black clothes turned red

Why Are Your Black Clothes Turning Red?

Black clothes are cool. Just ask Johnny Cash. Or Coco Chanel. Or just about anyone in The Matrix.

What’s not so cool is when out of the blue, things turn red. It’s enough to brown anyone off.

The black clothes turning red phenomenon usually manifests itself as blotches of discoloration suddenly appearing against the jet backdrop of your favourite shirt.

It’s quite a common phenomenon. So, if it happens to you, you’re not alone.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to have your garments turning back to black so you can go back to singing Amy Winehouse songs in the correctly-coloured gear.


What Causes Black Clothes to Turn Red?

Rather than previously perfectly black clothes suddenly turning bright crimson, black clothes turning red tends to manifest itself more like an attack of blotching, wherein patches of dullish red start to appear in your black clothes.

This can often be seen after washing clothes, but the cause isn’t limited to laundry. In fact, it can spring from all kinds of activities, as we’ll see.

Cause 1: Bleaching

bleach stain on clothes

Usually, what causes black clothes to turn red is that a bleaching agent has come into contact with the garment.

When this happens, it busily goes to work stripping out some of the colours that have gone into giving the clothing that cool black look.

What you think of as just black is actually usually made up of a composite of other colours. The most common blend used is navy, red and yellow.

Of these, red tends to be the most colourfast pigment, so the most resistant to bleach. Repeated bleaching would eventually get rid of all the colouration, so you’d end up with white.

It’s a very similar situation to the one hairdressers face when bleaching a client’s black hair. The black is again made up of a mix of different colours.

One course of bleach will result in a red/orange shade, which will probably not be what the customer was looking for. So repeated applications are needed, until the right bleached blonde look is achieved.

It might be the case that you use the gentlest detergent money can buy, so you find it very difficult to believe that this discolouration took place in the washing machine. You may well be on to something, as there are all kinds of sources for this ready redness to rear up.


Cause 2: Cleaning sprays

black shirt with red stains due to cleaning spray

Bleach can be found in all kinds of household cleaning products, so it’s worth checking to see what you’re currently using to banish stains and keep bacteria at bay.

It’s very easy for a cleaning spray to dish out the odd errant drop that finds its way onto your shirt, all the better to delicately apply an exquisite red blob just where you didn’t want one.

Don’t just think in terms of straightforward cleaning sprays, also think about all manner of other products you may use from time to time, a lot of which contain bleach. A good example of this kind of sneaky bleacher is certain kinds of anti-fungal treatment.

I know this from personal experience, as I foolishly wore a brand new and very fetching black top while applying anti-mould spray to the underside of my shed roof.

The drips that found their way onto my fleece top had an impressively quick effect: in my previously cooler than cool sweatshirt I now looked like a Melanic Harlequin Ladybird.

The good news is that this shirt has stayed resolutely mould-free, so there’s a bonus. Not sure it was worth it though.


Cause 3: Toothpastes

black shirt with red stains from toothpaste

You’ll also find bleaching ingredients in whitening toothpastes (mouthwashes too), which is one of the factors that makes it a handy help in the fight against household stains.

So be careful when you’re brushing and sluicing that you only get it on your pearly whites and not on your perfect blacks.

Finally, do check that nobody did any bleaching in the washing machine prior to your using it. Bleach has a nasty habit of leaving traces of itself in the machine, so you might be well-advised to give it a rinse.


How Can You Get Rid of the Red Patches?

black fabric dye clothes

So, you’ve been blobbed, and you are now the owner of a pair of black trousers festooned with red patches. You have several choices.

Firstly, wait for the look to come into fashion. Everything takes its turn on the fashion whirligig in due course, so it’s only a matter of time until your blotchy trousers are the toast of the catwalk. Might be quite some time, mind you.

Your other option is to remedy the situation by re-applying colour to the discoloured patches.

This can mean dying the whole garment black once again. If you take this route, make sure you apply a double-dose of black dye and leave in contact for a longer period of time than the recommended minimum. Otherwise, you’ll still see the patches as lighter areas, probably brownish in colour.

Another tip is to use a permanent fabric marker pen, like these from Willingood, to colour over the patches.

As long as the marker is truly permanent then it shouldn’t run in subsequent washes. It might be worth checking with the manufacturer before you risk this.

Finally, depending on the extent of the red patches, you might get good results from soaking the garment in some oxygen bleach for eight hours, then wash as normal in the machine.

Repeat if the patches are still visible. This technique will be more likely to work if you can get it in the non-chlorine bleach as soon as possible. Do check the care label too.


How Do You Keep Black Clothes Black?

hanged black shirt

What can you do to keep your black clothes beautifully black?

Well, the obvious answer is to avoid bleach. You may wish to take things to the extreme and wear full PPE when brushing your teeth, but hopefully things don’t need to come to this.

Consider using a non-bleaching toothpaste, and make sure you don’t wear your favourite black shirt when doing the household clean. Or consider investing in a pinny.

Finally, when it comes to washing black clothes, it’s a good idea to stick to cooler temperatures in general. This will mean that they keep their striking hues and not end up a drab shade of grey, which is another unhappy fate, the prospect of which keeps black clothes awake at night.


Black Is the New Black

hanging all black laundry

Hopefully, by following the foregoing advice, your black clothes will stay looking great.

It’s quite surprising just how commonplace bleaching agents are, and it’s worth doing a quick audit so you know where the trouble spots are likely to emerge.

But, if the worst does happen and you become a victim of the dreaded red blob, you now have a few ideas what to do about it.