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Why do rugs bleed?

Dye bleed or dye transfer or dye migration during cleaning is very common for many rug owners. And, when it happens, nobody can argue that it does cause frustration and disappointment, especially if you have invested a lot of money (not to mention the time you spent searching) on the perfect carpet for your space. There are different scenarios for an Oriental, wool rug, which is among the most expensive and valuable types of rugs, where its darker dyes have run into the neighbouring off-white areas. Here are the most probable causes for that.

1. Cleaning is not Done Properly

Coffee Stain

It is very important that rugs with natural fibers, such as wool or silk, are washedand not just cleaned in the home. If you are using wall-to-wall rug cleaning equipment or home-made solutions to clean your rugs, then chances are there is a good amount of residue left behind in the fibers of the rug after the cleaning process is complete.

Over time, the, usually alkaline, residue buildup affects the acid dyes and intensifies the dye bleed probability. Eventually, the dyes WILL run. So, do not be surprised if you clean your wool rug a couple of times and all goes well while the third time you are forced to deal with dye migration issues, leaving you clueless as to why this has happened.

Rug Cleaning

You should also be careful when you clean your rug so that it is not “tortured” by high heat or high alkaline cleaning solutions. Ideally, the rugs should be cleaned within the recommended temperature ranges and PH (seek manufacturer’s instructions) to avert dye damage. For that reason, it is always advised to have precious rugs cleaned by a professional rug cleaner.

2. The Rug is Never Washed Before and has Excess Dye

This is pretty much like washing a new colourful sweater. In most cases, you expect some dye to be washed out during that first wash, right? The same thing can happen to your rug. If it has excess dye in its fibers, it will wash out the 1st time you clean the rug. The same thing can happen if the rug manufacturer has added colour (aka over-dye applications – see below), usually ink, after it was woven to give it an either aged look (so that it appears more antique) or brighter hues. Using a dye stabilising solution can help as it will allow the excess dye to wash away without affecting the wrong areas. Unfortunately, this is not effective with over-dye (ink) applications; the best course of action there is to conduct a dye test (see below) so that you can identify these types of rugs and turn down cleaning.

3. Not Colourfast Dye

If the dyes (mainly the reds and blues) of the rug are not colourfast, they could bleed when overly exposed to water (see how to save your rug after a flood). This could also happen if cleaning was poorly done. The best thing you can do is to carry out a dye test, which will help you determine which dye stabilising shampoo and solutions are best to use for your case.

4. Repeat Pet Stains

Pet urine definitely damages your rug, especially if it is left unattended for a long time and the stain sets in. In its core, it is an acidic stain, which turns into alkaline with the passing of time (usually within a couple of months), creating permanent dye damage. You will see discoloured areas (even at colorfast dyes) and areas that bleed (those with urine exposure, of course).

Pet stain in the Rug

To prevent damage from happening, try to clean the stain up the soonest possible, especially if you have expensive, valuable rugs. Here is How to Properly Clean your Rugs from Pet Puddles.

How to Dye Test your Rug

It only takes a few minutes and saves you from a ton of problems. The easiest and simplest way is to use a clean, white, cotton towel dipped in hot water.

Step 1: Choose a small area and run the damp towel over it. If the colour crocks on the towel, then you know it will bleed if you wash the rug. Make sure you test small areas on both the front AND back.

Step 2: Alternatively, you could use a high pH spotter. Or, even better, do both step 1 &2 to ensure you are on the safe side.

Step 3: If the dye bleeds with any of these methods, you should also run a dye bleed test with your dye stabiliser product so that you can make sure you can clean the rug without any unwanted side effects. Now, if the dye bleeds with your stabiliser too, then hands off; ask a professional rug cleaner to do all the dirty work for you.

Note: Do not think that using a dye lock or stabilising product will solve all your problems. If the colours of the rug bleed on the towel during your dye test, it is paramount to complete the process with the 3rd step and test the stabilising solution too.

How to Tell if your Rug has Been Over-Dyed

There are two main types of over-dyed rugs:

1. Tea-Washed Rugs

The majority of rugs today undergo a tea wash treatment (aka henna wash), especially those that come from China, India, and Pakistan, as a means to look antiqued. The tea wash treatment is actually a brown dye that is used to make the rug look older. The muted look it gets from the treatment makes the rug’s tones darker, particularly the golds and browns, while the white cotton fringes are turned brown or beige.

Depending on the quality of the rug, it may either be soaked in the dye (it allows even application), be given many layers of application (to make sure the tea wash dye bonds with the rug’s fibers seamlessly) or be sprayed on (usually one side only). The first two cases usually apply to higher quality rugs while the 3rd one is considered a lower quality treatment, which will definitely make colours crock on the damp towel dye test no matter what you do.

To see if your rug or the rug you are considering to buy has been over-dyed with tea wash, grind the fibers open or untwist the fringe tassels to see if there is white under the beige shade.

2. Inked Dyed Rugs

This is the riskiest over-dye treatment a rug could receive. In the past, Indian ink was being used on antique rugs to hide any imperfections (i.e. worn areas) or areas of damage. Today, it is a common practice that is used to cut corners on production costs and causes serious problems on rugs, which is why you should always take a rug out on approval (hence, prefer local rug retailers) and be extra careful when buying rugs online. It would also not hurt to bring a small cotton towel or handkerchief with you and do a dry towel dye test when you are out rug shopping. If the towel picks up colour easily, it smells like trouble. Inked dyed rugs have a bizarrely dark, blotchy look. You may also see dark ink on the fibers if you grind them open. So, if, for example, the base of the fibers are blue while the tips are purple, then you know for sure that rug has been ink dyed. If this is your case, note that the rug is NOT cleanable and it might lead to even more expensive damage on your floors too if the ink transfers from the rug to the underneath of your wall-to-wall carpeting.

Dyed Rug

Rugs that bleed is a troublesome issue which can progress into a problem that can cost you much money. However, if you are careful and thorough with the dye tests mentioned above, always keeping in mind the key points highlighted here that allow you to tell an improperly dyed rug, you can certainly avoid biggest dye migration disasters.

And, if you face any challenges along the way, we are here to help. Just give us a call or send us an email explaining your problem and our rug cleaning experts will make sure you get the most effective bits of advice to save you from unnecessary frustration and stress!

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