How to Wash White Clothes

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Categories Doing Laundry
Keep your white clothes white forever with these easy tips.

Keeping white clothes white is a struggle. I know I’ve tossed out white sheets, sweaters, blouses and more because they’ve discolored. It can be embarrassing to leave the house with a white t-shirt that has yellowed over time.

Why do white clothes become discolored? This happens because of body oil and dirt, as well as being washed with darker colors on laundry day.

But now, you don’t need to toss out your faded whites. It’s possible to wash them back to white!

We’ll show you exactly how to wash white clothes with and without bleach. That way, you can keep your white items in your wardrobe forever.

How to Wash Whites

Separate whites from colored clothes — even from light greys and cream colors. Stick to light loads when washing your whites. A full washing machine leaves little room for water to wash away soil and dirt. Choose your detergent — preferably one with optical brighteners. Whiten, whether with chlorine bleach or other laundry detergent alternatives, like borax, or oxy bleach.


What to Use to Wash Whites

There are many options when it comes to washing white clothes. You can stick with using bleach or you can use non-bleach products, which will also do the trick.

1. Chlorine Bleach

Chlorine bleach is most commonly used to whiten and disinfect laundry. So if that’s what you’re looking to do, this might be the best option for you.

Pros

  • Highly effective: Chlorine bleach is amazing for stain removal, brightening whites and disinfecting. Sodium hypochlorite is the active ingredient that does all the hard work for you (1).
  • Easy to find: You can get chlorine bleach at your local supermarket or on Amazon for a reasonable price. A little goes a long way! Make sure you use chlorine bleach with a 5.25% to 6.15% concentration of sodium hypochlorite. This is domestic bleach. It has great disinfecting qualities without leaving toxic residues (2).

Cons

  • Only for whites: If you’re looking for something for both colored and white items, then chlorine bleach might not be the best purchase for you. It can only be used for white items.
  • Damaging: Unfortunately, chlorine bleach can damage fabrics if you overuse it.
  • Doesn’t combine with detergent: Using chlorine bleach with your normal detergent is a big don’t. It counteracts its effectiveness.
  • Chlorine bleach can be toxic: Unfortunately, the more bleach you use, the more damaging its effects can be on your body. If you accidentally breathe in chlorine bleach, it can have negative effects on your organs and lungs. It’s also harmful if it gets onto your skin or in your eyes. So if you have young children or pets in the home, chlorine bleach might be one to avoid (3).

Watch out

Chlorine bleach should not be mixed with anything except pure water. Do not create a chemical cocktail with chlorine bleach and other cleaning products. It is dangerous (4).

2. Oxy Bleach

Oxy bleach, or oxygen bleach, is another versatile home item. Of course, it’s also great for washing white clothes.

Pros

  • Stain removal: Oxy bleach is powerful because of its stain-removing qualities, which means it’s perfect for keeping white clothes white.
  • It’s safe: For one, it’s safer for you and the environment than chlorine bleach. But it’s also safer for your clothes (5). It can be used on all washable fabrics, excluding wool and silk.
  • Works for colors: If you want something in the cupboard for washing whites and colors, then oxy bleach is a great choice.
  • Mix it: You can mix oxy bleach with detergent, for an all-round deeper clean.

Cons

  • Not suitable for all fabrics: Oxy bleach doesn’t work with silk or wool. So if you need something to whiten your silk and wool items, you’ll need to keep searching.

3. Vinegar

Moving on to items that you probably already have in the house, first up, we have vinegar.

Warning

Make sure you are using distilled white vinegar, as any other type of vinegar could damage your clothing.

Pros

  • Good to rinse with: Once you have done a wash to whiten your clothes, then add this in for a rinse cycle. White vinegar removes excess detergent from fabrics so you have very clean clothes.
  • Whitens and brightens: White vinegar naturally whitens and brightens your clothes. And, you never have to worry about it leaving stains behind.
  • Mild but strong: Distilled white vinegar is mild enough not to damage clothes but strong enough to whiten your whites.

