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17 Mar

Back to Black: How to Keep Dark Clothes From Fading

Notice your black and dark clothes aren’t as deep coloured as they used to be? Fear not⁠—the solution lies in how you care for and maintain them. Discover our top tips for keeping dark clothes from fading.

Black is the new black

Black clothing is a wardrobe staple, and not just for Wednesday Addams. Black is loved for its versatility, and how easily it goes with everything. However, the problem many of us have encountered is that black and darker clothes, in general, tend to fade the more we wear and wash them. But we have some good news: slowing down the fading process of darker clothing is easier than you think.

Here’s our guide to keeping dark clothes looking their best, so you can extend their lifespan and wear them for longer. Keep reading to discover our best tips and how-tos for caring for black and dark clothes, exploring everything from laundering techniques to over-dyeing options.

Why do black and dark clothes fade?

The fading of darker clothing is due to the breaking down of dyes over time, causing the clothes to lose their vibrancy and richness. Several factors can influence this inevitable process, including the type of fabric your clothes are made of. Due to the structure of the porous quality of their fibres, plant or animal-derived materials like cotton, wool, and silk are more prone to fading than synthetic materials, like polyester, which has chemical compounds that hold dye better than other fibres.

Sunlight, heat, and washing also contribute to the fading of black and dark clothes. Sunlight⁠—particularly UV rays⁠—can cause the breakdown of the dye molecules in fabrics. Heat⁠—from sources such as hot water, the dryer, or ironing⁠—can also cause fading, as high temperatures accelerate the dye’s breakdown process. Washing, particularly with harsh detergents, can also accelerate the fading process by stripping the dye molecules from the fabric.

Our tips for washing black and dark clothes

Dyes losing their potency over time might be inevitable, but there are ways to slow down the fading process and maintain the rich colour of black and dark clothes for longer.

As we go about our busy lives, it’s easy to forget some of the basics of doing laundry. To ensure that your clothes stay looking great for as long as possible, it’s important to remember a few essential tips.

Wash less with like fabrics

A massive contributor to clothes wearing out is how often and unnecessarily we wash them, so aim to wash your dark-coloured garments as little as possible. According to Levi’s consumer use findings, washing a product every ten times it is worn instead of every two times could reduce energy use, climate change impact, and water intake by up to 80%.

Separate heavier clothes like jeans from more delicate fabrics to prevent abrasion, which can cause piling and accelerate the fading process. Turning clothes inside out before washing can also help minimise fading and protect the fabric’s surface.

Go gentle on detergent and temperature

Keep in mind the choice of detergent and fabric softener. Stay away from harsh detergents that can wear down the fibres of your clothes, make them more susceptible to holes, fade their colour, and harm the environment. We’d recommend avoiding fabric softeners and bleach altogether, which can cause yellowing and leave a residue that contributes to fading.

Use cold water for washing and rinsing, as hot water can cause colours to bleed and fade. According to the American Cleaning Institute, 90% of the energy used by washing machines goes into heating the water. By washing cold, one household can eliminate up to 1,600 pounds of annual carbon dioxide emissions. Washing cold is better for the planet, better for your clothes, and better for your wallet.

Dry smarter, not harder

When drying black and dark clothes, it’s important to handle them carefully to avoid damaging the fibres and causing further fading. Drying using a clothes rack is the best way to keep your clothes fresh and is ideal for extending the life of your clothing. It’ll also reduce your footprint, as dryers are one of the household’s most energy-intensive appliances and one of the most lesser-known sources of air-borne microfibres. Remember to hang delicate and coloured clothes inside out, so they don’t bleach from the sun.

Following these simple tips for washing and drying black and dark clothes can help maintain their colour and prolong their lifespan.

Washing polyester requires some extra care

Careful laundering is a crucial part of taking care of black and dark clothing and helping to ensure it stays in good condition for longer. It also helps protect the environment, as one single wash of six kilograms could release 700,000 fibres into the waterways.

Polyester fabrics are especially tricky, and while solutions are starting to appear to avoid microfibre shedding during washing, such as special laundry bags and laundry balls, it’s best to stick to the following tips in order to minimise the number of those pesky microfibres being released when washing your clothes:

  • Hand wash where that’s an option, such as removing a stain on an otherwise good to go garment
  • Use a shorter washing cycle at a lower temperature (often marked “eco”). The longer the wash, the more time for microplastics to be released. This step is a bonus for climate change and your budget
  • Wash similar textiles together. Fibres can be released as more rigid fabrics rub up against softer ones
  • Do full washes rather than half full washes, as less space allows less friction which is helpful here
  • Use liquid detergent instead of powder—another thing to help with that friction
  • Ensure you throw your lint filters in the trash rather than down the sink

Can vinegar and salt help prevent dark clothes from fading?

Vinegar and salt have been touted as miracle workers for preventing dark clothes from fading. Adding a half cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle could help dissolve any leftover soap residue that could dull the colour of your clothes. Additionally, the acidity of vinegar could help lock in the colour of your clothes, preventing fading over time.

It’s worth mentioning that the internet is divided on the effectiveness of salt and vinegar for preventing dark clothes from fading. While these bonus methods may not completely prevent fading, they can certainly help prolong your dark clothes’ life. For sure-fire ways to prevent dark coloured clothes from fading, refer to the tips mentioned in the sections above.

How to make black clothes black again

Over time, even the most well-maintained black clothes can lose their vibrancy. But there’s a solution: over-dyeing.

Over-dyeing is the process of adding new dye to an existing piece of clothing to refresh its colour. To start, you’ll need to choose a dye that is specifically formulated for the type of fabric your clothing is made of. Synthetic materials, such as polyester or nylon, may require a different type of dye than plant-based and animal-derived fabrics, like cotton or wool, which tend to be more porous. Follow the instructions on the dye package carefully, and use gloves to protect your skin.

When over-dyeing black clothes, it’s important to use a dye that is specifically formulated for dark colours, as this will help ensure a deep, even black. Remember that the original colouring may impact the final colour, so it’s best to choose a dye that is a bit darker than your desired shade. Additionally, some fabrics may take less dye than others, so it’s important to be cautious when over-dyeing delicate or synthetic fabrics.

Finally, over-dyeing can be a gamble, so it’s always best to test the dye on a small, inconspicuous area of the clothing first. It can also be time-consuming and may require multiple rounds of dyeing to achieve the desired result. But with patience and persistence, you can give your favourite black clothes new life.

Prolonging the life of your black and dark clothes

Extending the life of your dark and black clothes (and all your clothes, really) and keeping them for longer is one of the most sustainable things you can do for people, the planet, animals, and your wallet, so remember:

  • Prioritise spot cleaning
  • Avoid using hot water or harsh chemicals that can cause fading
  • Store your clothes properly to help maintain their shape and colour, in a cool, dry place, avoiding direct sunlight or heat, which can cause fading
  • To prevent creases, fold your clothes instead of hanging them, or use non-slip hangers that won’t leave marks

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet, and animals. Use our directory to search thousands of rated brands.

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