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Getting Your Whites Really White

Keeping linens and clothing as white as the day you bought them can be a challenge. This guide is about getting whites white.

White t-shirts hanging on a clothesline.
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March 10, 2010 Flag
33 found this helpful

I remember the days when we used a big black 3-legged wash pot over an open fire to wash clothes. If there's anything I learned and remember best, is how to get and keep white clothes clean and the whitest possible.


Of course, with today's seemingly unlimited types of man-made fibers and exotic fabrics, boiling them might just cause them to be totally unusable at all. So this tip is for white cotton linens, towels and wash clothes and even men's or women's white cotton long or short sleeved blouses and shirts including T-Shirts.

A big white enamel pot works best on your kitchen stove, but I'm sure stainless steel would work just as well.

Add about 3 Tablespoons of laundry soap and the same amount of baking soda, the clothing and fill the pot with clean cold water. If there were stains on the fabric, they should have been treated first individually, but then just boil the clothes for at least half an hour. Keep them punched down so that the water covers them, and boil gently. Allow to cool, wring them out and toss them into the washing machine to rinse and spin out, then dry as usual.

One other little trick is to treat whites with sunlight. There is still nothing as good as Old Father Sun for bleaching out white clothing to their whitest. My Mother often would put a sheet down on the ground, and then the shirt or whatever else she was drying and allow it to dry right there on the ground.

I can remember my snow-white pinafores and her aprons carefully dried, then ironed to pristine perfection. I can't tell you how long it's been since I even saw someone ironing. Most of our clothing today is "Wash & Wear" and while I am enjoying the freedom, I do miss the beauty of lovely white crisp blouses, tea-towels and bed linens.

This sounds old-fashioned, I realize, but once in a while, we run across things which are just better done the old-fashioned way if we want good old-fashioned results.

Happy Day to Everyone

By Pookarina /Julia from Boca Raton, FL

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April 30, 2012 Flag
18 found this helpful

I found a way to whiten and brighten my clothes without bleach or Oxyclean, which I am allergic to. I take a bucket of approximately 1/2 gallon of very warm to hot water and 1 cup of lemon ammonia. I start with my lightest color or white garment that has turned dingy or gray and put it in the bucket. I swirl it all around with a stick. I take it out, wring it out and throw it in the washer. Then I go to the next lightest garment.

If I should run low on this mixture, I just add another 1/2 gallon of very warm water and another cup of lemon ammonia then load the washer with the other clothes.

If there's any solution left, I just dump it in the washer and start the load in the usual manner. On occasion, I put a cup of white vinegar in the rinse water. I've never had my clothes smell like ammonia and the ammonia is much gentler on the fabric then bleach.

WARNING: Never use bleach if you use ammonia!

Source: I noticed my cleaning rags would come out cleaner when I use ammonia so I gave it a try.

By Babbie from Lemon Grove, CA

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July 22, 2016 Flag
1 found this helpful

This is a guide about cleaning whites without bleach. If you choose to not use bleach for your whites there are other options for getting them clean and white.

Stack of white linens with a white flower resting on top

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July 23, 2016 Flag
0 found this helpful

This is a guide about whites aren't white after washing. Even if you use bleach, sometimes your whites are dingy and gray after washing.

Distressed woman looking at white towel in laundry room

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August 13, 2010 Flag
8 found this helpful


  • 1 gal. hot water
  • 1/2 cup automatic dish washing soap (powder)
  • 1/4 cup bleach


Pour the hot water into a plastic, enamel or stainless steel (not aluminum) container. Add the dish washing soap and bleach, and stir well. Put 100% cotton in this and let soak for 30 minutes. Then wash as usual. This works well, they come out snow white.

For rayon or polyester, do not put clothes in while water is hot.

By Robin from Washington, IA

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August 21, 2015 Flag
0 found this helpful

I have socks with blue and pink heels and toes. Is it okay to wash them with regular whites?

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    August 22, 20150 found this helpful

    Usually, it's okay!

