Keeping white clothes white is a struggle. I know I’ve tossed out white sheets, sweaters, and blouses 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 avoid buying white clothes for fear of discoloring them. 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.
- Separate whites from colored clothes before washing to prevent discoloration.
- Choose a detergent with optical brighteners and add a whitener like oxygen bleach or Borax.
- Alternatives to bleach include distilled white vinegar, Borax, and baking soda.
- Dry clothes according to their labels, avoid over-drying, and consider air-drying in the sun.
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 your best option.
- Highly effective: Chlorine bleach is excellent for stain removal, brightening whites, and disinfecting. Sodium hypochlorite is the active ingredient that does all the hard work (1).
- Easy to find: You can buy chlorine bleach at your local supermarket or on Amazon for a reasonable price. A little goes a long way! Make sure you use domestic chlorine bleach with a 5.25% to 6.15% concentration of sodium hypochlorite. It has excellent disinfecting qualities without leaving toxic residues (2).
- Only for whites: If you’re looking for something for both colored and white items, chlorine bleach isn’t best. 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 regular 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 adverse effects on your organs and lungs. It’s also harmful if it gets onto your skin or eyes. So if you have young children or pets in the home, chlorine bleach might be one to avoid (3).
2. Oxy Bleach
Oxygen bleach is another versatile home item. Of course, it’s also great for washing white clothes.
- Stain removal: Oxy bleach is powerful because of its stain-removing qualities and keeping white clothes white.
- It’s safe: 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-around deeper clean.
- 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.
Moving on to items that you probably already have in the house, first up, we have vinegar.
- 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, giving you 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.
- An extra step: Because it’s recommended to be used in a rinse cycle, it’s an extra step for laundry day. It might be challenging to remember to add this as an extra step, but it’s worth the hassle!
- Might leave behind scent: Vinegar has a strong scent. While most of it leaves the fabrics during the rinse cycle, you might be able to smell traces of it.
4. Borax and Baking Soda
Finally, you can use Borax or baking soda — or both — to keep white clothes white.
- Household items: Many people will already have Borax or baking soda in their cupboards. As such, it’s good to reach for when you need to whiten whites quickly!
- Whitens: It keeps white clothes white with very little hassle.
- Mix it: Borax and baking soda can both be mixed with detergent for a more thorough cleaning.
- 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 a fantastic 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
- 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
- Baking soda
- Detergent (if applicable)
How to Wash White Clothes (Step By Step)
Now that you’ve chosen your preferred laundry whitener, you’re ready to go. Follow these instructions closely to keep your white clothes white, or remove discoloration from your white clothes.
- Time: Five minutes (plus cycle time).
- Difficulty: Easy
1. Separate Whites
It’s crucial to wash your white clothes separately from other colors to keep them from discoloring. This includes separating them from light greys and cream colors. The last thing you want is your entire load of white laundry to be pink from one red sock!
2. Create a Light Load
It’s best to stick to light loads when 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
Another option is 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.
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, 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
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: A gentler cycle is better when it comes to delicate whites, like sheets.
- Don’t combine loads: When it comes to washing whites, putting them all together is tempting. 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 that makes the whites appear discolored.
- Clean your washing machine: Every month, 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 ensure 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.