How To Clean Up Hair-Dye Stains Like A Pro

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
By Jolie Kerr   

The biggest downside of dyeing your hair at home, other than the risk of missing a swath on the back of your head, is that it can — real talk — make a huge damned mess of your bathroom. Since I’m both a cleaning expert and someone who has spent many years coloring her own hair red, I’ve got a system for preventing and/or remedying said mess down pat. Listen up.

Before You Even Open That Box Of Dye...
There are a few preparatory measures you should take to help keep the bathroom from taking on the appearance of a crime scene. First, put away any towels or fabric bath mats that are near the area where you’ll be doing your work, as a precautionary measure to protect those things from getting hit with tiny splatters. Next, line the countertop with paper towels. Doing so will allow you to have a space to set down any tools you use while you work, like combs, without worrying that dye will get all over everything. 

Related: Your Beauty-Tool Cleaning Guide

The last thing to do is have a sponge and a product like Soft Scrub already out and on hand, so you can immediately clean up spills as they happen. I recommend Soft Scrub because it’s a cream cleanser, which means it’s gentler on surfaces than powder cleansers like Comet, but it contains some bleach, which is exceedingly helpful when it comes to dye-stain removal. If you prefer something without bleach, Simple Green is a good choice, too.

If you regularly color your hair at home, you may also want to designate an old towel that you don't mind messing up as your "hair-dyeing towel,"

How To Clean Those Inevitable Splatters
Even with all that prep, there’s no guarantee that a blob of wet dye won't land on your countertop, floor, or walls. It’s always best to tend to those ASAP, so try to get in the habit of (as soon as you’ve got the color applied to your head) taking a keen look around your workspace to seek out any stray dye.

If dye has landed on your countertop, wipe up as much as you can with a paper towel, being careful not to smear it. Then, apply a small amount of Soft Scrub and go over it with your sponge. If the stain is very stubborn, apply a bit more Soft Scrub and let it sit for about 10 minutes before wiping up.

That Soft Scrub, or any all-purpose spray that contains bleach, can also be used to clean dye stains from tile and grout. Because grout is so porous, use a scrub brush to work in the product for the best results. For very bad or set-in stains, more than one application may be needed — don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t come out on the first pass. That’s normal. Just try again.

For stains on painted walls, grab a Magic Eraser for a quick clean-up. Just be sure, as is always the case when working with these wonderful and weird things, to test on an inconspicuous spot that the Eraser is safe for use.

Related: How To Do At-Home Hair Color, The Right Way

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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
How To Clean Hair Dye From Towels & Clothes
To keep dye from getting on your clothes, it's not a bad idea to invest in a colorist’s smock or dedicate an old button-up shirt to the cause. If it does happen and you catch it right when it did, flush the stained portion of the garment with cold running water from back to front to push the dye out and away from the fabric. There will still be some staining, which you should treat with a stain remover or launder as soon as you can.

For older, set-in stains, there’s a weird product called SuperClean that people absolutely swear by. It’s one of those “As Seen On TV” dealies, but don’t let that turn you off — for the $4.95 it will run you, it’s well worth putting your skepticism aside to try it. The one you want is the household cleaner; to use, spray the product directly on the stain before laundering.

How To Get Hair Dye Off Your Skin
I like to end on a high note, which is why I saved tips for getting dye off your skin for last: It’s super-easy, which is generally not true of dye removal — all you need is a cotton ball and some rubbing alcohol!

Next: How To Clean Hair Brushes & Combs