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If you’ve ever sent perfectly functional household linens or clothing items to the rag bag simply because they turned a dingy shade of gray when you expected your white laundry to come out brilliantly white, you’re going to identify big time with today’s first reader question.

Help! My White Laundry is Coming Out Dingy Gray

Dear Mary: How can I whiten my whites? I have well water and I use the homemade laundry detergent. But my whites—especially my white uniforms—are graying. I use white vinegar in the rinse. I can’t soak my whites in bleach or use the Cascade formula every time I wash. Any ideas? Dotti

Dear Dotti: Dingy gray is usually a sign of too much detergent that is not getting rinsed away completely in the rinse cycle. If your well water is especially hard, that could also be contributing to this problem. White vinegar doesn’t necessarily help to whiten clothes. We use it in the rinse cycle to help release all of the detergent.

Here’s a frugal fix for your problem. Add a half cup of borax to each wash load. This will boost the cleaning power of your laundry detergent. (Your homemade version does contain Borax, but a very small amount, which for normal situations is sufficient.) Borax offers many laundry benefits:

  • Borax is a natural mineral, sodium tetraborate, which has been mined 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. 
  • 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.
  • Borax acts as a pH buffer which means cleaner clothes. It softens hard water and also helps to remove soap residue from clothing.
  • Borax neutralizes laundry odors because it inhibits fungi and mold; it has disinfecting properties. 
  • Borax increases the stain-removal ability of your detergent. The alkaline pH of borax helps to break down acidic stains like tomato or mustard.

For super-stained items or uniforms, like yours, 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. Then continue to launder as usual.

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

Hope that helps, Dotti!

Related: Simple Solutions for 3 Common Laundry Problems

Dear Mary: What size Instant Pot would you recommend for my husband and me? I want to use it primarily to make cheesecake, but now wonder if most IP recipes would work well in the 5-quart size. Carla.

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