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Whitening Or Re-dyeing Faded Fabric

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Fade to White! Want to whiten your dingy whites? Or even better, how about revitalizing a set of expensive cotton sheets that have faded in color? Here are some expert tips on how to spruce up and revitalize fabric - it's easy, and it's how the pros do it!

I had a beautiful baby blue set of Egyptian cotton sheets 1000 thread count that had faded and become very stained. I decided I wanted to try and make them white, and I succeeded at it! They look bright and white and good as new.

Before we get started, a few caveats: It is easier to go white if the original color was light. If your sheet set is a darker color, say a navy blue or a burgundy or forest green, you may want to try and redye the sheets (and that's another tip!)

Here is how to get the same results I did:

  • Do not Use Bleach

    Although household bleach is a powerful whitener, it is bad for the environment and weakens fabric. I only use bleach as a very very last resort brightener; try the other things listed, and you will probably find that you will not need any bleach at all!

    If you use bleach, or you have used bleach, you need to remember that bleach stays in fabric and weakens it. So if you do bleach something, you should rinse the item as soon as you are done bleaching it in hydrogen peroxide (add a bottle or two to a rinse cycle). You can also buy a product called bleach stop from or from a professional art and craft store.

  • Use the Good Stuff

    This means a trip to your local art supply store, or you can order online. I get my supplies from Dick Blick or Pearl Art Supply. You will get better results with professional products, and they are not much more than what you would pay for Rit. Use Procion, or Jacquard brand products - or any other professional brand.

    This is only guaranteed to work on natural fibers (cotton, linens, wool, rayon, etc). With wool, be careful with shrinkage at high temps. Cottons are the easiest to work with.

Instructions

Start by removing the original color. This step also works on dingy whites. Use a color remover. I used the Jacquard brand dye remover and it worked wonderfully well. For best results, do it in a large pot (not aluminum!) on your stove so you can keep the temperature hot. Boil the water first, and add 1 heaping tsp. of the remover. stir well. Wet one pillowcase and add to pot. Keep on low heat, stir and after 15 min, remove from heat and wash in detergent. Then repeat to do the next pillowcase. If your pot is big enough, do them together. It is important to wet first to get even results.

You can also do it in a bathtub, but it might take longer and require more dye remover. I did the larger sheets in the tub, with very hot water. I caution against dying or removing color in a front loading washing machine - or any machine. I once had dye residue damage on several loads of laundry : ( Your bathtub or sink is easier to clean and safer. Note that if the thread was 100% polyester, it will probably stay its original color.

A bottle of the jacquard dye remover cost under $4 and did an entire sheet set.

You will notice that the fabric might still be a bit grey or yellowish, although I was very impressed at how well it turned out. For all of you perfectionists out there, try these tips, in this order:

  • Borax - Safe, cheap, and it should do the trick. You can soak without fear of damage. I reached for this next, and it did the trick!

  • Oxy-clean - Safe, not cheap, but also soak-able.

  • White vinegar - Safe, cheap, deodorizing. Try mixing it with baking soda. You can soak too.

  • Hydrogen Peroxide - Safe, not so cheap, also soak-able. This is really good at getting red wine stains out of fabric. You can get it at the dollar store; or try a beauty supply store for a stronger version (20%, 30%). You can also mix this with baking soda. Incidentally, you can whiten your teeth without buying those $ strips by mixing a medical or food grade hydrogen peroxide with baking soda, and brushing as usual. The baking soda can be a bit abrasive, so mix well into a paste before applying.

  • Lemons - I haven't tried this but hear good things about it. Remember that lemon is acidic; it may weaken fabric if you let it soak for too long or use too much. Not a cheap solution this time of year!

  • Mrs. Stewart's Bluing. This doesn't actually whiten, it just makes it look whiter by adding blue pigment to the rinse water. Enviro-friendly, but be sure to dilute and add only a few drops, and don't pour it on the fabric directly! One bottle will last you years. I almost always add a couple drops to my whites.

  • Automatic dishwashing powder (Cascade, lectrosol, etc.) Can be cheap,and will work, but can weaken fabric. Not environmentally friendly.

Be sure to enjoy your new "brightey whiteys".

By Wangchok from Canada

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By Linda Watters [6]12/17/2009

I have a black 2 piece outfit that seems quite a bit cotton, but may have some polyester in it. The tag has been cut out, so I don't know. At any rate, it is getting faded with a white cast to it from so many washing, I suppose. Is there a way to redye it to make it black again so I can wear it a bit longer. I wear this outfit a lot at funerals as my husband is a pastor.

Thanks in advance, Linda

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Archive: Whitening Fabric

To whiten fabric that is dingy, soak overnight in powdered automatic dish washer detergent. It works good on white clothes or linens.

By joann