What Is Color Run, and Why Do Some Rugs Bleed?
One of the most frustrating occurrences for owners of antique rugs or any vintage carpet, is when they suddenly discover that their beautiful rug has colors that have run or experienced bleed. Color run can occur for many reasons, and there are some things that you can do to prevent this from ruining your priceless treasure. Let’s talk a little bit about why some area rugs have colors that run or bleed, and others have colors that remain as vibrant and bright as the day they were first dyed.
Understanding Colorfastness and Color Run / Bleeding Dyes
To understand color run, you must first understand the concept of colorfastness and how fibers take on different colors in the first place. Let us explore a little bit about the chemistry of color. The color comes from a pigment contained in the dyestuff that bonds to the fiber. This is the same principle, whether it involves natural vegetable dyes on natural fibers or synthetic dyes on synthetic fibers. The color occurs from changes in the way visible light is absorbed or reflected by the fiber that occurs from the addition of this dye substance. This affects the way our eyes and brain perceive the color.
The strength of this chemical bond between the dye substance and the fiber determines the colorfastness, or likelihood that the color will fade over time, or run. Some dyes do not create tight bonds with the fiber. In this case, the color can be washed out easily because it is only sitting on top of the fiber, rather than bonded to it. This is why some colors tend to fade with successive washings. The tighter the bond, the more resistant the fabric will be to fading. The degree with which materials resist color fading is rated on a colorfastness scale.
Synthetic Chemical Color Dyes vs. Natural Colors
Most antique carpets are dyed using natural dyes. Certain things can be done to improve the bond between the color molecules and the fiber. Most natural dyes are water-soluble. Natural dyes come from plants, wood, fungi, lichens, minerals, and mollusks. These materials are heated in water to extract the dye. Some dyes adhere to fibers more readily than others. The colorfastness and the intensity of the color can be increased by using sufficient material to increase the number of color molecules available to the fiber, or by soaking the fiber for longer in the bath. Heat can also help to strengthen the bond.
The use of a mordant can improve the colorfastness of natural dyes. The mordant breaks the bonds of the fiber itself and allows more of the color molecules to form a tight bond with it. The difference is between the color molecule sitting on top of the fiber and it being attached to the fiber as a part of it. There are several different mordants used with natural dyes, including alum and metallic salts. The mordant causes a permanent change in the fiber.
The goal of color dyers has been to increase the colorfastness of the materials so that they will remain bright for many years to come. Synthetic dyes are those which are not obtained from things in the natural world. The first man-made dye was produced in the mid 1800’s. Their advantage over natural color dyes was to create an even, consistent color. The process is more easily controlled, but they are often more reactive and likely to fade or run than natural dyes. However, this depends on the dyeing process, mordants used, and the skill of the dyer when using natural dyes.
Differences in Color Dye Quality
A carpet dyed with natural dyes can be quite vibrant and remain so for many years. Some antique Oriental carpets are in existence that date back several centuries, and you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between these antiques and carpets dyed today. This means that the dye materials used were high-quality, and it speaks to the skill of the dyer and the techniques used.
When talking about historical rugs, in general, the carpets woven in the cities and weaving centers were more consistent in terms of colorfastness and the ability to resist color run. Man has been using plants to dye fibers in different colors since the Neolithic era.
By the Middle Ages, the processes for imparting dyes on fiber where highly developed and standardized. The dyeing of cloth and textiles was a specialized field in itself and separated from the spinning and rug weaving processes. Those in commercial centers and along trade routes had access to plentiful high-quality dyestuffs and mordants. This may or may not be the case in the tribal cultures and remote areas. In these areas, the colorfastness of the carpet or rug is highly dependent on the knowledge of the weaver and the materials available.
Preserving the Colors of Your Carpet
Now that you understand a little bit about what creates colorfastness in carpets, it is essential to realize that there are a few things that you can do to prevent the color in your rug from running or fading.
Avoid Direct Sunlight
Sunlight is a carpet’s worst enemy. Avoiding sunlight will help keep your carpet as beautiful as the day it was created. Sunlight often creates slow chemical reactions that slowly break the bonds of the dye and fiber over time. Keeping rugs in the sun will cause the rug colors to fade. It is especially advisable not to place a carpet directly next window where a portion of it will receive sunlight at a different amount than the rest of the piece.
Be Careful with Stains
Unfortunately, stains cannot always be avoided, but what you do when they occur can mean the difference between color-run and preservation of your carpet. The first thing you should do is to blot up as much of the substance as possible using towels or paper towels. If the stain can be handled with water alone, this is usually the best bet.
However, be especially cautious when using anything else to remove the stain from the carpet. Stain removers can remove the color, depending on the dye used and the mordant technique. Substances such as chlorine, ammonia, and vinegar break the bonds of the stain molecule, but they can also break the bonds of the color molecule and cause a white spot. Color test and inconspicuous area before using any of these substances.
Avoid Dry Cleaners
Many dry cleaners advertise that they clean oriental rugs. However, many times, the chemicals they use can cause the color to run or bleed. These services are specifically designed for modern, synthetic Oriental carpets, not your treasured antique made from natural fibers and natural dyes. Your best bet is to maintain your rug at home and avoid stains.
Now that you understand a little bit about what creates colorfastness, and its opposite, color run or bleed, you can take precautions to help protect the vibrant color of your beautiful treasure. If your carpet does need to be cleaned, it is always best to consult a professional who specializes in cleaning and / or restoring antique carpets.
Keeping your treasure as beautiful as the day you bought it will allow you to enjoy it for many decades to come. We hope that you enjoy searching our collection at some of the magnificent treasures that we have to offer. Perhaps you will find one that is the ideal color and style for your interior design.
This rug blog about color run and rug bleeds was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rug Gallery in NYC.