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Why Does White Clothes Turn Pink (and How To Fix It)

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What’s more frustrating than opening the washing machine and seeing your whites have turned pink? You wonder how it happened and worry that you may have ruined your clothes.

So, why do white clothes turn pink—and is it possible to make them white again?

White clothes turn pink because they may have been mistakenly washed with something red—maybe you accidentally left lipstick or red paper in your pocket. Sometimes, white clothes turn pink because the washing machine holds red dyes. Well water can also cause your whites to turn pink.

Keep reading as I break down the reasons white clothes can turn pink and discuss how you can fix the problems if it happens to you.

White Clothes Turned Pink? Do This Next
I made a video showing you hope to troubleshoot what caused the clothes to turn pink, and how to turn them white again.

What Causes White Clothes To Turn Pink?

  • Red or pink dye from other clothes or left in the washing machine causes white clothes to turn pink.
  • White clothes can also turn pink when other red things left in the washing machine leak their colors.
  • Even hard water chemicals in the washing machine can cause white clothes to turn pink.

While it can seem like whatever caused the discoloration is your fault, that’s not always the case. Even if it was a careless mistake, it happens to us all at some point.

So, let’s break down what caused your white clothes to turn pink, whether it was something you did or out of your control. 

While clothes turning pink isn’t the most common issue, it is still very annoying!

Heavily Dyed Clothes Are in the Washing Machine

Sometimes when washing loads of clothes, people don’t carefully monitor everything that goes into the load.

That means, occasionally, some different colored clothes might sneak into the load. This can often happen without them even noticing, but white clothes will show every imperfection. 

Dyes can be spread to other clothes when manufacturers overdye the clothing or don’t take the time to set the dye.

It causes the dye to run when washed. There are plenty of ineffective dyeing techniques out there.

A red shirt mixed in can cause havoc.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to know when dye in clothing will run, making laundry time a little risky. 

When clothing is prone to leaking dye, it’s a bad idea to wash them with warm water.

Unfortunately, most white laundry consists of underwear, towels, sheets, and other things that are usually washed with warm water.

So, when you accidentally include something with heavy dye, it’s a lot more likely to run due to the temperature of the water. 

Warm water opens up fibers in the clothing and releases the dye. That’s why something may not bleed in cold water but can run significantly in warm water.

So, clothing dye can still bleed even if you’ve washed something before. 

Red Dyes Stay in the Washing Machine

It’s not always your fault when dyes have transferred onto your white clothes. Rather than a red garment that snuck its way into your washing machine, the machine itself can often be to blame.

It’s especially more common with older washing machines that haven’t been thoroughly cleaned for a while. 

Clothing with heavy amounts of dye may fade over time due to washing—and the dye has to go somewhere. In some cases, the dye can stay in the washing machine.

That’s right; the leftover dye can stick to your washing machine, affecting the next load of laundry that you do. So, it may not even be your fault. 

The best way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to wash your washing machine frequently.

Often, people forget to clean their washing machines.

So, run your washer through a cleaning cycle before washing your load of whites. It’ll ensure the machine will wash away any leftover dye before it can stick to your clothes. 

Remember that dark dyes may spread more than you realize when you don’t clean the washing machine regularly.

In fact, you may be spreading dyes to other clothes without even realizing it.

However, it’s hard to notice those dyes on dark clothes. So, you may not even know there’s an issue until you clean white clothes. 

A Red Item Is in the Washer

Even if red clothing didn’t make its way into the washing machine, your clothes could still turn pink if something else found its way in.

You may have forgotten to check your pockets and washed something you didn’t mean to. Whatever that’s mixed with your clothes in the washing machine can make a mess on your clothes. 

Something as simple as chapstick or lipstick making its way into the washing machine may cause some significant stains.

Certain types of gum can stain your white clothes too.

A piece of red paper can also leak red color. Anything with dye or things that melt or dissolve in water can cause your white clothes to discolor. 

That’s why it’s so important to check all clothing pockets before doing laundry. One forgotten pen or marker can do a lot of damage to your white clothes.

Make sure even simple things like gum are removed from the laundry.

Not only will it cause a stain, but gum will also stick to the clothing, making it difficult to get out. 

The Washing Machine Uses Well Water

Sometimes, your white clothes come out of the washer pink because of the water you’re using. Well water has a high concentration of minerals which can mix with chlorine bleach and cause rust.

This rust will discolor your white clothes. 

Hard water can contain iron particles that can combine with bleach to make rust. This can cause spots to appear on your clothes.

So, sometimes it’s nothing you’re doing wrong. Rather your water is causing the spots to appear. 

First, try to avoid using powdered detergent.

This can mix with the chemicals in well water, making it a lot less effective as it clings to the water and not the clothes. There are several options for detergents made to use with hard water (tap for a comprehensive list of my recommendations.)

These detergents typically include only chemicals that don’t mix with the water and just clean the clothes. 

You can check out Charlie’s Soap Hard Water Treatment from (paid link). This product leaves your clothes stain-free. It can remove the harsh chemicals from your well water, which cause your clothes to stain. 

How Can I Fix White Clothes That Have Turned Pink?

