Why Dye Bleeds & What To Do About It! - Darn Good Yarn

Why Dye Bleeds & What To Do About It!

Written by Kate Curry

Why Does It Happen?

Bleeding typically happens for one reason: the dye hasn’t fully attached itself to the yarn.

Most types of yarn are dyed using the acid method. This is done by combining the yarn, the dye, and an acid-based fixative which ensures that the dye will adhere to the yarn. This is how we are able to achieve deep saturated colors across all types of fibers.

When the dye does not fully attach to the fiber, the dye will bleed or rub off. This is why most yarn dyers will rinse their yarn to ensure any loose pigment is rinsed off. Sometimes a funky skein or two slips on by, meaning you’ve gotten a skein of bleeding yarn in your order. This extra dye can stain your hands, clothes, notions, or the other color yarn in your project.

A man wearing a clear apron and dark pants is standing barefoot by a large cement wall. On the ledge of the wall is a huge pile of dripping pink yarn. This is yarn that has just been rinsed and needs to be hung out to dry.

How To Prevent It?

Note: The methods outlined below are specifically designed for natural fibers and may not be effective for acrylic or polymer-based fibers. It is essential to note that these techniques are tailored to address bleeding concerns in natural yarn. Attempting these methods on synthetic fibers may not yield the desired results. Always consider the fiber content of your yarn before applying any preventive or corrective measures!

For the more cautious crafters, they will often test rinse their yarn before they start working with it. To do a test rinse, what you should do is:

  • Fill your sink/basin with cold water
  • Place your unwound yarn into the water (you do not want to keep it in the ball, skein, cake, or hank!)
  • Let it sit for 5-10 minutes to check for any dye bleeding
A gloved hand is holding down a loose skein of rainbow dyed yarn in a white plastic bin. At the upper right side of the bin, a stream of clear water is being poured into the container. The yarn is starting to become yellow as the extra dye bleeds out into the water.

If your yarn doesn’t bleed- you’re good to go! If it does, it’s time to rinse your yarn to prevent any more bleeding! You can soak and rinse your yarn in warm water for 30 minutes, as many times as you need for the water to run clear.

If you’ve already started your project before noticing the bleeding, don’t worry! You can keep on working with it and then rinse the final product. This will stain the other colors if you’re working on a multi-colored piece. If you’re not too far into the project, it might be best to frog your work, rinse, and start again. It will save you heartache in the long run.

There’s also the option to colorfast your yarn. Many fiber artists do this for projects to ensure crisp and neat colors. It’s simple and effective across all types of fiber

How To Colorfast:

  • Fill your sink/basin with cold water
  • Make your your yarn or finished piece is completely under the water
  • Add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar to the water and swish it around
  • Let it soak for 30-40 minutes
  • Rinse your yarn or project to get rid of that lovely vinegar smell!
  • Squish out excess water - do not twist or ring
  • Let your yarn or project dry in sunlight

My Yarn Is Still Bleeding, Now What!

Still bleeding? Now it’s time to rinse your yarn or project again and use a sheet of color collector to help suck out even more dye. We love our man Dr. Beckmann - he has saved more than a few of us here at DGY in our darkest hours!

If you’ve rinsed and rinsed until you’re blue in the face (and most likely hands) and your yarn is still running - it is most likely that your yarn was not set properly.  Try colorfasting your yarn again and give it another rinse. If it is STILL bleeding badly, reach out to the company with pictures of your yarn and the water in the different stages of bleeding so they can help! 

Is It Dangerous?

If you’re new to yarn bleeding, it can be freaky! What is this stuff made out of? Is it toxic or dangerous? Will it ever come off?

In most cases, you will be totally fine. Most dyers use natural or non-toxic types of dyes. For the companies that do use chemicals, the dye is usually only harmful during the dyeing process and not when the dye is bleeding off. Acid dyed yarns are totally safe as well. The acid that is most commonly used is citric acid, which is found naturally inside certain fruits and used in soda.

Two people wearing thick black gloves and aprons are pulling out large hanks of bright yellow yarn out of a warm dyeing pot.

Here at DGY, we use either 100% natural dye or 100% non-toxic dye. The safety of our artisans and community are our top priority, and we would never risk that safety for anything - especially not dyeing yarn! Our yarns are dyed by soaking the yarn in hot water and the dye or by stretching the yarn out and hand-pouring the dye onto the yarn using bottles to get multi-colored yarns.

A gif of an Indian man wearing a white shirt, a black mask, black gloves, and goggles is stirring a large boiling dye pot with a long stick.
When herbal dyeing, heat is used to help set the color
Two Indian artisans are standing at opposite ends of the yarn dyeing table. Each artisan has a bottle of dye in their hands that they are using to dye the yarn blue, green, and pink.
Artisans use re-useable squeeze bottles to create multicolored yarn

After dyeing, the yarn is rinsed and then hung out to dry in the toasty warm Indian sun.

Two Indian women are standing outside, adjusting yarn on large wooden sticks so that they yarn can dry in the sun. There are dozens of these sticks, filled with loose skeins of orange, blue, purple, and pink yan.

How Do I Get The Dye OFF?

Did that dye get cha? You’re not alone! Every fiber artist has had to deal with a bad dye job or two. Here are some helpful tips to get that dye off!

A pair of hands are outstretched, showing the different colors of dye that has stained the skin.

Dye On Your Hands

  • Wash your hands with warm, soapy water. Use an exfoliant to scrub any remaining dye.
  • Rub your hands down with coconut oil and exfoliate again for any stubborn stains.

Dye On Your Needles or Hooks

  • Using rubbing alcohol, wipe your notions down. If you’re using wooden needles or hooks, the dye might have already settled into the pores of the wood. Let them soak in the alcohol for a few minutes before you wipe them again.
  • Mix equal parts vinegar and baking soda to make a thick paste and rub the paste into your needles or hook. The stains should start to lessen or disappear.

Dye On Your Clothes or Furniture

  • Use the vinegar/baking soda solution to remove stains on furniture.
  • Use olive or coconut oil to get stains out of fabric.
  • Use a small amount of rubbing alcohol.

When it comes down to it, dye bleeding can be an annoying, but sometimes a frequent issue when you’re working with handmade or hand dyed yarn. When you’re creating with something that’s man made, mistakes can be made and bleeding can occur. Hopefully some of these tips and tricks will help you on your crafting journey!

Meet the Author

Profile picture of the author, Kate Curry, wearing a dark red Nanda Poncho sitting on concrete stairs in front of brick wall.

Kate has been on the Darn Good Yarn team since 2018.

They have their degree in Creative Art Therapy & Psychology - and like crafting and animals a little too much.