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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Dyeing Mystery Bleach Spots Out of Towels

Has this ever happened to you? You spring for the luxury towels, only to have them pop out of the dryer one day with orange bleach spots — when you don't even use bleach. What was causing this? And could I salvage the towels? Rit dye worked on the chair. Here's what happened when I tried it on the towels.

So, my brother had given me a Nordstrom's gift card last Christmas, and I waited patiently for the annual white sale to purchase some plush, charcoal-gray towels. But, tragedy — after just a few washings, they came out of the dryer with ugly orange bleach spots. The same thing had happened to gray towels that I'd bought at Marshall's last year. I had chalked that up to cheap towels — like, maybe they were seconds or something. But now that it had happened to gray towels from two different stores, it gave me pause.

The bleach spots were a mystery, because we don't use bleach on our laundry. Plus, it only seemed to affect gray towels, gray sheets and one blue shirt, which were never washed together. After a bit of research, I learned that the culprit was likely benzoyl peroxide. The way to confirm this is by looking at the color of the stains. Benzoyl peroxide apparently messes with only the blue dyes in fabrics. So, the resulting stain will be the original color minus blue. Purple things will have pink spots. Green things will have yellow spots. Black things will have brown spots. Gray or khaki things will have orange spots.

If I wanted to test it out, I could have taken an unaffected piece of fabric the same color gray and deliberately rubbed in all the products in our home that have benzoyl peroxide as an ingredient, then washed the garment in the sink to see which stains took. I didn't care to test it, though. I just wanted to salvage the towels if I could.

I didn't think any of our products had benzoyl peroxide in them, but after a careful read of ingredients lists I tracked it down to a face cream I was using that had "brightening" agents. Hey, I'm all for wanting my skin brighter, whatever that means, but not at the expense of my towels! That product got tossed on the spot.

So what about the ruined towels — were they bound for the dust-rag heap or could I dye them back to gray? What did I really have to lose? Either it would work or it wouldn't. I picked up some Rit dye at our neighborhood craft store and gave it a try. I am pretty psyched by the results, so I thought I'd share, in case one of you have towels to salvage.

Dye Method

There are a few ways I could have done this. I could have boiled all the towels in a giant soup pot, rendering the pot unusable, so that was out. I could have put the dye in the washing machine, but ours is a communal washing machine in our building's laundry room, so that was out. I could mix the dye with a bit of boiling water in my stainless steel kitchen sink — dye will not affect stainless steel the way it would, say, a porcelain sink. I chose the latter method, even though it was the method least likely to take, according to the Rit dye site.

Tools & Materials

  • Rit dye
  • Boiling water
  • Measuring cup
  • Salt
  • Disposable wooden spoon
  • Plastic bins - for keeping dyed towels from staining the countertop

Step 1: 
Dampen all the towels.

Step 2: 
Run the hot water in the sink until it's very hot. Put the stopper in the sink and fill it about 1/3 full. Pour half the bottle of dye into 2 cups of boiling water, stir, then pour the mixture into the sink. 

Step 3:
Dissolve 1 cup of salt into 2 cups of hot water. Pour into sink. Stir dye bath, distributing salt water. Salt helps the dye take.

Step 4:
Put in the first towel and stir it around in its dye bath. Leave 30 minutes. Wring out. Place in plastic bin. Repeat until all towels have been dyed.

Step 5: 
Launder towels in cold water.

Step 6: 
Dry in hot dryer.

Step 7: 
Repeat on any towels that still have stains.


The first towel that I dyed "took" the best. It's darker than the other towels and all the stains are gone. The other three towels and one washcloth are way better, but there are still a few stray orange stains. I'm going to dye them again. 

What I would do differently

Next round, using a disposable foam brush, I will first dab hot dye on just the bleach spots, making sure the stains are covered before I submerge the entire towel in the dye bath. I'm also going to make a new dye bath for each towel. So I'll buy 2 bottles of dye and make plenty of salt water to have on hand.

If they all turn out as good as the first towel I dyed, I will have saved ALL my new towels and will call this project a real success.


  1. Thx for your advice. My daughters face cream has bleached some of my grey towels too. I’m going to try and dye them navy to try and rejuvenate them. 😊

    1. Did the face product turn your grey towels orange or purple? We have grey and navy towels that both have purple spots on them. Just wondering if our issue is benzoyl peroxide also.

    2. OMG! I was getting our grey towels out of the dryer while writing the previous message. The next towel I took out has orange spots on it! What on earth?!

    3. Yes, mine were orange. They say that's what "benzoyl peroxide" in skin products will do to gray and blue towels.

  2. I went through all our products and our culprits were my skin "brightening" foundation and DH's face wash. I now buy white towels.

  3. It cant just be benzoyl peroxide. I washed my new towels ( Wamsutta) on their own and it did it. There was nothihg else in the wash So sad!