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)
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.
Equipment / Tools
- Washer or large sink
- Bleach (chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach, or hydrogen peroxide)
- Cotton swab (optional)
|How to Wash Clothes With Bleach|
|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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Oxygen bleach should not be used on silk, wool, or leather, because it will weaken and damage the materials.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Household Cleaning & Sanitizing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.