A chef's white jacket or coat is almost as iconic as the chef's hat in the kitchen. But keeping that coat looking white and stain free can be a challenge especially if you are a line cook. Whether the coat is 100 percent cotton or a polyester/cotton blend, it is easy to keep it looking great.
Be Quick and Be Prepared
Kitchens can be messy and spills and stains happen. The key to keeping a chef's coat white is to treat the stains as soon as possible. Prompt washing will help to remove those stains more easily, as well as body oil and soil, and the cooking odors that can permeate fabric.
It is also important to have several clean coats handy and rotate them for each shift. If you must go tableside and need a clean jacket in a pinch, it will help ease last-minute panic by keeping a supply of clean coats handy. Rotate the coats regularly to prevent excessive wear and tear to the coat fabric.
Stain Treatment, Detergent, and Temperature
Pretreat any stains with an enzyme-based stain remover or a bit of heavy-duty liquid detergent (Persil and Tide are top rated detergents that contain enough enzymes to break apart the stains) worked directly into heavily soiled areas. Rub in the stain remover on each stain with a soft bristled brush. Allow the stain remover to work on the fabric for at least 15 minutes before washing.
Since washing chef coats may not happen immediately after every wearing, presoaking will make stain removal easier. Fill a large sink, bathtub, or non-metal container with a mixture of warm water, some heavy-duty laundry detergent, one cup of baking soda, and oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, or Nellie's Natural Oxygen Brightener). Follow product directions as to how much detergent and oxygen bleach to use per gallon of water. Completely submerge the white coats and allow them to soak until it is time to wash. This will start the process of stain and odor removal. As an added note, the same presoaking technique can be used for colored coats. The oxygen-based bleach is gentle enough to be used on colored fabrics.
Always wash the white items separately from colors and use a heavy-duty detergent and the hottest water temperature recommended on the care label. You should always use warm or hot water, cold water will not remove heavy, oily stains.
When you remove the coats from the washer, check the coats for stains before drying. If stains remain on the fabric, do not toss the coat in the dryer. The high heat of the dryer will set the stains and make them much more difficult to remove. Instead, treat the stained areas again with stain remover and rewash. You should also never iron a stained chef's coat because the heat will make stains nearly impossible to remove.
Brighten the White
When a chef coat is dingy or yellowed, the first thought may be to grab some chlorine bleach. It is better to not use chlorine bleach to remove stains or whiten the fabric. Chlorine bleach can damage fibers and actually cause coats to yellow and become dingier. And, if the chef coat is embroidered with a name or logo, the chlorine bleach will fade the stitching.
To restore the whiteness, fill a washer or wash sink with warm water. Add 1 cup of oxygen-based bleach and submerge the dingy coats. Allow them to soak for 24 hours. Then wash as usual with a heavy-duty detergent in warm or hot water. During the rinse cycle, add 1 cup of white distilled vinegar to help rinse away any detergent residue that clings to the fabric, which can also cause the fabric to look dingy. If you have hard water in your area, the distilled white vinegar is a must in the rinse cycle to help remove the detergent and soil that redeposits on whites.
Another tip to help brighten white chef coats is to use laundry bluing. This is an old-fashioned product that works surprisingly well. By using this product, you end up adding a hint of blue pigment to counteract the natural yellowing. The addition of bluing restores whiteness because the eye perceives the nearly undetectable amount of blue and sees the fabric as whiter. This is one product where you want to follow the directions on the product carefully or else your chef's jacket might have blue streaks or too much blue hue.
If the coats are older and need a dramatic whitening boost, purchase Rit Color Remover and follow the directions on the package to help remove dinginess and yellowing. Also beware, this product may fade any embroidered logos or names.
All of these whitening tips will work to remove stains from white aprons and kitchen towels, too.