The decision to wear a bright white T-shirt is a bold one. Dressing your bed with crisp white sheets is an act of optimism. Bravery is shown by those who stock a bathroom with fluffy white face cloths and spa towels. From the moment they depart store shelves, white textiles live in defense of spills and stains. (After all, white is the colour of a blank canvas). Prevention is the best strategy, but let’s face it, life is messy. From deodorant stains that gradually colour the underarms of shirts to a quick swipe of make-up a collar to the slow, tawny tint of bed sheets, here’s how to wash white clothes, towels and sheets – and keep them looking bright.
Preventative laundry strategies for keeping white clothes bright
Separate whites from coloured clothing. If you’ve ever soaked a dark garment in a basin or ran a brand-new red item through the washing machine, you will have probably noticed some degree of dye bleed. Some fabrics, more than others, are prone to dye bleed and you don’t want your whites absorbing pigment or becoming dull thanks to colour transfer. It’s best to wash white (and light-coloured clothes, for that matter) with like-shades.
Sort and wash by fabric type. Washing whites at the highest possible temperature appropriate for the fabric type will help keep them bright. However, not all materials thrive in high heat settings – whether washing or drying. Cotton towels and socks, for example, can tolerate a hot water wash setting while more delicate fabrics (like bamboo) fare better in cool or warm water cycles. When in doubt, check the fabric care label.
Wash whites promptly and after every wear. Allowing a white garment to sit at the bottom of a hamper for three days after it is worn is going to have somewhat of a “marinating” effect. Even subtle contact with substances like sweat, make-up or cosmetics may lead to discolouration. Washing promptly after every wear will drastically improve the item’s longevity. If you don’t have “enough” whites to justify a full load, hand-wash in a sink or select the small load setting on your washing machine.
Think twice before bleaching. Bleach is often associated with whitening, but traditional chlorine-bleach can be harsh on textiles. In some cases, an inverse reaction with laundry detergent can result in yellowing. Non-toxic, chlorine-free oxygen bleach is an option, but it is often packaged in hard plastic containers, meaning zero waste options in this product category are extremely limited.
Don’t over-dry. Applying heat during the drying process will only serve to “bake in” any stains or discolouration. When blemishes are deep-set, there’s less hope that they will lift. Before you machine-dry, be sure that any stains have been treated to your satisfaction. Typically, users can select the degree of “dryness” on their dryer. To avoid over-drying, set the cycle to a lower temperature or remove items prior to completion and finish by hang-drying.
Dry in the sun. Sun-bleaching is a popular recommendation for chemical-free lightening. You probably won’t see radical results, but this method is gentle on clothes/linens and you will save on your energy bill.
Don’t overload the washing machine. Garments need enough room to be freely agitated during a wash cycle and also for water to properly rinse away suds and debris. Your whites might look dull because they're not being cleaned effectively. Overloading means your clothes won't be effectively cleaned.
Don’t use too much soap. Using excess laundry detergent can leave soap lingering in a garment’s fibres, which actually attracts particles and debris. Happily, Tru Earth laundry detergent eco-strips require no guessing. Simply use one strip for a full load or half for smaller loads.
Be mindful of your antiperspirant. Once yellow stains appear on a shirt’s underarms, they’re here to stay. Switch to an aluminum-free deodorant to pre-emptively avoid discoloration and again, wash dress shirts and T-shirts promptly after wearing.
Treat your water. If you’re following all the best practices above but are still finding your whites dull or discoloured, you might want to inspect your water system. “Hard” and “soft” water refer to the mineral content (like calcium and magnesium) in the water supplied to your home by your municipality and you guessed it, can affect the brightness of your whites. In some cases, it’s as simple as adding a softener or booster.
How to treat yellowing or dull discolouration of white clothes and garments
Wash with a booster. Add half a cup of baking soda to your wash cycle – which will also clean your machine. Hydrogen peroxide works too, but it’s often sold in plastic packaging. Borax is another option, but some people don’t consider it to be all-natural.
Pre-treat with a concentrated stain remover. When using Tru Earth laundry detergent eco-strips, tear up a strip and add to one cup of warm water. Let it dissolve. Place laundry in a clean sink or basin, pouring the solution over the garments. Add only as much extra water as required to wet all of the items. Wait 30 to 60 minutes before gently wringing out and running through the wash.
Oxygen-bleach, if you must. Refresh deep-set discolouration and combat yellowing by soaking items in oxygen bleach, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Note: while suitable for most fabric types, never use oxygen bleach on wool or silk. The big downside: this product is not easily found in zero-waste packaging.
How to spot-treat stains on white clothes, towels and bed sheets in 6 easy steps:
Step 1: Identify the fabric type. Inspect the fabric care label to note the delicacy of the textile and how it should be laundered.
Step 2: Wipe any excess debris/spill agent from the garment. Then, blot with a clean, absorbent paper product like a paper towel or napkin. Take exceptional care not to rub the substance deeper into the fibre of the textile or accidently transfer it onto another part of the item.
Step 3: Turn the garment inside out and rinse cold water through the stain so that any bleeding runs off the item instead of trickling down it (which could create a larger stain.)
Step 4: Pre-treat the stain. Apply a high-performance stain remover to the blemish and allow it to sit for 20 minutes.
How to create a concentrated stain remover with Tru Earth laundry detergent eco- strips: First, tear a strip into small pieces and place in a shallow bowl. Add two teaspoons (10ml) of tap-hot water to begin dissolving it. Stir with a spoon to form a paste, adding small volumes of water as needed. Smear the concentrate atop the stain, gently pressing the mixture into it to allow the surfactant to get to work, releasing the stain agent from the fabric.
Step 5: Time to wash. If the garment is machine-washable, toss it in the washer alongside a Tru Earth laundry detergent eco-strip. Otherwise, hand-wash the item by tearing the strip, placing the pieces in a sink or basin, and filling with water. Allow it to soak and then agitate the article and rinse.
Step 6: Inspect the stain. Has it resolved? If not, repeat the stain treatment in step 4 and launder again.
Special note: Only place the item in the dryer if you are finished stain treating; the heat of the washing machine will “set” any remaining stains.