleaning chemicals can cause the weakening of the fibre-dye bond and initiate dye bleeding. Some fabrics are particularly poor at accepting dyes (eg linen) and an experienced cleaner will spot this. Moreover, a professional cleaning company will choose the right chemical to suit the fibre type and dye stability.

The second cause of dye bleeding is a defective dye or dying process during the fabric manufacture. In cases such as these, the fabric dye is either poorly selected or misused during the manufacturing process and not properly set onto the surface of the fibre. Either of these conditions lead to an excess of weakly bonded, unstable dye on the surface of the fibres. During cleaning, this can become mobile and begin the dye bleeding process.

The final cause of dye bleeding is chemical changes in the dye during use. In some cases, the dye was initially 100% stable, but over time the chemical bond between the dye and fibre has been weakened and became unstable. For example, a dye might be weakened if a fabric is subjected to high levels of sunlight, fumes, chemicals or pet residues over a long period.

What can be done?

In most cases, it is difficult to reverse the dye bleeding process. Most people have experienced this while washing clothes and forgot about the red sock in the white wash. In the minority of cases where the dye bleeding is localised on the fabric, bleaching agents can be used to remove the mobile dye. However, this is rarely met with success and a much better approach is to avoid dye bleeding.


Dye bleeding changes the appearance of fabrics and is difficult to resolve. By far the best approach is to avoid dye bleeding completely by selecting a professional cleaning company with trained operators. Professionals avoid dye bleeding by carrying out thorough tests on each dye to determine the choice of cleaning agents and techniques. If you are going to tackle a stain on your fabrics, we recommend you test your products thoroughly on an inconspicuous area of fabric before proceeding.

Written by:
Access Cleaning Solutions – Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning Specialists Glasgow