How to Use Oxygen Bleach In Your Washer (Step-by-step guide)
Oxygen bleach guide.

You can fix white clothes that have turned pink by soaking them in a bleach and water mixture. Or, you can rewash the clothes with bleach. There are also specialty products designed to remove those stains you can try. 

Before I get into how to fix white clothes that have turned pink, I’ll discuss what to avoid first.

It’s important not to dry the clothes that have been affected by the color change. That’s because the dryer’s heat can permanently change the color.

The heat during this process can cause the discoloration to sink into the fabric and dry there. 

So, if this happens to your white clothes, ensure that you don’t put them in the dryer. Take care of the stain first, or you may be stuck with it forever.

Now that I’ve covered what not to do, I’ll discuss how to fix those pesky pink stains. 

Soak the Affected Clothing

Soaking the discolored t-shirt in an OxiClean bath.

One way to fix white clothes that have turned pink is to soak them. Follow these steps to make your clothes white again:

  1. Separate the discolored clothing from the rest. Most of the time, this will only happen to certain pieces of clothing in the wash. So, separate the clothes that are affected from the others. You can dry the unaffected clothes like normal but keep the others separate. 
  2. Soak the discolored clothes. To do this, you’ll need to mix bleach and water. For every ¼ cup of bleach, you’ll need a full gallon of water to offset. Use whatever amount of the mixture you need to be able to submerge the clothing completely. 
  3. Leave the clothes in the mixture for fifteen minutes or less. You should start to notice the color pull from the white garments. Once the clothes have soaked, pull them out of the mixture and rinse them in clean water. Ensure you rinse them thoroughly because you don’t want the bleach to stay on them permanently. 
  4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 a few more times. Make sure you don’t soak the clothes for more than fifteen minutes at a time. Rinse after each soak. Check to see if the color has faded, but ensure you don’t dry the clothes if the stain is still there. 

Rewash Clothes With Non-Chlorine Bleach

Adding oxygen-based bleach to my washing machine’s trey.

Sometimes the suggestion above may not be enough to fully pull the dye out of your clothing. The above step may also lead to smaller splotches of dye being visible.

If this is the case, you need to take it a step further. 

Suppose the soaking process was not enough. Then you need to rewash the clothes that turned pink.

To do this, add one cup of non-chlorine bleach to the washing machine in addition to your regular detergent. This should help pull the remaining stains from the clothes. 

Once the wash cycle has finished, check on the clothes to see if the stains have lifted. If you notice that the stains are gone, go ahead and dry the clothes.

If not, you may need to repeat the cycle.

Avoid the dryer until you know that the stains are completely gone.

If you’re unsure or just want to play it safe, you can allow the clothes to air dry

Use Specialty Products

Carbona® Color Run Remover – 2 Pack
  • REVERSE COLOR BLEED ACCIDENTS: Did that red sock make it into your load of whites? No problem. Add Color Run Remover in your wash to remove dye and streaks from mixed-wash accidents.
  • BRIGHTER WHITES: Separating colors and whites for different washes doesn’t always go as planned. Use Color Run Remover to brighten your whites that have become dingy from dye absorbed from other garments.

A few specialty products out there are made for a time just like this. If a persistent stain doesn’t go away, it may be time to consider a specialty cleaner that can help you out.

Check out this Carbona Color Run Remover (Amazon paid link) selling at a reasonable price. Color run removers like this work without using bleach to remove dyes from clothing.

Soak or Wash Discolored Clothes With the Carbona Color Run Remover 

You can use the Carbona Color Run Remover mentioned above with water for the clothes to soak, or you can wash the load again in the washing machine with the color remover.  

If you plan to soak the clothes in water and the remover, you need to use four gallons (15 liters) of water for each mixture package.

Also, make sure the water you use is as warm as your clothing will allow. The heat will help the products work more effectively by loosening the fibers. 

Ensure you don’t add anything else to the water mixture, as the detergent can work against the remover ingredients.

Unlike bleach, there is no time limit for soaking. So, leave the clothing to soak in the mixture for as long as it takes.

You should begin to see the color lifting from the fabric. Make sure that you stir the mixture occasionally to help colors lift. 

If the dye has affected an entire load of clothing, you should use the washing machine to get the job done.

In a clean washer, use the highest water level allowed, and ensure that the water temperature is the highest allowed by the garments.

Add the color remover to the load without any bleach or detergent. 

Allow the clothes to wash for the entire cycle. Once the clothes finish washing, look at the clothes and ensure the stains are gone before drying.

Repeat this process if the stains remain. 

Final Thoughts

Whether by careless actions or something out of your control, your white clothes can turn pink when exposed to red dye.

But don’t worry; you can save your white clothes! Of course, the best thing to do is to prevent your clothes from discoloring in the first place.

Ensure you always watch what goes into your washing machine and clean the washer regularly after washing clothes with heavy dyes. 

Follow the steps above to save your whites and ensure the discoloration isn’t permanent. Remember not to put any stained clothes in the dryer to avoid sealing the stains.

I wrote a comprehensive guide on why your clothes are changing color that covers every type of discoloration. Feel free to check it out next.

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