Tips to Keep Your White Clothes Bright White

White clothing is fresh-looking and classic but can turn dingy or yellow without proper stain removal, washing, drying and storage. Even hanging clean in the closet, white clothes can discolor. Keep white laundry bright and long-lasting with these tips.

Why White Clothing Discolors

Chemicals in fabric react with oxygen in the air, even in the closet. The oxidation fades white colors. Insufficient rinsing leaves loosened dirt in the fabric, resulting in dinginess. Too little detergent leaves dirt and grime behind. Too much bleach weakens fabric fibers, making them more prone to yellowing. Deodorants with aluminum compounds react with underarm sweat, leaving yellow stains. Calcium and magnesium in hard water keep detergent from mixing well in the wash water.

How to Launder White Clothing

Wash separately from colors, which transfer dyes to white fabrics, in the hottest water the fabric labels allow. Some labels recommend increasing the amount of detergent for hard water. Note that during manufacture some white fabrics are treated with “brightener” chemicals, which eventually wash out, leaving fabric faded. Don’t overload the washer; there should be enough space between clothes to allow water to flush away dirt. Consider skipping the fabric softener, which can leave a residue on whites. Remove clothes from the dryer before perfectly dry and place on a hanger or drying rack; over-drying sets in any residual stains.

How to Store White Clothing

Immediately hang clean white shirts and fold clean white sheets and towels in well-ventilated areas so they don’t react with environmental acids from paints, varnishes and wood products around the house. Don’t store in plastic bins or garment bags or other airtight containers; they trap chemicals that can yellow whites. Consider using archival (acid-free) boxes and tissue paper for folded whites.

How to Remove Stains from White Clothing

Spot-treat with oxygen-based stain removers, such as Shout, OxiClean and Clorox brands, according to directions, before washing. Or soak clothes in a solution of oxygen bleach and cool water (follow directions) beforehand. Oxygen-based bleaches are gentler on fabrics than chlorine bleach, which can yellow synthetic fabrics. In other instances:

  • Pretreat perspiration and other greasy stains with undiluted grease-cutting dish detergent or a heavy-duty laundry detergent.
  • Add a bluing liquid to the wash or rinse cycle. It contains ferric ferrocyanide, which offsets the gray or yellow cast to white fabric. Follow package instructions.
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