Just as there are rules in life for things like how to drive a car, how to cook a meal, or how to manage your money, there are a few simple rules for how to wash white clothes to keep them looking brilliant and clean. And, if they happen to get a bit dull, gray, or yellowed, there are rules for how to restore the brightness of washable white clothing, too.
Sort dirty laundry very carefully. Never allow items of color—any color, no matter how pale—to sneak into a load of white laundry. Washing white clothes separately prevents the dye from colored items from bleeding and transferring to white things. Even though the effect may not be noticeable at first, this is how white things begin their journey to become dull and dingy eventually.
Make sure you pre-treat all stains on white clothes before putting them into the washer. This is your window of opportunity to make sure they will be completely removed—before they hit the washer and dryer.
Add borax to every load
The secret to keeping all your whites sparkling white (maintenance) is to add 1/2 cup of borax to every wash load. Dump it into the drum before you add the clothes, linens, etc. Make this a habit and expect great things. In only a few months you will notice how brilliant and white your white things come out.
White things need their space to get really clean and white. Suppose the washer is packed to capacity. That leaves precious little room between these items for the water to move powerfully enough to flush away the soil that the detergent will have loosened. When left to dry on fabric, that left-in residue will leave those items looking dull and, eventually, gray.
Overcrowding is not good for any laundry loads but is especially troublesome for white clothes.
More is not better
Whether yours is an older top-loading machine that uses a lot of water or a front loader that uses what seems like hardly any, chances are good you’re using way too much detergent. It is difficult to imagine, perhaps, but you should measure by tablespoons, not cups with most machines. Experiment to find the right amount for your machine or follow the label instructions (warily), then carefully measure for each load.
Detergent that doesn’t get rinsed away thoroughly gets stuck between the fibers of your white towels and sheets will make them feel rough and scratchy, not soft and fluffy—and eventually dingy gray.
Hot, hot, hot
Use hot water in the wash cycle for white items (or the warmest recommended for the fabric) and cold water for the rinse cycle(s). This helps to remove body oils and grime that can leave fabric looking dingy and gives the dirty detergent the best opportunity to be rinsed away completely.
Rinse with vinegar
Forget commercial fabric softeners, which can leave residue on fabrics that can be harmful to our health, but they’re not good for the washer and dryer, either. Instead, add 1 cup distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle to ensure that all the detergent is stripped away from fabrics.
Once white items come out of the washer, check again to make sure all stains are gone. If not, re-treat and re-launder. If a stained item goes through the dryer, you’ve just guaranteed it will be much more difficult to remove, if at all. Heat treating does that.
Low and slow
If you have the opportunity and the right conditions where you live, hanging your white items out on a line or dryer rack in full sun is ideal. The ultraviolet rays from the sun will sanitize, freshen, and whiten them!
If that is not possible, dry whites on a low heat setting in the clothes dryer. This will take a bit longer, but your items will last longer, and any stains, dinginess, or grayish tinge will be much easier to reverse. Overdrying can also cause stains you can’t see to turn yellow.
Turn dingy gray back to bright white
Stuff happens. White sheets, towels, mats, clothes, and underwear can turn dull and dingy gray over time. That doesn’t mean they’re ready for the rag bag. The s0lution is a process known as “laundry stripping.” Do this a couple of times a year, and you’ll never find yourself living with the heartbreak of stiff, scratchy, dingy-gray whites again!