Uniforms can be expensive, so when they start to fade after only a few washes, it can be very frustrating. This fading can occur quickly due to three major factors – the fibers the fabric is made of, how that fabric was dyed, and how you care for the garment once you bring it home.
Colorfastness starts with the label in the garment. LE Uniforms typically are made from synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, rayon, spandex, and elastane with additional natural fibers like cotton or wool woven or knitted into the construction. Different fibers are able to receive and hold dye better than others. A natural fiber may be able to bond to particular dyestuff types but fading will likely occur faster than synthetic because they naturally degrade faster. Content blends such as 50% nylon / 50% cotton (NYCO) ripstop or 65% polyester / 35% cotton are engineered to provide the best of both fiber types, the durability and color retention of a synthetic fiber with the comfort and breathability of the natural fibers. While the quality of the dyestuffs and process play a major role, the more natural fiber in a garment, them more likely it will fade faster than a synthetic comparable item.
But how does the dye get on the fabric in the first place? The type of dye process used on fabrics goes a long way to determine the colorfastness as well. The dye processes that typically ensure the greatest colorfastness results are those where the dyestuffs chemically bonds to the fibers of the material, such as vat, reactive, or dispersed dyeing. In these cases, the fabric is prepared for dying and the chemicals are permanently bonded. Other processes such as pigment printing, sublimation printing, and laser jet printing are less durable. In these methods, the dye is applied to the surface of the fabric. Because the bond only occurs at the surface level, the strength of the color application is limited. These processes are typically chosen when colorfastness is less a priority compared to the complexity of the print, which is why they are often used in fashion or even hunting camouflage clothing.
Once you’ve gotten through the hard part of choosing the right fabric, the easy part is caring for the garments at home. First, read the tags from the manufacturer. They have worked with the fabric mills to write care instructions tailored to each garment. Washing a garment in cold water will prevent color loss by avoiding the harsh environment that hot water creates which can weaken fabric at the fiber level. Washing clothes inside out will also avoid abrasion against other clothing in the washer on the face side. Your dryer uses both heat and tumbling to dry the garment, so hang it to try if possible. You can add some vinegar to your wash to help prevent fading and act as a natural fabric softener. Avoid dryer sheets if possible; they rub against your clothing while it tumbles in the dryer, spreading chemicals on the clothes to give the feeling of softness. In addition, avoid industrial dry cleaning at all costs unless specifically recommended in the care instructions. These companies use harsh chemicals in their cleaning agents that will react with the dyes in your clothing.
So, when you’re shopping for a new pair of tactical pants and/or tactical shirt, and colorfastness is important to you, check the tags to see if it is made of natural or synthetic materials. Once you have your choice, double check with the manufacturer to ensure the product was dyed with a high quality process and dyestuff such as vat, disperse, or reactive. Finally, make sure the garment lasts as long as possible by understanding the care instructions in the tag and if possible giving them a little extra TLC. You’ll look your best and find yourself replacing product less often due to fade.