There are a few simple rules to follow to keep white clothes looking bright and clean. And, if they happen to get a bit dull, gray, or yellowed, you can restore the brightness of washable white clothing with a few simple techniques.
How Often to Clean White Clothing
Since they're prone to discoloration, whites should be washed after every wear and shouldn't be mixed with darker colors in the washing machine. Chlorine bleach can be helpful, but it's not the only answer for cleaning white clothing. There are several other techniques to try.
Equipment / Tools
- Washing machine or large plastic tub for hand-washing
- Dryer, outdoor clothesline, or drying rack
- Iron (optional)
- Laundry detergent
- Oxygen-based stain remover
- Baking soda (optional)
- Distilled white vinegar (optional)
- Borax (optional)
|How to Wash White Clothing|
|Detergent||Heavy-duty detergent that includes an optical brightener|
|Water Temperature||Hot (or as warm as the fabric will allow)|
|Cycle Type||Regular or permanent press|
|Drying Cycle Type||Low (dry outside in the sun when possible)|
|Special Treatments||Wash whites separately from other colors|
|Iron Settings||Varies by fabric|
The first step in keeping white clothes white is to sort dirty laundry carefully. Washing white clothes separately will prevent color bleeding and transfer from colored clothes, which leaves white fabric looking dull.
Filling the washer to the brim with clothes is tempting, but it won't get you the cleanest results. When the washer is overloaded, there isn't enough space between items for the water to flush away the soil, and it redeposits the dirt on fabrics, leaving them looking dull.
Choose the Right Detergent
Select a detergent for white clothes that contains optical brighteners. They work by tricking the eye: They bend ultraviolet light waves to showcase blue light while minimizing the yellow light you see, making fabrics appear whiter. But don't think that more detergent means better results. Excess detergent can remain in the fabric fibers and attract soil.
Promptly Treat Stains
Follow stain removal guidelines for different fabric and stain types. Chlorine bleach can whiten, but it may damage fabrics if overused. An oxygen-based bleach (such as OxiClean, Nellie's All-Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite) is usually safer and can be applied to all washable fabrics, except wool and silk.
Wash With Warmest Water Possible
Use hot water—or the warmest water recommended for the fabric—to help remove body oils and grime that can dull the material. Wash on a normal or heavy-duty setting, depending on the severity of the stains or discoloration.
Rinse With Vinegar
Skip commercial fabric softeners, which can leave residue on white fabrics. Instead, add 1 cup distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle to ensure that all the detergent is stripped away from fabrics.
Check garments one by one before placing them in the dryer. If stains remain, retreat the spots, and wash again. Never dry a garment on high heat that still has a stain because it can become permanent.
Dry on Low
Drying white clothing and fabrics outside can make a big difference in their brightness. The ultraviolet rays from the sun will help freshen and whiten. If drying outside isn't possible, dry garments with a dryer on a lower heat setting. Remove clothes from the dryer while slightly damp, and air-dry on a drying rack. Be careful not to over-dry, as excessive heat can cause stains and residual soil to yellow.
Ironing White Clothing
Check recommended iron settings for your garment, and avoid using heat that's too high. An iron that's too hot can scorch your clothing and leave marks that are very difficult (if not impossible) to remove. Keep the setting at a lower temperature, and use steam or water as needed to relax wrinkles.
Storing White Clothing
Freshly washed clothes are less likely to discolor, so plan on washing and thoroughly drying your whites before putting them away. Storing white garments in plastic tubs or bags doesn't allow airflow and may contribute to yellowing and discoloration. Use cotton garment bags to protect out-of-season white clothing from dust and grime.
Treating Yellowing on White Clothing
To refresh yellowed whites, create a solution of oxygen bleach and cool water by following package directions, mixing enough to completely cover your garments. You can do this in a top-loading washing machine or a large plastic tub. Allow the dingy whites to soak for at least four hours or overnight. Drain the solution, and wash as usual. Repeat as necessary. You can also use a commercial color remover to brighten white fabrics; follow package directions or try old-fashioned bluing to restore brightness.
Tips for Washing White Clothing
- Clean your washer thoroughly at least every three months to make sure it isn't discoloring your whites.
- Boost the performance of your laundry detergent by adding a half cup of borax or one cup of baking soda to each load.
- Use chlorine bleach correctly. Adding bleach at the same time as detergent counteracts its effectiveness.
- If you have hard water, consider investing in a water softening system. The minerals in hard water can leave whites looking dull.