How to Clean Clothes With Bleach

items to bleach fabric with

​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

Using bleach in the laundry room aids detergents in the removal of soil and stains. Through a process of oxidation, bleach changes the soil into soluble particles to be washed away by detergents in the washing process. Bleach helps to whiten and brighten washable fabrics and some bleaches disinfect fabrics by killing bacteria.

There are three types of bleach commonly used during home laundry routines:

  • Chlorine bleach or sodium hypochlorite (Clorox and Pure Bright are popular brand names)
  • Oxygen bleach or sodium percarbonate (OxiClean, Nellie's Oxygen Brightener, and Clorox 2 are leading brand names)
  • Hydrogen peroxide (3% solution)

Do Not Mix Bleach and Ammonia

Never mix any type of bleach with ammonia. The mixture will cause dangerous, toxic fumes.

How to Wash Clothes With Bleach
Detergent Regular Detergent
Water Temperature Varies by fabric type
Cycle Type Varies by fabric type
Drying Cycle Type Varies by fabric type
Special Treatments Follow specific instruction for each type of bleach
Iron Settings Varies by fabric type

Project Metrics

Working time: 10 minutes

Total time: 1 to 2 hours, depending on your washing and drying cycles

Skill level: Beginner

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Bleach type (chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach, or hydrogen peroxide 3% solution)
  • Water

Tools

  • Washer or large sink

How to Use Chlorine Bleach in Laundry

Chlorine bleach is a 5.25% solution of sodium hypochlorite (a chemical compound) and is a powerful home bleach. The liquid version is the most common, but a dry form is also available. Both must be diluted with water for safe use on fabrics.

  1. Test for Fabric for Colorfastness

    Before you use chlorine bleach on a garment, test the fabric for colorfastness. Mix one teaspoon of bleach with two teaspoons of warm water. Find an inconspicuous spot on the garment such as an inside seam. Dip a cotton swab in the bleach and water solution and dot the fabric. Allow the spot to dry completely. If you see any change in color on the fabric or a transfer of color to the swab, do not use chlorine bleach on this fabric. (This typically happens when chlorine bleach is tested on colored clothing.)

    checking a garment for color-fastness
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska
  2. Add the Chlorine Bleach at the Correct Time

    Chlorine bleach should never be poured directly onto clothes in a sink or washer because it can remove color completely and dissolve the fibers. Either add the bleach to an automatic dispenser or into the washer water before adding the load of laundry. Add laundry detergent as you would normally.

    adding chlorine bleach to a washer dispenser
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska
  3. Use Fresh Chlorine Bleach for Best Results

    Liquid chlorine bleach has a limited shelf life. If the bottle has been open for more than six months, it loses its effectiveness due to exposure to light and air. This old bleach may have no effect on stains, loses its disinfecting quality, and should be replaced.

    checking the expiration date on a bottle of bleach
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

How to Use Oxygen Bleach in Laundry

Oxygen bleach is often called all-fabric bleach or color-fast bleach and is safe for most fabrics and colors. Oxygen bleach has a variety of uses. It works more slowly than the harsher chlorine bleach but it has no disinfecting qualities to kill bacteria. However, patience when using oxygen bleach will give you great results.

Do Not Use Oxygen Bleach on This

Oxygen bleach should not be used on silk, wool, or leather.

  1. Use the Most Effective Formula

    Oxygen bleach is most effective when used in a powdered formula that is activated when mixed with water. Liquid versions of oxygen bleach lose their effectiveness soon after the product is opened and exposed to air. The bleach solution turns to plain water. Note that some detergents include oxygen bleach. Use a full oxygen bleach formula to boost your regular detergent.

    oxygen bleach and clothing
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska
  2. How to Add Oxygen Bleach to the Washer

    If adding powdered oxygen bleach to wash loads, add the powder to the empty washer tub first, then add clothes. You can also add the powdered oxygen bleach to wash water before adding clothes, depending on your washing machine type. Never add powdered oxygen bleach directly onto clothing.

    Liquid formulas can be placed in the automatic bleach dispenser.

    adding oxygen bleach to an empty washer tub
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  3. Create an Oxygen Bleach Stain Removal Solution

    When mixing powdered oxygen bleach with water to create a stain-removal soaking solution, use warm water to ensure that all of the powder dissolves. Once dissolved add cold water if needed to cover the fabric. Completely submerge the stained garment and allow it to soak for as long as possible—up to eight hours or overnight. 

    soaking items in a tub with bleach
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

How to Use Hydrogen Peroxide in Laundry

The same hydrogen peroxide you use to clean skin scratches or achieve "sun-bleached" hair can be used in the laundry room. Hydrogen peroxide is most commonly available from pharmacies at 3% to 6% concentrations in a water-based solution.

  1. Add the Hydrogen Peroxide Correctly

    Even though hydrogen peroxide is a mild bleach, it should never be poured directly onto clothes in a sink or washer because it can remove color. Either add the bleach to an automatic dispenser or pour one cup into the washer water before adding the load of laundry. Add laundry detergent as you would normally.

    adding hydrogen peroxide to a washer dispenser
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Tips and Warnings for Washing With Bleach

  • Always check the fabric for colorfastness first, following the instructions on the product container, before using any type of bleach.
  • Never pour full-strength chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide into a washer filled with clothes, even if the load is all whites. Dilute in water before adding to clothes.
  • Read and follow care instructions and any warnings on the fabric care label regarding the use of bleach.
  • Do not use chlorine bleach on silk, acetate, wool, spandex, polypropylene foam, some flame retardant fabrics, or rubber. It weakens the fibers and causes them to break.
  • Repeated use of chlorine bleach can weaken cellulosic or cotton/ramie/linen fibers.
  • Repeated use of chlorine bleach can cause yellowing of white man-made fabrics by stripping outer fibers revealing an inner yellow core.
how to use bleach on clothes
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