A crisp white shirt or a perfectly cut white tee is a wardrobe classic. But have you taken a look at your white clothes lately? If they look a little grey or off-white, it may be time to brighten them. If you don't happen to have any chlorine bleach on hand, or if you prefer to skip the chemicals, here are some alternative ways to whiten your laundry, including some all-natural methods.
White laundry can become dingy from various causes:
Color transfer from other fabrics, especially if you wash everything together
Detergent and fabric softener residue left in the fabric
Environmental causes, like nicotine or air pollution
Body oils and stains from food and drink
When it's time to brighten your white clothing, bed sheets, and bath towels, many of us turn first to either chlorine or oxygen bleach. But there are other ways to whiten fabrics. Most of these bleach alternatives work best on natural fibers, like cotton or linen, and should only be used on white clothing without prints or contrasting trim to avoid fading. As with regular bleach, follow the instructions carefully! If you prefer to skip the store-bought products completely, there are also some proven methods for brightening laundry using supplies you may already have on hand, such as lemons and white vinegar.
Distilled White Vinegar
Add one cup of distilled white vinegar to one gallon of hot water. Submerge the white fabric and allow it to soak overnight, then launder as usual. Adding one cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle when washing white or colorful clothing will help cut through the detergent residue that leaves clothes looking dull.
The citric acid in lemons can bleach fabrics and works well to whiten cotton, linen, and polyester fibers. Mix a half cup of lemon juice (from about four lemons) into one gallon of hot water. Add the white laundry and allow it to soak for at least one hour or up to overnight to whiten. Then wash as usual.
Stir one cup of baking soda into one gallon of boiling water, then remove from the heat, add the dingy white clothes, and let them soak for at least an hour or overnight. The sodium bicarbonate will help cut through the soil on cotton clothing that leaves them dull. Wash as usual.
Safe to use on all washable fabrics, hydrogen peroxide is a mild form of oxygen bleach. Use the same 3 percent solution sold in drugstores for first aid and add one cup to the washing machine's bleach dispenser. Because hydrogen peroxide breaks down quickly, make sure it is fresh (it should fizz when poured into a cup) or else you're just adding plain water to the washer!
An old-fashioned product that comes in either a powdered or liquid formula, bluing adds a trace of blue iron pigment that makes the fabric appear whiter to the human eye. Bluing can be added to the wash or rinse cycle, but you should always dilute it and follow the directions carefully. It does fade after several washes but can be reused often.
Used by textile artists, color removers are chlorine-free but contain sodium hydrosulfite to remove dye from fabrics. It is safe to use on cotton, linen, silk, wool, rayon, ramie, and synthetic fabrics. You'll get the best results on natural fibers, but it will also brighten dingy white polyester.
When you don't have any chlorine beach on hand or don't have room to store a big container of bleach, try this trick. Most powdered dishwasher detergents contain sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) that will whiten natural fiber fabrics. Add a fourth or a half cup of the powder to a gallon of hot water and be sure the powder dissolves. Add the dingy white clothes and allow them to soak for at least 30 minutes before washing as usual.
The salicylic acid in aspirin does more than ease a headache, it can also help brighten fabrics—but it is going to take more than two tablets. To whiten clothes, you'll need at least 10 aspirin tablets per gallon of hot water. This method is most effective on 100 percent cotton fabrics.
Bring a gallon of water to a boil and add the aspirin tablets, stirring to dissolve. Remove the pot from the heat and add the cotton fabric. Don't overcrowd the pot! Allow the fabric to soak until the water cools completely, and then wash as usual.
A naturally occurring mineral, borax is a chlorine bleach alternative that helps remove stains and cuts through dulling residue. Add a half cup of powdered borax per one gallon of warm water. Add the white clothes and allow them to soak for at least 30 minutes or longer. Wash as usual.
The sun's ultraviolet rays can cause colorful fabrics to fade, but it also brightens white laundry. The UV rays not only bleach fabrics, but they also kill many types of germs and help to disinfect fabrics. Hang white bed sheets or towels in direct sunlight and allow them to dry.