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    December 8, 2014 Flag
    0 found this helpful

    I've got several white tank tops with colored stripes on them, some are brand new and thus still white, some have the white parts, and sometimes even the colored parts, looking grey and dingy. Is there any way to brighten the dingy ones up, and/or to keep the others from getting that way?

    Some examples of my tanks' colors: 50% of each color, white with black, white with red, and white with green.

    By EP

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    December 9, 20140 found this helpful

    Maybe Oxyclean or color safe bleach?

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    August 14, 2009 Flag
    0 found this helpful

    I live in New Zealand so I don't have as much access to products as the rest of the world. How do I get my whites, white? They accumulate grease stains, food stains, and sweat stains. I've tried bleach and soaking and the prehistoric cleaning method as well (the one with the wooden board) and still the stains stay there.

    Just putting it through the wash gets it cleaner than all the other methods but not as white as I want. That's why I'm asking you guys for help. I am particular about getting it white because I am the supervisor in the kitchen so I have to set an example you know. So how can I get my whites as white as possible?

    By kiwi047 from Rotorua, New Zealand

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    February 1, 20150 found this helpful

    There are several methods that you can use to get your whites white again. Let's start with adding a cup of white vinegar to your regular wash. Fill your washer, add your detergent, and the vinegar before adding your clothes. The smell of the vinegar will disappear.

    Another method is to use a large stock pot, add 3 tablespoons or detergent and 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Add the items you want to whiten and boil for about half an hour. Let cool, wring out the clothes and toss in the washer just to rinse, and dry as usual.

    A third method is hanging your clothes on a clothesline and drying with "good old sunshine." That's nature's way of bleaching your clothes naturally, without doing damage to the fabric and it's also great for brightening all your color clothes as well.

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    August 29, 2011 Flag
    0 found this helpful

    I'm sure someone has already given some hints to whiten whites, but I guess I've missed them. My whites are dingy even though I add bleach and use hot water. What can I do?

    By Anne

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    August 31, 20110 found this helpful

    Wash a few times with no detergent or bleach, or anything. Use warm water. Hang in sun. I do this automatically all the time and my whites are quite acceptable.

    Oops! I do put detergent in sometimes, but the dingy look, I believe, comes from a build up of too much soap and synthetics. Hope this works for you.

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    March 20, 2015 Flag
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    I have a white towel with sewed on colored appliques. I can't use Clorox, and the towel looks grayish. How do I whiten?

    By Sandy

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    April 2, 20150 found this helpful

    Put in a container with warm water about a gallon and about 1/2 to a cup of hydrogen peroxide and let set for a while. Rinse.

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    July 13, 2011 Flag
    0 found this helpful

    How can I get my white uniform (nurse dress) back to white?

    By D. Oatis

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    July 15, 20110 found this helpful

    If it's just a dingy white color that can't be helped with bleach or Oxyclean, try 'liquid bluing', it's been around since forever! It's in the laundry dept of the store, in a blue bottle. It's a little scary using it at 1st because it is a very dark blue (how could something blue possibly make your clothes white instead of dying it blue?). I believe (haven't used it in awhile) you are supposed to add it to the water & let it agitate before you add the clothing, but it works very well, it makes your white clothing whiter & brighter!

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    August 26, 2011 Flag
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    I soaked my white cotton shirt in cold water with detergent overnight then washed it, but observed subtle yellow tones in some places! This is a beautiful white shirt that cost a lot of money and I don't want to dye it or not wear it. How can I get back the perfect white color? I tried bleach, but it does not work, even though the instructions say no bleach. It also says to wash in cold so I am afraid to try hot water with bleach. Please help.

    By Nelsia

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    August 16, 20120 found this helpful

    If the stains are on the underarm part of the shirt, that's caused by wearing deodorant. I've heard that smokers usually get these stains because of the nicotine coming out in their sweat, reacting with the deodorant, but I don't know if that's true. Your best bet is to try either soaking in baking soda mixed with water or vinegar.

