13 Essential Laundry Tips for Keeping White Clothes White

Tackle stains and prevent discoloration on white clothes with these pro-level hacks.

White clothing can be difficult to keep bright and spot-free—they seem to attract the worst stains, and over time, they have a tendency to become dingy, or worse, yellowed from age or product buildup. But a bit of fabric care knowledge can go a long way when it comes to white clothing.

There are three main approaches to keeping white clothes white: The first is stain removal. Nothing mars the appearance of a white garment more than a stain. The second involves following laundry best practices for whites, including understanding your washing machine's functions as well as which laundry detergents and boosters work best on white clothing. The third key to keeping white clothing white is in how garments are stored. This list of tips will help you address the three pitfalls of caring for white clothing—stains, laundry care, and storage.

white clothing drying in the sunshine
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How to Keep Clothes White

These stain removal, laundering, and storage tips can help you to keep your white clothing bright white. They won't apply to all garments equally, but understanding the reasons why they work will help you to become an ace at caring for white clothing.

1. Treat Stains as They Happen

It might be obvious, but it's worth repeating—treating stains on white clothing as they happen is an important part of keeping white clothes white. Apply a stain treatment and launder the garment as soon as possible. To treat stains on the go after a spill or splatter occurs, dab it with water or, if possible, flush it with cool running water. Stain pens and wipes are also great in-the-moment stain removers, as is hand sanitizer because of its high concentration of alcohol.

2. Spot-Treat Collars, Cuffs, and Hems

Treating stains from food, drinks, or makeup as they happen might be a no-brainer, but a stain type that is often overlooked is grime on collars, cuffs, and hems. These stains are typically caused by dirt and soil, or by the skin and sebum rubbing off on pressure points. Before laundering a white garment, check the collar, cuffs, and hem for staining and, if present, treat them using an enzymatic stain-removing spray, stick, or gel.

3. Be Mindful of the Products You Use

Another stain that contributes to the less-than-white appearance of white clothes comes from products we use on ourselves. Deodorants and antiperspirants, lotions, sunscreens, self-tanners, makeup, hair products, and other toiletries transfer onto white clothing while you wear them. Allow products to dry completely on the body before donning white clothing.

4. Avoid Dye Transfer

Personal care products aren't the only thing that can transfer onto white clothing, causing staining. Dye from other garments can stain or lend a dingy appearance to white clothes. Take care when storing, wearing, or washing white clothes so that they don't come in contact with garments or accessories that have loose dyes that can transfer onto the whites (dark denim is a common culprit!). In-wash dye catcher sheets can help to prevent colors from bleeding onto whites in the washer.

5. Don't Overdo Laundry Products

It's understandable to think that more laundry detergent = cleaner, but the opposite is actually true. Using too much laundry detergent, liquid fabric softener, or other in-wash products like scent beads or even whiteners such as oxygen bleach can lead to product buildup that lends a dingy appearance to white clothing.

6. Use a Whitening Laundry Booster

Laundry boosters, the umbrella term for laundry products that are meant to be used in conjunction with laundry detergent, are a good way to maintain the bright white appearance of clothing. Some whitening products to consider adding to your wash-day routine include oxygen bleach, Borax, or baking soda. An old-fashioned product called bluing, which does exactly what it sounds like—it adds a tint of blue to white clothes—will help to reverse the appearance of yellowing on white, making the garment look bright white to the eye.

7. Skip the Chlorine Bleach

Here's another surprising tip: When washing whites, pass over traditional chlorine bleach. Chlorine bleach causes a chemical reaction that can deepen, rather than remove, stains commonly found on white clothing, like sunscreen or protein stains from body soils. It can also be harsh on textiles, so unless you're a chlorine bleach devotee (some people are, and that's okay!), skip it when washing your whites.

8. Use the Extra Rinse Cycle

If your washing machine offers it, use the extra rinse cycle when laundering whites. The extra rinse will help to remove any lingering suds from the overuse of detergent, as well as wash out remaining traces of other laundry products, like fabric softeners or stain treatments, that can lend a dingy appearance when left in the garment's fibers.

9. Wash Whites More Frequently

Washing white clothing more frequently than its dark or brightly colored counterparts can help to keep them brighter for longer. Stains from so-called "invisible soils" like skin and sebum, as well as fine dust and dirt particles, can become set-in over time. Washing garments like white jeans or white hoodies more frequently than dark or brightly colored versions of the same items will keep them looking their best.

10. Dry in the Sunshine

For those who have the option to line- or rack-dry whites outside, sunshine can be a powerful brightener. Skip machine drying if possible, and dry white clothing outdoors to take advantage of nature's bleach. As a bonus, outdoor drying will shave a few pennies off of your electric bill!

11. Avoid Plastic Storage

When it comes to storing white clothing, both short- and long-term, there are a few rules to follow to ensure the garments don't become yellowed while put away. The first is to avoid storing whites in plastic, which can restrict airflow, causing yellowing. Instead of dry-cleaner bags, plastic garment bags, or plastic storage bins, opt for protective storage bags or bins made of linen or cotton.

12. Don't Store Dirty Garments

It's true of all clothing, but it's especially true of storing white clothing: Clean them before they're put into storage. Over time, stains—including invisible ones from product or body soil buildup—can set in, ruining the look of your white clothes.

13. Wrap in Archival Tissue

It's unnecessary for everyday items like white jeans or sweaters, but when it comes to storing precious textiles like wedding attire, baby clothes, or handmade blankets, the use of archival tissue is strongly recommended. Wrapping white garments in archival tissue will help protect them from damage caused by light, dust, and moisture, and will prevent yellowing.

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