Treating an upholstery stain or cleaning a favorite garment can lead to tears if it turns out the item isn’t colorfast. You can avoid the frustration of damage or discoloration caused by cleaning if you take the time to perform colorfast spot testing first.
I used to think spot testing was a waste of time. Commercial products are designed to work on multiples surfaces, right? Then I cleaned an area on a new sofa with just plain water — right in the center of, naturally — and it faded. Now I’m a stickler about testing.
What is Colorfastness?
Colorfastness is when a material maintains its color after exposure to moisture or friction. It refers to how well the dye sticks to the fibers. Things that aren’t colorfast are difficult to clean and best left to the professionals.
How to Spot Test for Colorfastness
To spot test for colorfastness, get a white cloth wet with whatever cleaning solution you plan to use, then gently rub a small area on the item in a hidden spot. If the cloth picks up dye, stop. It’s not colorfast. If it does not, let it dry and check again. No transfer or change means it’s colorfast for that cleaning solution.
What to Use
It’s important to use a white, undyed cloth for this so there’s no risk of dye transferring from the cloth to the area you’re testing, and so you can see any dye that bleeds onto the testing cloth.
What to Test With
It’s important you do the spot test using the actual cleaning product you plan to use on the entire stain or item. For commercial products, use a small amount of the cleaner. For homemade cleaner recipes, either make a small batch for testing or perform a test based on the primary ingredient.
Places to Perform Spot Tests
The best place to perform a spot test is an inconspicuous area so no one will see the damage if there is any. Inside a hem, behind a door, under a flap—pick a spot you won’t see. I cannot tell you how frustrating it was looking at that ruined sofa for years.