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    May 9, 2012 Flag
    0 found this helpful

    I find the the nice white towels I bought 2 months ago are now a dirty whitish grey. Bleach is automatically filtered into the wash. How do I get them white again?

    By Irene from Whanganui, New Zealand

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    March 15, 20140 found this helpful

    If your whites are turning grayish.. check your dryer. Open the dryer door and towards the back you'll see a circle with some kind of rubber around it. Take a damp soapy washcloth and wipe it all around that circle. If you get black or grayish dirt on the washcloth then it's the dryer that's causing your whites to turn gray. I scrubbed the inside of my dryer and was amazed at the black stuff that came off the inside back and the drum. Unfortunately, I don't know why it's happening or how to fix it other than to not use the dryer for white clothes. I'll have to have hubby see if he can fix it.

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    August 28, 2014 Flag
    0 found this helpful

    Does anybody have any ideas as to why my underwear has turned grey especially my bras? I have already tried using a whitener product like a sachet in the back of the machine which is supposed to get rid of the grey and take laundry back to white, but to no avail. I really want to get my bras back to white again so any ideas would be great. Thanks.

    By Joanne

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    September 1, 20140 found this helpful

    I was told by a single dad once that using dishwasher detergent in your washing machine will make dingy white things look like new again. I tried it, results were okay, not like new though, but not grey anymore.

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    January 15, 2013 Flag
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    Does anyone know how I can get my white nappies to become white again? They have been well used and now look gray, I'd love to see them gleaming bright white again! Many thanks to anyone who can help.

    By Kate from Rothesay, Argyllshire

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    January 21, 20130 found this helpful

    Hiya Kate! I'm in Angus:)

    Believe it or not, it may be those nappies have gone grey owing to soap residue! Even the gentle soaps for Baby's laundering can leave residue. (Our machines just don't use enough water in the rinse cycle to really get the soap out.)

    Another part of the problem may be that there is a mixed fibre content in your nappies-you want 100% cotton for a truly good nappy but a lot of companies are pushing % cotton-% synthetic nappies on parents these days as being easier to clean (not true, though as any mum with a rashy baby will tell you). Check the label for content.

    I really think your trouble is residue, though. Try running the nappies through twice or even three times without additional soap. Use the hottest setting possible on your machine.

    Watch the clothes washing machine window during the 'wash' to see if you are getting any sudsing-if you see sudsing you'll need to repeat the washing until you no longer see sudsing in the window. After you get all the residue out of the nappies you should see a much whiter piece of fabric:) In the future, use only half or two-thirds amount of soap that you had been using.

    You can also add a cup of vinegar to the wash (in the fabric softener area of the tray), and for really stubborn grey, add a quarter cup of hydrogen peroxide (tell the chemist that you want the mouthwash strength).

    Our UK clothes washing machines are wonders at saving energy and water but are not great for really getting clothing (and nappies) clean as the amount of water and the agitation vigour are low. I have to watch my husband as he uses far too much soap and then it takes up to four repeated cycles to get all the soap out!

    I'm so glad to be back in Scotland, but I do miss the top load clothes washers-wowsa, did those machines clean the laundry!

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    April 30, 2014 Flag
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    My t-shirts are all turning light brown from white. I use the same Arm and Hammer soap and the good Clorox. The only change is I moved and now I have well water and very hot water. Help.

    By Tommy

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    November 1, 20140 found this helpful

    Sounds like you have rust in your water. Are you also noticing brown streaks in your showers and toilets? My parents had a major rust problem at one house they lived in. They switched water softener/filter services (they paid monthly for the softener & refills) and it turned out the old company wasn't changing the filter - it was disgusting and deteriorating!

    If rust is your problem, I suggest getting a good water softener and filter system and check/replace the filter frequently to prevent further damage to your clothes and house.

    To get the existing rust stains out of your clothes, try vinegar or lemon juice. One instructable used lemon juice with salt, but that was for spot treating. Look up how to get rust out of clothes, and see if that works for you. Good luck!

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