How to Use Bleach to Clean Clothes

Basket of white laundry
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Using bleach in the laundry room aids detergents in the removal of soil and stains. There are two types of bleach commonly used in home laundry: chlorine bleach or sodium hypochlorite (Clorox, Pure Bright are brand names) and oxygen bleach or sodium percarbonate (Oxiclean, Tide Oxi and Clorox 2 are brand names). 

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.

How to Use Chlorine Bleach in Laundry

Chlorine bleach is a 5.25% solution of sodium hypochlorite and the most powerful of home bleaches. 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.

When chlorine bleach is used in the wash, it acts as a disinfectant on bacteria and viruses and generally whitens most natural fiber fabrics like cotton. Care must be taken to use it effectively by adding it at the correct time and at the correct temperature to the wash load. Liquid chlorine bleach has a limited shelf life. If the bottle has been open for more than six months old, it loses its effectiveness due to exposure to light and air. The old bleach may have no effect on stains, loses its disinfecting quality and should be replaced.

Chlorine bleach should always be added to water and mixed in well before adding to the washer or added to the proper automatic dispenser in your washer. Never pour chlorine bleach directly onto fabrics because it can remove color completely and actually dissolve the fibers. If using bleach for stain removal, bleach the entire garment to prevent spotting.

For best results, follow some tips for using chlorine bleach properly.

How to Use Oxygen Bleach in Laundry

Oxygen bleach is often called all-fabric bleach and is safe for most fabrics and colors. Oxygen bleach should not be used on silk, wool or leather. It works more slowly than chlorine bleach and has no disinfecting qualities to kill bacteria.

Oxygen bleach is most effective when used in a powdered formula that is activated when mixed with water. Liquid versions of oxygen bleach can lose their effectiveness with age. If adding powdered oxygen bleach to wash loads, add the powder to the empty washer tub first, then add clothes.

When mixing powdered oxygen bleach with water, use warm water to ensure that all of the powder dissolves, then add cold water if needed. Completely submerge the stained garment and allow to soak for as long as possible - up to eight hours or overnight. Oxygen bleach works more slowly than the harsher chlorine bleach and patience will give you great results. For best results, follow these tips for using oxygen bleach in laundry.

Shop for Oxygen Bleach on Amazon.com

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 and 6 percent concentrations in a water-based solution.

Hydrogen peroxide will whiten and disinfect laundry. Add 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide to a load of whites in the washing machine to brighten them. It will permanently remove dye on darker colors; test it on a swatch of fabric before using. For best results, follow some tips for using hydrogen peroxide in laundry.

Shop for Hydrogen Peroxide on Amazon.com

Laundry Bleach Warnings for All Types of Bleach

  • Always check the fabric for color fastness first, following the instructions on the product container, before using any type of bleach.
  • Never pour full-strength chlorine bleach into a washer filled with clothes, even if the load is all whites.
  • Add any type of bleach to washer water, mixing well, before adding clothes.
  • Never mix any type of bleach with ammonia. The mixture will cause dangerous, caustic fumes.
  • 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 will weaken the fibers and cause them to break.
  • Oxygen bleach should not be used on wool, dry clean only silks or leather.
  • Repeated use of chlorine bleach can weaken cellulosic or cotton/ramie/linen fibers.
  • Repeated use of chlorine bleach can cause yellowing of fabrics by stripping outer fibers revealing an inner core.