Cons

  • An extra step: Because it’s recommended to be used in a rinse cycle, it’s an extra step when it comes to laundry day. It might be difficult to remember to add this as an extra step, but it’s worth the hassle!

4. Borax and Baking Soda

Finally, you can use Borax or baking soda — or both — to keep white clothes white.

Pros

  • Household items: Many people will already have Borax or baking soda in their cupboard. As such, it’s a good thing to reach for when you need to quickly whiten whites!
  • Whitens: Of course, it also keeps white clothes white, which is what you want. It does the job with very little hassle.
  • Mix it: Borax and baking soda can both be mixed with detergent for a more thorough clean. In fact, you can mix it with bleach as well, if you have tougher stains you need to work on.

Cons:

  • Not as effective: Borax and baking soda work, but they’re just not as effective as bleach. We have used baking soda on our white sheets to remove discoloration and while it’s done an amazing job, it’s not been as white as bleach. However, it’s still our go-to non-toxic laundry detergent alternative.

What You’ll Need When Washing Whites

Tools:

  • Washing machine (any kind) or large bath or bucket (for hand washing).
  • Tumble dryer, clothesline or drying rack.
  • Measuring cup.
  • Protective wear if using bleach.

Supplies to Choose From:

  • Chlorine bleach
  • Oxy bleach (such as OxiClean)
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Borax
  • Baking soda
  • Detergent (if applicable)

How to Wash White Clothes (Step By Step)

Now that you’ve chosen your preferred whitener, you’re ready to go. Follow these instructions closely to keep your white clothes white, or remove discoloration from your white clothes.

1. Separate Whites

It’s very important to wash your white clothes separately to other colors to keep them from discoloring. This includes separating them from light greys and cream colors. The last thing you want is for your entire load of white laundry to be pink from one red sock!

2. Light Loads

It’s best to stick to light loads when it comes to washing your whites. A full washing machine leaves little room for water to wash away soil and dirt. Yes, this means slightly extra work in the short-term, but whiter whites for the long-term.

3. Choose Your Detergent

If you’re not using chlorine bleach, you can still use a detergent with your whites. It’s important to select one that will help brighten your whites. Try out a detergent that contains optical brighteners. These highlight blue light instead of yellow light, which gives whites a much brighter appearance.

4. Whiten Those Whites

Whether you choose chlorine bleach, oxy bleach, white vinegar, baking soda or Borax, it’s time to put either option to work. Each cleaning agent works differently, so instructions differ depending on what you choose. Read each step carefully so that you take the best care when washing your whites.

How to Whiten Clothes With Chlorine Bleach:

  1. Read the instructions: On the bottle, read the manufacturer’s instructions to know how much to add to your laundry load. This will differ depending on the brand you buy.
  2. Use hot water: It’s important to wash your whites at a hot temperature for the most effective cleaning.
  3. Start your wash cycle: Add your whites to the washing machine and begin the cycle without any other detergent. This is important as chlorine bleach should not be mixed with detergent.
  4. Dilute the chlorine bleach: Mix one cup of bleach to one quart of warm water. If you are using a dispenser, you can skip this step.
  5. Wait to add the chlorine bleach: No matter the kind of washing machine, you need to wait until the machine has filled up with water. Five minutes into the wash cycle, add your chlorine bleach into the dispenser or straight into the machine. If you have an automatic bleach dispenser, your machine will dispense the bleach at the correct time. It’s important to get the bleach as diluted as possible, which is why we wait before we add it.

How to Whiten Clothes With Oxy Bleach:

  1. Read the instructions: Always read the manufacturer’s instructions when using a new product.
  2. Add it at the start of the cycle: According to the instructions, add the intended amount of oxy bleach at the start of the cycle — before adding the clothes.
  3. Add detergent: You can add detergent if you’d like.
  4. Wash at any temperature: You can use oxy bleach at any temperature, but when washing whites, it’s better to do it warm or hot.
  5. Wash on a long cycle: Oxy bleach works quite slowly, so it’s best to use it on a cycle that is at least one hour long.

