Stop the Bleed

When you hang out with quilters long enough, the topic of bleeding will eventually come up. I've seen a lot of beautiful quilts, usually a red/light combo, ruined by bleeding. And of course, you don't know which fabric will bleed until it's sewn into the quilt! I personally have never had a quilt bleed, but I did have a quilt crock and it about broke my heart! Although it's hard to see below, you can see along the seam line in the center of the picture where it looks dirty. That's where the red fabric rubbed off onto the white fabric when it was folded and stored. I now fold it with a white sheet to avoid further damage. (To see the whole quilt, look for it on The Wednesday Quilt Show from Jan. 12. It's the 911 Tribute quilt.)
After this experience, I learned about Retayne (I have no affiliation with this company other than I like and use this product.) Retayne is used in fabric dyeing, but it also can be used to stop fabric from bleeding. I now wash every piece of fabric that comes in my house with Retayne before I use it. This is how I do it:
Retayne is a clear liquid that when used in the wash actually sets the dye and prevents it from bleeding in the future. Ask for it at your quilt shop. Don't bother with the little bottle, request the 16 oz. size. Follow the directions on the label. I have a front-loading machine, so I had to improvise. I use the shortest cycle (about 30 minutes) and the hot/cold setting with low spin and light soil levels. So far, it has worked for me, even though it is different from the label directions.

Synthropal, shown in the middle, is both a detergent and it prevents the excess dye from resetting on the fabric or other fabrics. Use Retayne on fabric before you sew it into the quilt and use Synthropal on a finished quilt that has already bled. What's the Dawn Ultra dish soap? I use it instead of Syntrhopal. It acts the same as Synthropal, believe it or not, and I've never had it fail me! Plus it's a lot cheaper and readily available everywhere. Make sure it says Dawn Ultra and don't use more than a tablespoon or two so you don't have suds all over everywhere!

Sort your fabrics before washing with Retayne. When the cycle is done, dry as normal. I find it's best not to use fabric softener or softener sheets. I never know if I'll need that fabric for applique or piecing, and with my method of freezer paper applique, the softener inhibits the glue from doing it's job properly. Sometimes I press the fabric at this point, but most often, I just fold it and add it to my stash. I'll press when I'm ready to use it, so why press twice, right?

I can't guarantee that you'll never have a fabric bleed after using these products, but I can tell you that I've never had a problem since I started using them. (BTW, you can wash your super-dark denim jeans and blacks in Retayne, too, to keep them from fading!)


  1. I had to laugh when I saw your title and then read your post! My first thought was oh, someone else bleeds on their quilt too! I guess that was my first thought because so many of my quilts I could easily label as biological hazards; it never fails I get a bit of blood on them at one time or another! But don't worry, I wash all my quilts when I'm done!

    I have used these products as well and they work great! I do have one quilt though that I am hesitant to do anything with...burgandy and white, made by my husband's grandmother with fabric that was not washed prior to using in the quilt. It really needs washing, but I'm worried I might ruin it. Any suggestions?


  2. Hi LaDonna,
    I have bled on many a quilt, too! Especially when putting on the darn binding!

    Wow! Washing an old quilt for the first time is scary! I guess if you really need it to be washed, I'd use the synthropal and hope for the best! It "should" be okay. And maybe it's a fabric that won't bleed to begin with. Some of the women of that era loved synthetic fabrics!

    You could also throw in one of those color catcher sheets, but I've never used one to know if they work or not on something as precious as a quilt!

    Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  3. Thanks, Jenifer. I'll have to work up the courage! Your suggestion is one I've thought of myself, just needed another opinion. I've used the color catcher with clothes and fabric and they work great!


    1. I have used color catchers when washing quilts and they work great! I always use at least 2 and more if the quilt is larger than a throw. I have a front loader also and wash in warm/rinse in cold. Never had a problem. I do not pre-wash anything!

  4. hi. for brand new commercial clothings like jeans, tops etc, do i wash them with retayne first or synthrapol first?

  5. That's a good question. I think I'd just wash them in Retayne. I wash all my like clothes together so bleeding isn't a problem - fading is the bigger problem. If that makes you uncomfortable, then I don't see any reason why you can't wash in synthrapol first then Retayne. (How's that for a non-answer! I guess, just do what your gut tells you!)

  6. Hi Jennifer,

    Great post, I was searching for a way to prevent my new dark denim jeans from fading and have a question about your process since I seem to find conflicting info as I search around. I have a front loader too. A lot of searches say I should wash in cold water as hot water will dissolve the Retayne. But then I see on the actual directions of the product to wash with Retayne in hot water so I'm of course confused....

    What I think the correct answer is is to wash with Retayne in hot to activate it but do all subsequent washings in cold.. am I right? To clarify your directions - you wash in hot, rinse in cold (thus the hot/cold cycle you mention). Also when you use Retayne do you also put detergent into the cycle?

    Thanks so much for your help!

  7. Hi Daniel, sorry this is late getting back to you. I don't have your email, so I hope you get this! Yes, I use hot water to wash the first time because that's what it says to do on the bottle. Then I just wash as normal after that - usually warm/cold. I rarely wash ANYTHING on hot/cold or cold/cold. (And the reason I wash in hot/cold is because that's the setting on my machine!) I tend to try to keep things simple because I don't have a lot of time for complicated processes in my life! And like everything in life, trial and error are the best teachers! Good luck!


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