How to Clean Clothes With Bleach

Bottles of bleach next to a basket of laundry and linens

​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

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 that are removed by detergents in the washing process. Bleach helps to whiten and brighten washable fabrics, and some bleaches disinfect by killing bacteria.

Three types of bleach are commonly used for doing laundry:

  • Chlorine bleach, or sodium hypochlorite (e.g., Clorox, Pure Bright)
  • Oxygen bleach, or sodium percarbonate (e.g., OxiClean, Nellie's Oxygen Brightener, Clorox 2)
  • Hydrogen peroxide (3 percent solution)

Warning

Never mix any type of bleach with ammonia. The combination will cause dangerous fumes.

How Often to Clean With Bleach

You don't necessarily need to limit how often you use any of these bleaches. However, be mindful that you're correctly using each bleach on the right fabrics. You also don't want to overbleach clothing, especially with harsher chlorine bleach. Repeated use of chlorine bleach can weaken cellulosic or cotton/ramie/linen fibers and cause yellowing of white synthetic fabrics by stripping the outer fibers, revealing a yellow inner core.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washer or large sink

Materials

  • Bleach (chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach, or hydrogen peroxide)
  • Water
  • Cotton swab (optional)

Instructions

Infographic on how to use bleach on clothes
The Spruce 
How to Wash Clothes With Bleach
Detergent Regular detergent
Water Temperature Varies by fabric
Cycle Type Varies by fabric
Drying Cycle Type Varies by fabric
Special Treatments Follow specific instructions for each type of bleach
Iron Settings Varies by fabric

How to Use Chlorine Bleach in Laundry

A powerful home bleach, chlorine bleach is a 5.25 percent solution of sodium hypochlorite, a chemical compound. The liquid version is the most common, but a dry formula is also available. Both must be diluted with water for safe use on fabrics.

  1. Test Fabric for Colorfastness

    Before you use chlorine bleach on a garment, test the fabric for colorfastness first. Mix 1 teaspoon bleach with 2 teaspoons 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, don't use chlorine bleach on this fabric. (This often happens when chlorine bleach is tested on colored clothing.)

    Warning

    Don't use chlorine bleach on silk, acetate, wool, wool blends, spandex, rubber, polypropylene foam, or some flame-retardant fabrics. It weakens the fibers and causes them to break.

    Someone swabbing bleach on the seam of a garment with a cotton swab
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska
  2. Add 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 laundry. Add laundry detergent as you would normally.

    Someone 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. Over time, it loses its effectiveness due to exposure to light and air. If the bottle has been open for more than six months, the bleach should be replaced because it may not disinfect clothing or remove stains properly.

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

How to Use Oxygen Bleach in Laundry

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

Warning

Oxygen bleach should not be used on silk, wool, or leather, because it will weaken and damage the materials.

  1. Use the Most Effective Formula

    Oxygen bleach is most effective when a powdered formula is used and mixed with water to activate. Liquid formulas of oxygen bleach lose their effectiveness soon after the product is opened and exposed to air, and the bleach solution turns to water. Even though some detergents include oxygen bleach, use a full oxygen-bleach formula to boost your regular detergent.

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

    If using powdered oxygen bleach to wash laundry, add the powder to the empty washer tub first. Or, you can add it to the wash water before adding clothes, depending on your washing machine type. Never put powdered oxygen bleach directly onto clothing, because it may cause uneven spotting. Liquid formulas can also be placed in the automatic bleach dispenser.

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

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

    Garments soaking in a tub with bleach and a container of powder bleach
    ​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

How to Use Hydrogen Peroxide in Laundry

The same hydrogen peroxide that you use to clean minor wounds or achieve "sun-bleached" hair can be used in the laundry room. It's most commonly available at pharmacies in concentrations of 3-6 percent 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 a cup into the washer water before adding the laundry. Add laundry detergent as you would normally.

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

Tips for Washing With 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.
  • For each garment, read and follow care instructions and any warnings on the fabric care label regarding the use of bleach.
  • If you're spot-cleaning a layered garment with bleach, be mindful that you're only bleaching the layer you need brightened. You don't want bleach to seep into and accidentally damage a bottom layer of the clothing.
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. Household Cleaning & Sanitizing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.