How to Get White Socks White Again in 4 Steps

White socks soiled, dirty lying on clean surface indoors

Sergey Dementyev/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 10 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5-10

Bright white socks are a classic look. Unfortunately, whether they are 100 percent cotton or a blend of fibers, they eventually turn grey and the bottoms become heavily soiled—unless they are cleaned properly. Regular washing just doesn't seem to remove the dirt, but with a few supplies and some patience, you can get white socks white again in just four steps.

Here are a few tips to get the best results:

  • Don't leave the socks turned inside out while washing. Most of the dirt is on the outside bottom of the sole.
  • Don't use cold water. Heavy soil removal requires hot water.
  • Don't mix in any colored socks or clothes. Wash them separately.
  • If your white socks have grey threads woven into the soles (added to mask some of the dirt), they can be included with pure white socks for these whitening steps.
Detergent Heavy-duty
Water Temperature Hot
Cycle Type Normal cycle
Drying Cycle Type Normal cycle or air-dry
Special Treatments Presoak with an added cleaner (vinegar, lemon juice, bleach, borax, or baking soda)
Iron Settings N/A
How Often to Wash Whiten monthly or as needed

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 large pot
  • 1 washer or laundry sink
  • 1 automatic dryer or drying rack

Materials

  • 1 box baking soda
  • 1 bottle chlorine bleach
  • 1 bottle distilled white vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 container powdered oxygen-based bleach
  • 1 bottle hydrogen peroxide
  • 1 box laundry borax
  • 1 container heavy-duty laundry detergent

Instructions

How to Whiten Socks with Lemon Juice or Distilled White Vinegar

The mild acid in lemon juice (citric) or distilled white vinegar (acetic) help to break the bond between the soil and the sock fibers.

  1. Create a Hot Water Bath

    • Fill a large pot with water (around one gallon) and heat on the stovetop until boiling. Turn off the heat.
    • Or, bring water to a boil in a tea kettle to create a hot water bath for the socks.
  2. Add the Cleaning Ingredients to the Hot Water

    Tip

    Adjust the amount of water and the cleaning ingredients based on the number of pairs of socks you plan to clean. One gallon of water will accommodate around six pairs of socks.

  3. Add the Socks and Soak

    Add the socks to the solution and allow them to soak for at least four hours. Overnight is even better.

  4. Wash and Dry as Usual

    • When the water has cooled, lift the socks from the soaking solution and wash them you usually would using heavy-duty detergent and hot or warm water.
    • Dry in an automatic dryer or on a drying rack.

How to Whiten Socks with Other Cleaning Products

You can use other whitening products instead of lemon juice or distilled white vinegar following the same soaking and washing steps. Try these cleaners to whiten white socks:

Warning

Do not mix cleaning ingredients together. Use only one whitener at a time. Two products that work very well alone, vinegar and chlorine bleach, are highly toxic when combined.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, exposure to dangerous household cleaning mixtures is the second most frequent report of poisoning.

Try using these products added to the hot water bath along with heavy-duty laundry detergent to whiten white socks:

  1. Chlorine bleach: 1/4 cup per gallon of water
  2. Oxygen-based bleach powder: 2-3 tablespoons per gallon of water
  3. Hydrogen peroxide: 1 cup per gallon of water
  4. Baking soda: 1 cup per gallon of water
  5. Laundry borax: 1 cup per gallon of water

Tips for Washing and Keeping White Socks White

  • Presoak white socks in a solution of hot water and heavy-duty laundry detergent for 30 minutes before washing.
  • Wash all white fabrics separately. Do not mix colored fabrics and white fabrics to prevent dye transfer that leaves whites looking grey or dull.
  • Wash heavily-soiled white socks separate from lightly-soiled, new white socks to prevent premature greying.
  • Do not overload your washer when washing white socks. The socks need room to move in the wash water to prevent soil from resettling on the fabric.
  • Always use a heavy-duty detergent that contains enough enzymes to break the bonds between the dirt and the fabric.
  • Boost the performance of your regular laundry detergent by adding a scoop of oxygen-based bleach, laundry borax, or baking soda to the wash cycle.
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dangers of Mixing Bleach with Cleaners. Washington State Department of Health

  2. 2018 Annual ReportAmerican Association of Poison Control Centers