Say goodbye to dingy whites and faded colors once and for all. These laundry tricks will restore the vibrancy of your clothes and linens for a crisp look.

By Jessica Bennett
Updated September 28, 2020
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Whites and brightly colored fabrics can easily become yellowed, dingy, or dull over time. Even if you carefully sort laundry by color to prevent dark fabric dyes from bleeding onto other items, some discoloration is almost inevitable. Stains from sweat and dirt and too-frequent washing can make perfectly clean clothes and linens appear faded or grungy. Luckily, you can typically solve these issues with a few simple tricks.

There are several whitening and brightening methods you can use to help restore fabric, but the best way to whiten and brighten laundry will depend on a variety of factors, including the item's material and the type of stain you're trying to remove. For example, protein-based stains, such as those from blood or sweat, will require a different treatment than dinginess caused by colors bleeding in the wash. Bleach is a highly effective whitener, of course, but it might not be the best choice for all types of fabrics and stains. Check out our guide below to learn about some of the most common products for whitening laundry and determine the best way to get your clothes and linens back to their original color. You'll also learn about a few laundry mistakes you should avoid that could be causing the discoloration to begin with. Use these color-saving laundry rules and stain-removing tricks to get your clothes and linens whiter and brighter than ever.

Credit: Jay Wilde

How to Keep Clothes and Linens White

The best way to keep laundry white is to prevent color issues in the first place. Always separate whites from colored fabrics, and wash heavily soiled items with other messy garments to prevent soils from spreading. Use the recommended amount of detergent for the load size, and don't overfill the machine. This helps dirt and residue rinse completely out of clothes and linens in the wash.

For bright colors, aim to launder items less frequently to help slow the color-fading process. Wash laundry in cold water whenever possible to further prevent fading. Turn clothes inside out before washing, which helps reduce wear that can make the fabric appear duller.

Credit: Tessa Neustadt

Best Ways to Whiten and Brighten Laundry

These laundry products will help restore dingy or yellowed fabrics to their former color. Choose the method that best suits the fabric's needs and your personal preferences.

1. Bleach

Most bleaches, such as chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach, and hydrogen peroxide, break up stains through a chemical action called oxidation. Detergents remove stains while bleaches turn stains colorless by chemically altering their molecules.

Use chlorine bleach ($4, Target) only for whites and bleachable colors. Before using, check items for ″nonchlorine bleach only" labels. To use bleach, start your washer and add 3/4 cup chlorine bleach to the wash water with your regular detergent, then add your load of laundry.

Warning: Chlorine bleach can produce dangerous fumes when combined with vinegar, ammonia products, or other household chemicals. Never combine these cleaning products, as the combination can be hazardous to your respiratory system.

Non-chlorine bleaches, such as oxygen bleach and hydrogen peroxide, are also good at whitening. These products are gentler and less toxic than chlorine bleach, making them safe for most fabrics and dyes. You can use hydrogen peroxide to whiten and brighten clothes, disinfect laundry, and remove stains. Pour it directly on stains such as blood. Add 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide to whites in the washing machine to brighten them. Add one cup to a load of diapers to whiten, deodorize, and disinfect. Take care when using the product on darker colors; test it on a swatch of fabric before using.

2. Bluing Liquid

Bluing liquid (which contains Prussian blue, or ferric ferrocyanide, and water combined) helps keep whites sparkling white. The liquid adds a subtle hint of blue to the fabric to make it appear whiter and brighter. Bluing liquid ($9, Walmart) can be added to the wash or rinse cycle during laundering. Mix it with clear, cold water before pouring, using 1/4 tsp. in the wash water or less than 1/8 tsp. if adding to the rinse cycle.

3. Enzyme Presoaks

Enzyme presoaks ($6, Walmart) are great for getting out tough protein stains. They're also helpful with whitening and brightening because they remove stains that cause yellowing. Add them to the wash cycle to help laundry detergent do its job better.

4. Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is a natural laundry whitener and freshener. Add 1 cup to your washing machine water along with your detergent. Add your laundry and wash as usual. Only use lemon juice on whites as it can bleach certain colors.

5. Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda)

Sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, helps deodorize and soften your clothes. Add 1/2 cup of baking soda along with your regular liquid laundry detergent at the start of the wash cycle. If you are using a powder detergent, add the baking soda during the rinse cycle. Use less for smaller loads.

6. Sodium Borate (Borax)

A naturally occurring mineral, borax helps remove stains, and it deodorizes and brightens clothes. Borax ($5, Target) also breaks down the minerals in the water so the detergent can work better. Add 1/2 cup of borax at the beginning of the wash cycle. As a presoak, add 1/2 cup of borax and a small amount of detergent to soak away coffee or perspiration stains.

7. Sodium Carbonate (Washing Soda)

A chemical compound similar to baking soda, washing soda ($4, Walmart) has a higher level of alkaline that makes it a powerful cleaning agent. Add 1/2 cup to your laundry as a detergent booster.

Warning: Washing soda can cause skin irritation. Rinse the area thoroughly if the product comes into contact with your skin.

8. White Distilled Vinegar

An excellent fabric softener and deodorizer, distilled white vinegar works in the rinse cycle. Pour 1/4 cup into your washing machine during the last rinse cycle. Continue the cycle as usual. White vinegar can also be used to eliminate soap residue. Add 1 cup to the washer's final rinse cycle for that purpose.

Warning: Never combine vinegar with chlorine bleach as this will result in harmful fumes. Do not use vinegar on silk, acetate, or rayon clothing.

Comments (1)

Anonymous
October 14, 2020
I currently use washing soda for my whites. It does help a little but I will try the peroxide instead.