Help! My White Laundry is Coming Out Dingy Gray

The Frugal Fix for Dingy Gray Laundry

If you’re sick and tired of perfectly functional household linens or clothing items ending up in the rag bag simply because they turned a dingy shade of gray when you expected your white laundry to come out brilliantly white, help is on the way.

Help! My White Laundry is Coming Out Dingy Gray

Dingy gray is usually a sign of a build-up of too much detergent that is not getting rinsed away completely in the rinse cycle.

If you have well water or hard water that contains unusually high amounts of iron, that could also be contributing to this problem.

The frugal fix

Here’s a frugal way to fix and also prevent this problem of white and light-colored items like sheets, shirts, and towels taking on an ugly shade of pale gray.

Add a half cup of borax to each wash load with the clothes (not in a dispenser) for both top and or front-loading machines. This will boost the cleaning power of your laundry detergent. (Homemade laundry detergent does contain Borax, but a very small amount, which for most situations may be sufficient.)

7 reasons to add borax


Borax is a natural mineral, sodium tetraborate, which has been mined out of the ground and used for thousands of years.


Borax is safe to mix with chlorine bleach and detergents and has been proven to enhance their cleaning power.

Whitens whites

Borax whitens your whites because it converts some of the water molecules to hydrogen peroxide, which is a whitening agent. This enhances the action of bleach, whether you add it separately or it’s already present in your laundry detergent. If you don’t like to use bleach, borax is still a good whitener on its own.

Releases detergent

The borates in Borax work to keep soap dispersed throughout the load, so it’s more likely to rinse out. Test: Try washing your clothes in just water some time (no detergent), and you’ll be amazed at how much detergent comes out of your clothing.

PH buffer

Borax acts as a pH buffer which means cleaner clothes. It softens hard water and also helps to remove soap residue from clothing.

Gets rid of odors

Borax neutralizes laundry odors because it inhibits fungi and mold; it has disinfecting properties. It helps to get rid of ammonia odor in baby clothes, diapers, bed pads, and incontinence pads.

Boosts detergent

Borax increases the stain-removal ability of your detergent. The alkaline pH of borax helps to break down acidic stains like tomato or mustard.

How to reverse the gray

For super-stained items or uniforms that have become dingy gray, do a one-time pre-soak for 30 minutes in a solution of one tablespoon of borax per gallon of warm water or add 1/2 cup of borax to a pre-soak cycle in your washing machine. Then continue to launder as usual.

Borax is sold as Twenty Mule Team Borax in many stores or in bulk as borax powder.


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9 replies
  1. Gina Stevens says:

    Thanks, Mary. I often need a booster to my memory on the wonders of Borax. I actually need a spreadsheet to know when to use Borax or Washing Soda taped inside my laundry room cabinet!

  2. Brooke Kingston says:

    Wonderful post! Ok, I’m sold on the idea of adding borax when laundering sheets and linens. Is this a similar treatment to OxiClean?

  3. Lija W says:

    Thank you, thank you! This one tip alone is “worth the price of admission,” so to speak. I’ve been trying to whiten my kitchen towels for a couple of weeks now without success. I’m going to do it right now!

      • Lija W says:

        Thank you Mary. I will have to do several treatments. Turns out that I didn’t have borax after all. The last time I should have replaced it, I got the OxiClean instead. It must have been on sale for less than the 20 Mule Team.
        And just like you warned Brooke, it did not work nearly as well. So I will have to repeat the process. Next time I go to the store I will buy some more mules!

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