A treasure trove of laundering tips garnered from one woman’s quest for whiter whites.
BY HAILEY MINTON
My interest in getting my white clothes bright white again began when a friend of mine told me about her grandmother hand-washing her white clothes when she visited the Philippines. My friend didn’t realize how dingy her whites were until her grandma gave them back. There seemed to be a substantial difference between her washing machine and detergent from home and the hand-washing they got in the Philippines.
Ryan Spelts served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines and had his white shirts laundered there. Instead of having washing machines, he paid people to wash his clothes by hand, like my friend’s grandma. “They came back white, but those shirts didn’t hold up very long. The way they scrubbed them wore them out much faster.” My goal was to find the balance between getting bright white clothing again, and caring for them in a way that will make them last.
A universal whitening solution that works for every fabric type and stain would be incredible; however, as I’ve looked for answers, I’ve realized dirt, grime, and stains interact with different fabric types in different ways. Cleaners and whitening solutions are the same way. Some work better than others with different fabric types. There are also things you can do to maintain your whites to prevent them from getting dingy in the first place. After digging through books from the library and scouring the internet, I’ve accumulated what I deem as the best ways to get white clothes white again.
Always wash your whites separately from the rest of your laundry. This prevents dyes from transferring. Too frequent washing can make clothing appear grungy as well.
BEST WHITENING SOLUTIONS
Bleach is probably the first option that comes to mind when whitening clothes, but chlorine bleach is probably the last thing you should try. It can damage some fabrics and is dangerous if mixed with ammonia or vinegar. Some clothing is dyed white so the more you bleach it, the more off white it becomes. Chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach, and hydrogen peroxide, are all types of bleaches. Oxygen bleach and hydrogen peroxide are good at whitening and are more gentle and less dangerous than chlorine bleach. You can add a cup of hydrogen peroxide to brighten your whites in a wash cycle. According to Better Homes and Gardens, chlorine bleach can deepen stains commonly found on white clothing, like sunscreen or protein stains from body soils. It also can be hard on textiles, especially clothing that has elastic in it. According to spruce.com, bleach works best on cotton, rayon, and synthetics like polyester. Even the smallest amount of bleach will ruin wool and silk fibers.
Sodium percarbonate is a type of bleach that combines two compounds: hydrogen peroxide and sodium carbonate (or washing soda). Sodium percarbonate is the most powerful ingredient in OxiClean. After reading a few chapters of Patrick Richardson’s book, Laundry Love, I am convinced that this is his secret weapon for brightening whites and stain removal. Soaking a yellowed garment in a bowl of hot water and a tablespoon of sodium percarbonate is another way to make whites brighter again. Sodium percarbonate is a more powerful option than washing soda, but washing soda is more accessible. Most grocery stores carry washing soda, but you have to go online to order sodium percarbonate.
According to thespruce.com, “Bluing products improve the brightness of white fabrics by adding a blue pigment that counteracts the natural yellowing that occurs during regular laundering.” According to Wikipedia, this works because blue and yellow are complementary colors in the subtractive model of color perception. The added trace of blue color visually cancels out the yellow color cast, making the fabric again appear white. Blue is the secret to popping whites. Under certain circumstances, artists mix hints of blue to their white paint to make it appear brighter. The eye perceives the nearly undetectable amount of blue and sees the fabric as whiter. This is a much gentler approach to whitening your whites compared to bleach. It’s something to consider if you’re wanting a garment to last longer. You can pick up some Mrs. Stuart’s Liquid Bluing from Ace Hardware, just be sure to follow the instructions on the bottle.
SPRAY ‘N WASH
I took one of my white shirts made of polyester and sprayed it with Spray ‘n Wash. After letting it sit for 10 minutes, I was astounded to see how much gray water rinsed out. This made my clothing significantly whiter.
An enzyme is a substance produced by a living organism, which acts as a catalyst to bring about a specific biochemical reaction. According to denverwashandfold.com, enzymatic detergent and cleaners contain a myriad of enzymes that target different stain producers. This helps to loosen tough stains or breakdown marks made by oil, proteins like blood, or tannins like coffee or red wine. Add detergent to your machine and allow it to soak for at least half an hour, or preferably overnight. Then dispose of the solution and wash as you would a regular load of laundry. This kind of detergent works best at lower temperatures and does not require as much detergent to clean your clothes. Cleaning & Stain Removal for Dummies recommends using a biological detergent, a.k.a. an enzyme-based detergent, to help brighten dull whites. Options like the Arm and Hammer Bioenzyme Power, Persil, and Ecos products are all enzyme-based detergents.