Warning

Do not use oxy bleach on wool or silk.

How to Whiten Clothes With Distilled White Vinegar

You have two options when it comes to using distilled white vinegar to wash white clothes.

  1. Measure ½ cup: Measure out ½ cup of white distilled vinegar.
  2. Add during rinse cycle: At the beginning of your rinse cycle, add the ½ cup of vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser, or directly into the machine. This will brighten your whites, and replace your normal fabric softener without leaving any residue on your clothes.

For a deeper clean of your white clothes, try this:

  1. Measure one cup: Measure out one cup of distilled white vinegar.
  2. Fill up a large pot: With boiling water, fill up a large pot, big enough for the items you want to whiten. Add your cup of distilled white vinegar.
  3. Add your white clothes: Now, add your white clothes to the large pot and cover, if possible.
  4. Soak overnight: Allow the clothes to soak overnight.
  5. Wash as normal: The next day, wash the clothes as you normally would.

Warning

This method is intended for 100% cotton fabrics only.

How to Whiten Clothes With Borax Or Baking Soda

  1. Measure out the correct amount: For Borax, you’ll want ½ cup. For baking soda, use one cup.
  2. Add to the machine: For Borax, add it to your washing machine before the clothes. It can go straight into the washing machine. Add baking soda to the detergent dispenser or straight into the machine.
  3. Mix it: Remember, you can mix Borax and baking soda with detergent for a better clean. Baking soda can be mixed with detergent in the dispenser, so it’s super easy!
  4. Add your clothes and wash: Add your white clothes to the machine and wash them as normal at any temperature. Of course, hotter is better.

All of these tips and tricks can be used on bedsheets. Always read the label on your linen beforehand to make sure it’s suitable with hot water and whitening products.

5. Dry Your Clothes

This step requires reading the labels on your clothes. Each garment might have a different way of drying, so read carefully. Don’t overdry your clothes either, as this can wear down the fabric. If you have an automatic dryer setting, use that so the dryer stops when it senses the clothes are dry.

If you want to avoid over-drying, dry your clothes outside in the sun for the best results. However, if you live somewhere where it’s constantly rainy, then dry your clothes on low heat. Take them out of the dryer before they’re fully dry, and let them finish on a rack.

FAQs About Washing Whites

More questions? No problem!

How Can You Prevent Underarm Stains on White Clothing?

First, when you see a stain, treat the stain. That should be your laundry motto! Don’t ignore that stain until laundry day. Tackle it right away.

We recommend using distilled white vinegar to treat underarm stains. Simply spray the vinegar onto the inside of the underarm area and leave it for ten minutes. Work at the stain with a soft-bristled brush to break up sweat residue.

White vinegar prevents build-up and yellowing stains. Once you’ve worked at the stain, wash it as normal. You can add more white vinegar to the rinse, following the steps given above.

How to Get White Clothes White Again?

What if your clothes are already stained? It’s not too late to sort them out and bring them back to white again. Of course, it’s easier to prevent whites from fading, but it is possible to bring yellow and grey clothes back to white.

All of the steps above should do the trick for whitening your whites, but if you want to try something else, we have some tips.

  • Read your laundry detergent labels: Use the correct amount of detergent per load. Overusing laundry detergent can dull your clothes. Also, use a detergent with optical brighteners to bring back the whiteness in your clothes.
  • Always opt for hot water: If possible, according to your clothing labels, opt for hot water. This fades out colors, which is perfect for washing whites.
  • Pre-soak your whites: Baking soda is your friend here. Mix one cup of baking soda with four liters of warm water in a large tub. Soak the clothes for eight hours before washing as normal. This should bring back the white color of your clothes. You might need to use a scrub for the more stubborn yellow or grey areas, like the underarms.
  • Try bleach: If all else fails, you can bleach your clothes white again! Make sure to wear protective clothing for this one. Mix ¼ cup of bleach with one gallon of warm water into a basin or tub. Add the clothes and leave for five to ten minutes, before washing as normal.

