Using Bleach to Clean Clothes

Freshly laundered clothing in a basket

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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 Bleach, and Clorox 2 are leading brand names). 
  • Hydrogen peroxide (3 percent solution)
How to Wash Clothes With Bleach
Detergent Regular Detergent
Water Temperature Varies by fabric type
Cycle Type Varies by fabric type
Drying Cycle Varies by fabric type
Special Treatments Follow specific instruction for each type of bleach
Iron Settings Varies by fabric type

How to Use Chlorine Bleach in Laundry

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

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Chlorine Bleach
  • Water

Tools

  • Washer or large sink
  1. Test for Fabric for Colorfastness

    Before you use chlorine bleach on a garment, you should test the fabric for colorfastness. Mix one teaspoon of bleach with two teaspoons of warm water. Find an inconspicuous spot on the garment like 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.

  2. Add the 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 actually dissolve the fibers. Either add the bleach to an automatic dispenser or into the washer water before adding the load of laundry.

  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.

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 has a variety of uses and works more slowly than the harsher chlorine bleach but has no disinfecting qualities to kill bacteria. However, patience will give you great results.

Warning

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.

  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.

    Liquid formulas can be placed in the automatic bleach dispenser.

  3. Create a 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.  

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 three and six-percent concentrations in a water-based solution.

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Hydrogen peroxide (3 percent solution)
  • Water

Tools

  • Washer or large sink
  1. Add the Bleach 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.

how to use bleach on clothes
The Spruce 

Usage Warnings for All Types of 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 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 white man-made fabrics by stripping outer fibers revealing an inner yellow core.

Warning

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