How to Stop Red Upholstery Fabric Dye From Transferring to Clothes

Not all textiles are created equal. Each red upholstery fabric type takes on color or dye differently. Some need to go through a dye process once, while others will require many passes in order to achieve the same vibrant shade. The same goes for the type of dye you use. Natural dyes are more muddled and tend to be less transferable than their manufactured counterparts.

Material, amount of dye, and dye type can all impact how transferable your red upholstery fabric will be. But here’s one thing we know for sure: red dye is incredibly saturated, making it one of the most likely to transfer colors. 

We felt it necessary to note this because most of us experience fear around our clothing transferring onto seating, not the other way around. In the world of fashion, you’ve likely experienced some dye transfer when it comes to denim. If you throw on a brand new pair of jeans and sit on a soft white leather chair, there’s a good chance you will see some transfer.

This experience can often be repeated when it comes to red dye fabric. If you’re wearing a piece of clothing that is light in color and sitting on a bright red sofa, you may walk away with a subtle red or pink mark on your clothing. 

If you’re planning on sitting on red upholstery fabric anytime soon, we recommend considering a darker clothing option. If you’re thinking about purchasing a red sofa, already have red upholstery, or are looking into red textiles, you’re in the right place! We will talk about how you can test, prep, and care for your red fabrics, so you stay dye-free.

Test Your Red Upholstery Fabric

Suppose you’re feeling nervous about dye transfer, no worries! We have a few ways to help ease your mind and arm you with tools to protect your upholstered item. If you’re someone who is on the market for red material, we recommend you pick up a sample ahead of time. You can test the material a bit before purchasing it for your entire project. 

Once you have your textile (upholstered or not), go ahead and rub a white cloth along the surface. If you have a microfiber cloth, even better! These are meant to pick up or absorb any excess liquid on a surface, so they’re an excellent tool for this exercise. After about ten seconds of rubbing back and forth, turn over your cloth to see if there is any color transfer. 

Whether the answer is yes or no, we recommend you do this second step to ensure the material is transfer-proof. Wet a clean towel (microfiber or otherwise) and repeat the exercise. 

Water can frequently loosen a dye and allow for more effortless color transfer. If it seems like your textile is “bleeding” a lot of color and the material appears as though it has lost color, you have a material that is likely not able to hold onto dye. Wet a clean towel (microfiber or otherwise) and repeat the exercise. 

If you still don’t have dye on the cloth, you’re in a great spot! Even if you’re still nervous about your textile, go down to our Layers of Protection chapter for additional tips. 

Those of you who experience color transfer know this is a widespread occurrence. A textile can easily absorb the dye, but that doesn’t mean it knows how to hold onto it. We’re confident that our tips and tricks will help you lock in the color of your upholstery. Let’s get started on how to protect yourself from color transfer!

Clean The Surface of Your Red Upholstery Fabric

Taking on cleaning your entire red upholstery fabric item can be daunting, so we want to break down the process. Keep in mind that the most important areas to clean are where people frequently sit or touch. If this were a sofa or chair, these areas would typically include seat cushions, back cushions, and armrests.

We recommend you first clean the high touch areas of your upholstery and tackle the rest later. Our goal is to make this project as simple and manageable as possible. Here are a few things you’re going to need before getting started:

  • Old towels
  • Bucket of water
  • Empty bucket
  • Dishwashing gloves

To properly clean the surface of excess dye, you will rub the wet towels across the surface to absorb the dye. This process needs to be repeated until there is minimal color transfer so that it may require a lot of towels. We suggest you use old towels or rags so you won’t mind being dyed. 

While the color may come out in the wash, we cannot guarantee it, so select a towel you wouldn’t mind turning red or pink. 

Because this process is messy, we recommend wearing dishwashing gloves and old or dark clothing. We don’t expect you to have water all over the place but having extra towels is great! You don’t want to use too much water when rubbing out the dye so wring out your towel before taking it to your upholstery. Too much water can seep into the furniture and cause mold, warping, and breakdown over time—the less water, the better. 

Keep an extra bucket on hand to dump your towels in the wash. This way, you can toss them in the wash. Once you’re done cleaning the surfaces, leave the piece dry. It can take up to 12-48 hours for your upholstery to dry, so patience is required. 

Before returning to the piece when it’s dry, test the material again with a wet cloth. If there is minimal transfer, then you’re good to go to the next step. If not, you should repeat the process all over again. 

We know it can be tempting to soak the item to get the dye out, but this will cause more harm than good. Slowly removing layers of dye with damp cloths will be much more effective and protect the integrity of your upholstery.

Layers of Protection

Would you laugh if we told you to throw a plastic cover on your sofa? That’s definitely an option, but we have a better solution for you: Scotchgard. If you haven’t worked with Scotchgard before, it’s a storebought solution that can be sprayed onto your textile and create a barrier between you and the fabric. 

You can pick up Scotchgard at your local grocery or hardware store and online.  Be sure to follow the product instructions around ventilation and allowing the surface to cure. We know this process can feel a bit strenuous, but it will be worth it in the long run. 

Once your upholstery is sealed with Scotchgard, you can comfortably enjoy your furniture again! You must know how to care for and make the most of your red upholstery fabric. Please never hesitate to reach out with questions or pick up a handful of samples to test before purchasing. 

Q & A

Question: What color dyes can transfer? 

Answer: Any color dye can transfer from the fabric onto your skin or clothing. We have found that brighter colors such as red are more transferable and much more apparent when transferred. We always suggest testing a piece of fabric to see if it has dye transfer, just to be sure. 

Question: Do I need to clean and Scotchgard my entire piece of furniture or just the high touch areas? 

Answer: While the high touch areas of your furniture are the most important, we still recommend you clean and Scotchgard the entire piece. When removing excess dye and adding the protective spray, you can slightly alter the overall color of a red upholstery fabric. This is entirely normal and expected. In order to ensure all areas match, we suggest you plan to go through the process with all areas of your upholstery. 

Question: When you use Scotchgard, can other materials leave a stain on the upholstery?

Answer: The role of Scotchgard is to protect the material it is applied to. This is not to say that stains cannot appear on the fabric. Scotchgard keeps the dye, dirt, etc., from penetrating deep into the material. This will make it easier to remove by dabbing out the stain or using a fabric-safe stain remover. 

Question: What do I do if red dye transfers to my clothing? 

Answer: It’s essential to read any directions included within your clothing labels. If you’re comfortable using a stain remover and it’s safe for your clothing, start there. In the event that the stain does not come out in the wash, do not dry it. You can try another method and rewash it again. Once the material goes through the dryer, the stain will be almost impossible to remove. 

Question: How do I remove the red dye that has stained my towels from cleaning? 

Answer: If your towels are white, we recommend first trying bleach. If the towels are not, rinse with stain remover and warm water. Be sure to use old or worn towels that you wouldn’t mind getting a stain on. 

Upholstery Protected

We appreciate the attention to detail our community puts into specifying their materials. By taking the time to research and prepare, you’re already way ahead of the curve when it comes to specifying red upholstery fabric. If you find yourself with a dye-transferring material, we hope our tips help prevent more of this in the future.

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