Color Bleeding and Color Runs in Persian Rugs

Color Bleeding and Color Runs in Persian Rugs

Antique rug with color bleeding
This antique rug experienced color bleeding that was contained to the corner which is magnified in the black circle.

When it comes to dyeing a rug, there are two types of dyes that may be used. There are CHEMICAL dyes, composed using formulas with specific instructions that create the exact same color every time, and there are NATURAL dyes, which come from a variety of sources including vegetables, fruits, nuts, and insects.

Natural dyes can be harder to replicate with exact precision, which is why some rugs may feature colors that are not a perfect match throughout the rug. Many people enjoy rugs colored with natural dyes because they believe the less uniform look gives the rug character. In fact, the rug industry typically uses natural dyes to make antique replicas. Naturally dyed rugs are more sought after by collectors. Chemical dyes were created because there was a desire for more control and standardization in the dyeing process. After so many years of creating these dyes, most formulas are stable.

So how can you tell whether a dye is chemical or natural? There are two ways to determine this, chemical analysis or an “experienced eye” test. Chemical analysis is of course more reliable, however, a knowledgeable rug dealer who has been in the industry for decades can tell if a rug is dyed with chemical dyes or natural dyes for much cheaper. In addition, chemical analysis requires samples of each color on the rug, of which there can be more than 15! Since the “experienced eye” test does not damage the rug and is essentially free, it is the preferred method. You can learn more about the dyeing process here.

Usually, a rug is washed after it is woven to remove any excess dye and color. The dye is also “fixed” before washing to make it stable. If the dye is not properly set it will not be colorfast when it comes into contact with water. When a rug is purchased that has never been washed before, rug owners are often dismayed to hear that their rug is experiencing color runs or color bleeding.

Luckily, 95% of new rugs have been washed at least one or two times before shearing. That first wash will reveal unstable dye, which can be influenced by the maker of the dye and the origin of the ingredients. For example, a rug made in a small village may experience color runs due to improper mixing of the dye elements, resulting in instability.

The other reason a rug may experience color runs is that the rug has not been washed for 20+ years. With wool especially, lack of regular washing may result in a loss of the oils from the wool, meaning that oil is no longer holding in the dye and it may run when washed. Washing your rug regularly conditions the wool and keeps the oils happy.

When a rug bleeds during washing, this may result in foggy color. Foggy color means that dye from one area stained dye of a different shade on another area of the rug, muddling the original color to something else, for example, excess red dye staining an ivory area pink.

Luckily, when this happens the aging process will cause that foggy color to fade. The best way to accelerate the aging process is to leave your rug in the sun. The sun’s rays accelerate the fading of foggy colors, making them much less noticeable. Just leaving the rug in the sun for a few days after washing can fade the foggy colors by 30% to 40%.

As your rug ages, it will begin to lose pile, patterns may lose sharpness, and the rug may start looking threadbare. Traffic, over-vacuuming, improper care, and dirt create an environment that decreases the thickness of the pile over time. Proper and regular washing is necessary to prevent pile depletion.

So, how do you bring your rug’s design back to life? Precise color touch-ups, done by hand, can minimize the look of a faded, unclear rug pattern. If you choose to have the color and details of your rug touched up, it is important that you don’t spill anything on the rug afterward, or walk on it much.

If your rug does experience color bleeding when professionally washed, it is important that the company completely rinses all color from the rug. If the unstable dye is left behind in the rug, it can transfer to anything that touches it, such as a dog’s paws or a child’s feet. Because there is no way to be certain that unstable dye transfer is not harmful to skin, all excess color needs to be washed out for safety reasons.

If you are buying an old or antique rug, ask the seller to perform a colorfastness test. Wet the fabric and use a towel to see if there is color transfer. If there is, you may want to reconsider your purchase.

Color runs and color bleeding do happen to handmade Persian rugs, but it is not the end of the world. Call Behnam Rugs at 972-733 to discuss any concerns you have and options for a rug that has experienced color bleeding.