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Have you ever eyed a gorgeously crisp white shirt at the store, but put it back because you were worried about upkeep? Or do you have a pile of sheets and towels that used to be bright-white but have withered to a dingy yellow or gray? Don't give up hope quite yet! Whether you're looking for detergent to maintain your clothes' appearance, bleach products to help give an added brightening boost, or a stain remover that won't ruin an all-white garment, these are some of the best options. As always, make sure to follow the manufacturer's specific instructions, and remember that chlorine bleach should always be used in a well-ventilated area while wearing gloves.
Here, the best laundry whiteners on the market.
This splash-less version of Clorox bleach was designed to protect your skin and clothing from errant sprays and splatters. To use, add one-third of a cup to your washer's bleach dispenser or, if you don't have one, wait five minutes after the water has started filling before pouring it in. It's important to note that this concentrated formula is not meant to sanitize or disinfect items like medical scrubs, but rather everyday bleachable items (a word of advice—skip the wool and silk, too).
For the best results, some laundry nerds with lots of time on their hands prefer to wash their whites first to remove the proteins from sweat (when mixed with bleach it might cause yellowing), and then run a second cycle with bleach. Whatever your process, just remember not to combine it with products like vinegar, ammonia or other bleach products, as this could cause a dangerous chemical reaction.
Oxygen bleaches, like this popular option from OxiClean, are more environmentally friendly alternatives to chlorine-based products. You can add OxiClean powder to your washing machine along with detergent—for best results, do this before you drop in the clothing, which should always be colorfast. Or, for extra-stubborn stains (think ground-in dirt after soccer practice), you can create a soaking solution of one scoop of OxiClean in one gallon of warm water, and allow the garment to sit for six hours before washing as usual.
Note that OxiClean shouldn't be used on items such as wool, silk, leather, or dry-clean-only fabrics. This 5-pound tub should last for about 75 loads.
If you're looking for convenience, this detergent and oxygen bleach combo comes in handy tablets that can easily be tossed into the washer. Baking soda— this detergent's primary ingredient—has long been a secret weapon in the laundry game as it's able to brighten colors, get rid of odors, and help regulate the water's pH level, which helps detergent do its job more effectively.
The packets also contain OxiClean and a scent-boosting product that one reviewers agree isn't too overwhelming. To help keep the packets away from curious children, Arm & Hammer has designed an especially strong zippered plastic bag, but you should, of course, store your detergent pods well out of reach of little ones.
This portable, dual-tipped pen is ideal for using when you're out and about. Since it has a fine point for treating small stains precisely, as well as a broader side for covering large spots, it's also capable of handling more than just a splotch of ketchup or splash of soda.
Clorox's pen is meant to be used on whites only, but if you're careful with the fine-tipped end, you can also use it on a mostly white outfit with a pattern, making sure to steer clear of the colored areas. No matter the clothing your cleaning, it's best to treat stains quickly and then wash right away with an all-white (or mostly white) load of laundry once you're home. Since you get four pens in a package, you can also opt to keep one in your bathroom or kitchen, as many people also use them to clean mold and mildew from tile grout.
Reviewers love this bleach-free product for its ability to keep their whites looking fresh without causing any damage. It also has a pleasant floral scent, which the company describes as a mix of lily of the valley, jasmine, sandalwood, and citrus.
Instead of bleach, the two main brightening, mineral-based ingredients are the preservative sodium gluconate as well as calcium chloride, a type of water-soluble salt. This detergent can also be used for hand-washing delicate items, so you'll have one less product to purchase for the laundry room.
Since this no-fuss liquid laundry detergent is made with a bleach alternative, it can be used to keep both white and colored clothes in tip-top shape. Shoppers rave about the fresh smell, and some say they've been able to eliminate regular bleach from their routine altogether.
To help fight stains, Tide Plus Bleach Alternative contains various enzymes designed to work on vegetables, starches, and proteins, as well as an ingredient that helps neutralize the chlorine found in water, which prevents colored fabrics from fading. This formula is safe to use in all HE (high-efficiency) washing machines.
The adorable tins with throwback vibes would seem like reason enough to buy this combo pack, which comes with both a detergent (known as Laundry Soda) and an oxygen brightener. Of course, there's more reason than that. The detergent contains just four ingredients and is formulated to rinse completely clear, so you won't be left with residue on your skin or washer.
The oxygen brightener, which is both hypoallergenic and biodegradable, can be added along with the soda to help get rid of stains and keep colors looking vibrant. If you're looking to hand wash or pre-soak items, the two products can be also mixed together and used in the sink.
One issue with many stain-removal products is that they work best if you treat the spot and then wash immediately. That isn't the case with Shout's Triple-Acting Laundry Stain Remover, however. This powerhouse formula can be applied to tough messes (think red wine on a white shirt), and then your garment can sit in the hamper for as long as a week before being washed.
It's safe on any colorfast item and "triple-acting" refers to the way the formula works. It penetrates stains once applied, clings to stains during the wash cycle, and, finally, lifts the stain away. It's made from sodium hydroxide, a compound known for its ability to dissolve grease and oil, as well as sodium borate, an ingredient that helps remove stains and also enables detergents to work more effectively.
The best laundry whitener for you depends on a few factors including how bad your stains are and your preferred method of application. If you want a concentrated bleach that can be added to your washer’s bleach container, we love Clorox's Splash-Less Bleach (view on Home Depot). If you’re after convenience, Arm & Hammer’s Plus OxiClean 3-IN-1 Power Paks (view on Amazon) and Clorox’s Bleach Pens (view on Amazon) couldn’t be easier to use.
Lexi Dwyer has written about recycling bins, clothes hangers, and patio tables for The Spruce. She is a lifelong Tide fan who loves the challenge of getting out tricky stains, and considers Home Comforts author Cheryl Mendelson the go-to laundry expert.