What to do if clothes bleed?

The Garment Manufacturer’s Dilemma

When making clothing, the manufacturer is torn between two opposing desires. On one hand, they need to create a garment that is serviceable. By serviceable, it is meant a garment that can be safely cleaned repeatedly without causing damage or excessive wear to the fabric.

On the other hand, they need to create a garment that is aesthetically pleasing. In order for it to sell successfully, a garment must be made from fabric, patterns, and dyes that are fashionable and in style. Clothing fashions can change quickly and dramatically.

These changes often cause significant challenges for the garment manufacturers and the dry cleaners that service the garments.

Manufacturing Defects are Inevitable

Because of the garment manufacturer’s dilemma, serviceability cannot always be given top priority. It must be balanced with aesthetics, which ultimately results in manufacturing defects that don’t show up until the first cleaning.

For example, consider fabric dye. Each colour of dye has a slightly different chemical composition. These chemicals react differently to different fabrics and new types of fabric are being developed all the time. Some dyes simply adhere to some fabrics better than others. To compound the problem, sometimes during manufacturing, mistakes are made by humans and errors are made by machines. Fabric is made in giant rolls, similar to rolls of carpet. These rolls are called “lots”. When a mistake is made in manufacturing it creates what is known in the industry as a “bad lot”. As a result, dye bleeding is one of the most common manufacturing defects. To top it off, to keep costs low, manufacturers typically do not pre-wash garments before selling them, so if the dye is not “colourfast”, bleeding will occur during the first cleaning.

Steps You Can Take to Manage the Problem

1. Buy Department Store Clothing - Ironically and somewhat counter-intuitively, the more expensive a garment is the less serviceable it may actually be. Very expensive clothes that you may find in small boutique stores or in strip malls are often the most trendy and elaborate. For these clothes, in the dilemma between aesthetics and serviceability, aesthetics normally wins out. Amazingly, some of the mostexpensive garments sometimes have care labels that say both “Do Not Dry Clean” and “Do Not Wash”! This type of clothing is notorious for having defects.

The clothing you find on the rack in your local major department store may be the best value for your fashion dollar. Large retail chains have close relationships with the garment manufacturers. If you follow the care label’s recommended cleaning procedure, you can expect the clothes you buy in the major department stores to hold up nicely when cleaned repeatedly.

2. Return Defective Clothes to the Retailer - Unfortunately, even the most reputable department stores may occasionally sell a defective garment from a bad lot. Some examples of the most common manufacturing defects are; shrinking, stretching, seam separation, dye bleeding, loss of ornamentation and trim destruction. You should return defective garments to the store right away. Surprisingly, most department stores have a policy of accepting returns with no questions asked and they will in turn get a refund from the manufacturer.

3. Track Down the Manufacturer - If returning the garment to the retailer is not possible, you can contact the manufacturer directly. A Google search using the manufacturer’s name can be helpful as most major garment manufacturers have websites.

A mediation service is offered to DIA members and, for a small fee, the DIA may also be able to assist in settling claims.

4. Test the Fabric for Colourfastness - Before cleaning a new garment, you should test the fabric to make sure its not going to bleed. Simply take a clean wet washcloth and gently rub a corner of it on an inconspicuous inner part of the garment. If the fabric is not colourfast, some of the dye will transfer to the washcloth. This dye is called”fugitive” dye. If this happens, do not wash the garment with other clothing. Either wash it alone or return it to the retailer for a refund. Sometimes only a small amount of dye will bleed in the first wash, then there is no bleeding on subsequent washings.

However, some garments known as “bleeders” will continue to bleed with repeated washings. Of course, if none of the dye transfers to the washcloth, then its most likely safe to clean.