Bleach is a specific type of laundry aid that removes stains from clothing, but it also removes the color from clothes. Bleach creates a chemical reaction with a stain that breaks it down and removes it from clothing. Bleach also has a whitening and brightening effect on white clothing. There are only two main types of bleach to choose from when you are deciding which bleach to use on your laundry: chlorine bleach and oxygen bleach. However, there are also natural items that have bleaching power and can act as bleaching agents.
Chlorine bleach usually comes in a liquid form, but it can occasionally be found in a powdered form. Chlorine bleach contains sodium hypochlorite diluted with water. This type of bleach is very powerful. It disinfects laundry, but it isn't safe for many fabric types, particularly colored clothing or clothing with patterns.
Using chlorine bleach with certain clothes can lead to splotchy fading of the color in irregular patterns and even to holes and damage to the clothing. Most clothing tags specify whether chlorine or non-chlorine bleach can be used on the clothing.
Oxygen bleach is safe for use on many fabrics and is sometimes referred to as color-safe bleach or all-fabric bleach. Unlike chlorine bleach, this bleach does not remove color or patterns on most types of colorfast clothing.
Be sure to test your clothing for colorfastness before using it on your laundry. Even this type of bleach may not be safe for all fabrics, so check the garment tag to see if it says non-chlorine bleach can be used.
When to Use Bleach
Chlorine bleach can be used on whites to remove stains and odors. Using it on any other type of clothing may result in a laundry disaster. Oxygen bleach can be used on clothing that calls for non-chlorine bleach. It is less risky to use with colors and patterned clothing. Oxygen bleach removes stains and can even brighten colors when used according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Several common items can be used as bleaching agents. They aren't as tough as chlorine bleach, but they are definitely capable of removing color, so you'll need to test for colorfastness before using these types of bleaching agents. Lemon juice is probably only best used on whites. Allowing the lemon juice to sit on white stained clothing in the sun can enhance the bleaching effect. Vinegar can act as a mild bleach for some clothing as well. Hydrogen peroxide can be used on colorfast clothing as if it were oxygen bleach.
Never mix different bleaching agents or types of bleach together. Thoroughly wash and rinse all cleaners out of clothing before adding another type.