How to Wash White Clothes With Color?

If you have a white t-shirt with red stripes, you might be wondering what to do about that.

What to use:

  • Try oxy bleach: Most brands of oxy bleach work with whites and colors. However, some brands include dyes, fragrances or anti-caking products which dull colors, so avoid those. You can use this Purex color-safe bleach for this project.
  • White vinegar: Wow, this white vinegar does everything! It really is a wonderful sidekick for laundry day. White vinegar is used for brightening colors, so when brightening the whites, you’ll also be brightening the other colors in the fabric.
  • Cool or warm water: To prevent the color from fading, don’t use hot water.

What not to do:

  • Chlorine bleach: When it comes to any colors, don’t use chlorine bleach. It will whiten or fade the colors! Borax and baking soda can also be used on colored clothes if you want to try that instead.

Hot Or Cold Water?

While we recommend hot water when washing whites, it’s important to read the label on your items. A lot of delicate items can’t handle hot water, whereas towels can. Before washing your items, read those labels very carefully!

Check for Stains

Is the yellow on your white towel discoloration or is it actually a stain? If it’s a stain, you’ll need to do a stain removal treatment instead of the tips above. Plus, if you notice a stain, don’t use hot water as this will set the stain.

How to Wash White Clothes Normally

Don’t have a chance to go to the store and buy new products? What can you do in a rush to get the white sheets through a wash before bedtime?

  • Optical brightener detergent: These make whites appear brighter.
  • Choose the right setting: Hot water removes dirt and soil best, so it’s good for keeping white clothes white. Of course, read the labels first.
  • Wash cycle: You can wash your whites on your normal setting, or a gentler setting if you’d prefer.
  • Drying cycle: It’s best to air your whites outside to dry. But if that’s not possible, dry your clothes on a low heat setting that automatically stops when the clothes are dry to avoid over-drying.

Other Tips for Keeping White Clothes White

Some things to keep in mind when washing your whites:

  • Wash whites often: It’s important to give your whites a good wash often. The longer you wear whites, the more build-up there is, which is difficult to get out. Wash your whites every one to two wears, or your sheets every week.
  • Wash gently: When it comes to delicate whites, like sheets, a gentler cycle is better.
  • Don’t combine loads: When it comes to washing whites, it’s tempting to put them all in together. But towels and sheets are very different, especially when it comes to drying. If you dry sheets and towels together, the sheets will dry faster than the towels, which means you might over-dry your sheets while you wait for those towels to dry.
  • Use less detergent: Yes, using less detergent or replacing it with any of the products mentioned already is better. Detergent can cling to items, and leave behind a residue which makes the whites appear discolored.
  • Clean your washing machine: Every three months, use two cups of distilled white vinegar and a hot wash cycle to clean out your washing machine. This ensures fresher and cleaner laundry.
  • Ironing: When ironing clothes, check the labels to make sure it’s safe to be ironed. Avoiding using high heat that can leave scorch marks on your white clothes.
  • Store white clothing correctly: Make sure that your whites are thoroughly dry before storing them. Don’t put your whites in plastic tubs or bags as this could yellow them. If you need to store them separately, use a cotton garment bag. For special or heirloom items, wrap each item in white, acid-free tissue paper and store it in a cardboard storage box. Do not put the box in a basement or attic, but keep it in a room which can be temperature controlled.

Keep Those White Clothes White

It’s easy to keep your white clothes white. In fact, you may already have the tools and supplies necessary for brightening your favorite pieces!

So put these tips to the test next time you’re doing your laundry to prolong the life of your whites.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a 20-something freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!
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