Here's How to Bleach White Towels Without Ruining Them

Swapping your colorful linens for plain white? Follow these care guidelines to restore their brightness without damage.

It seems just about everyone has jumped aboard the white-towel bandwagon. Shoppers are swapping their bathroom towels in soothing blues for crisp bright whites and the promise of a hall closet stocked with brand-new-looking bath sheets, mats, and more. And considering their bleachability, we get the appeal. Mold, mildew, and graying don't stand a chance on white towels against the power of bleach.

But we've got questions about the care considerations for white towels, and we know you do too. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you set out to restock your linen closet.

White washer and dryer in a laundry room with aqua cabinets
Adam Albright

Will Bleach Damage White Towels?

According to Clorox's in-house scientist and cleaning expert Mary Gagliardi, aka Dr. Laundry, washing wear and tear is inevitable, but the culprit doesn't have much (if anything, as long as you're careful) to do with bleach use.

"Our research has shown that fabrics break down naturally over time just from machine washing and drying, and regular bleach usage along with detergent doesn't wear down fabrics significantly more than washing with detergent by itself."

That said, it is possible to do damage to bleach-safe linens if you're not paying attention to the details, like going over the recommended pre-soak time, overfilling the bleach dispenser in your washing machine, or applying bleach directly to your laundry without diluting it. All of these factors can lead to yellowing or additional signs of wear—and all can be avoided by simply following the instructions on the bleach label.

Are All White Towels Safe to Bleach?

Sounds easy enough, right? But before you haul over to Target to pick up a dozen white bath towels, be aware that not all white towels are safe for bleach use. "While some manufacturers still produce some bleach-safe towels, most towels sold today are not," says Gagliardi. "This relatively recent change (previously nearly all towels were safe for regular bleach) began in the late 1980s when towel manufacturers began using reactive dyes to color towels, which are not bleach-fast."

If your main objective in buying white towels or linens is to ensure you're able to wash them with bleach, there are a few things you should do first. Priority one: checking the care label for a bleach-safe icon or instructions for bleaching. If the label says it's bleach-safe, you're good to go. Otherwise, utilize the fabric composition as the deciding factor. If it's 100% cotton, you should be fine to bleach.

As for Gagliardi's thoughts on using the laundry superhero with each bleach-safe load, she says you shouldn't hesitate. "There's just no point in using the energy and water to operate a clothes washer and not get your laundry as clean as possible every time you wash."

All is not lost if you aren't ready to part with your bright and beautiful linens, though. "If you really love your colorful towels, keep using them!" She recommends a color-safe stain remover, like Clorox 2 for Colors 3-in-1 Liquid, along with your regular detergent. And always wash towels in hot water to get them as clean as possible. We love when everyone wins.

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