Washing clothes with bleach helps to whiten, brighten, and even disinfect fabrics. Through oxidation, bleach changes laundry stains and soil into soluble particles that detergents can remove in the washing process.
Three types of bleach are commonly used for 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)
Follow these steps for how to correctly wash clothes with bleach.
Never mix any type of bleach with ammonia. The combination will cause dangerous fumes.
Equipment / Tools
- Washer or large sink
- Measuring cup (optional)
- 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. 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 might 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 can 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 percent to 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.
Treating Stains With Bleach
If you prefer to spot-treat a stain with any of the three types of bleach rather than wash an entire load, dilute your choice of bleach in cool or lukewarm water to make a weak solution. Dip a clean white cloth into the diluted bleach solution and dab it on the stain until it is gone. Then launder the item as usual.
Excessive heat from an iron can cause a yellow hue on bleached parts of a garment. It's also possible to scorch a bleached part of a garment with a hot iron. (On the flip side, you can sometimes remove scorch marks using bleach.) For best results, iron a bleached item inside out using a press cloth, a cooler iron setting, or one that the garment's label suggests.
Storing Clothes Washed With Bleach
Bleached clothing has a way of yellowing when stored unless you take some precautions. When hanging or storing any clothing washed with bleach, make certain your hands are free from lotions, oils, soaps, or water. Store items in a cool, dry space. If you are storing bleached items in a container, make sure they are wrapped in acid-free archival tissue paper and placed in a box made from polypropylene (the box will say "PP" on it).
How Often to Wash Clothes 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 and revealing a yellow inner core.
Tips for Washing Clothes With Bleach
- Never pour full-strength chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide into a washer filled with clothes, even if the load is filled with whites. Dilute in cold water before adding to clothes. Cold water helps dilute chlorine bleach, as opposed to warm which helps dilute oxygen bleach.
- 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.
- Do not overly dry an item washed in chlorine bleach or peroxide or the heat could yellow the garment.
Can I use bleach and laundry detergent together?
Yes, but you will need to put bleach into your washer or laundry water before you add detergent. This is to help the bleach evenly dissolve in the wash.
Where do I put bleach in my washing machine?
It depends on which type of bleach you are using. Add chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide to an automatic dispenser or into the washer water before adding the laundry. Add powdered oxygen bleach to the empty washer tub or to the wash water before adding clothes.
How much bleach do I add to laundry?
Read the label on the oxygen bleach product to determine how much to add for an entire load of laundry. For liquid chlorine bleach, you can add 3/4 cup for an average-size load. For hydrogen peroxide, add 1 cup to the dispenser or dilute 1 cup in 2 cups water and add to the washer water or drum.