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Getting Your Whites Really White

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

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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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March 13, 20100 found this helpful
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I just want to thank PupperMom, Megan8 and Lanky Liz for sharing their experiences with wash day tips. I was also happy to see that I'm not the only one who resorts to some of the old-fashioned ways of getting our white clothes white as well as really enjoying some of the benefits of accomplishing that in the same ways I do.

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I also graduated from the big, black 3-legged cast iron wash pot over an open fire to the wringer type Maytag washer and using double tubs for rinsing. My children loved to play in those tubs of water after all the clothes were done, and I still have some pictures to prove it.

I was another one of those moms using birdseye or curity diapers which had to be washed and boiled every day along with gowns, little shirts and dresses. I took such pride in hanging all the various garments as well as the diapers all together. Each gown hung alongside all the other gowns, and each little diaper shirt with all the other little shirts, all socks together, and of course, the lines full of snowy white diapers all in a row. I think mothers had a kind of competition going on back then to see that their laundry looked as good as or better than any other mother's. Above all, every bib had to be perfectly clean...no stains anywhere or back in the pot it went.

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I feel sorry sometimes for all the mothers today who really don't have the time to do laundry the way we did it back then. It may be a lot easier today to just toss everything into a washing machine, then a dryer, but they miss a lot too.

When I was growing up, I helped my mother with everything and all the time I was helping, I was learning. I have thought a million times or more how fortunate I was to have a mother who was always at home, cooking, cleaning, and teaching my sister and me all the ways to do things easier and better.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have had a stay-at-home mom were without a doubt the luckiest children in the world. Even when I do things today using all the new appliances and easier-quicker prepared foods, I'm so glad that I could do it just as well the old-fashioned way, and would expect the end result to be even better.

I taught my 3 daughters and one son all the old -fashioned ways...just in case they ever got caught and had to do them that way. Several times, they've come to me and thanked me for teaching them those things which they have had to use more than once already.

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Wash days to me were also fun days. That was the day the back porch had everything moved off it and the wooden floors and steps scrubbed with a broom and the water from the washing machine. Now, how many people ever did that?

They were such simple pleasures,but more fun that sitting in front of a TV or a computer clicking on game things. We had radio programs to look forward to though, but all the chores came first. I hope I'm not so old that I'm the only one who remembers all these related things for wash day.

Thank you all for the lovely feedback. Julia in Boca Raton...proud mother of Sir Catty Kit

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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.

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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 Babette from Lemon Grove, CA

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March 26, 20130 found this helpful
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Ammonia and vinegar should NOT be mixed. My husband is a chemist and I am a fire fighter/EMT.....toxic fumes could result and some synthetic fabrics or materials could be damaged as a result.

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Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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 13, 20102 found this helpful
Top Comment

I am so very sorry, Robin, but it simply isn't safe mixing chlorine bleach with "anything" other than water. The fumes that can be created from mixing with various chemicals, including vinegar, can create such mixtures as mustard gas, chloroform and can even be explosive. :-( Even chlorine bleach alone is highly toxic to lungs and the environment. I so wish we humans could give up the idea of needing whiter and brighter using such a volatile product when there are natural alternatives.

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May 28, 2004

Add a teaspoon of Borax to the final rinse when washing white clothing. Make sure the Borax doesn't have any clumps in it so that it will dissolve quickly.

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August 17, 2006

Whenever I do a load of whites I use Tide with bleach alternative, Calgon water softener, vinegar and Borax.

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To remove the "dingies" from white clothes drop a dishwasher soap tab, or a half cup of dishwasher powder (must be for dishwashing machine) into your washer, along with your regular laundry soap, and wash as usual.

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October 26, 2004

To get and keep your white laundry the whitest you can, soak the load overnight in the washing machine with your normal detergent and additives. Agitate the load for a few minutes, turn off, and let soak.

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Whites will be whiter if you soak them in hot water for 10 minutes along with a few lemon slices.

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Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

August 14, 2009

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 peter from Rotorua, New Zealand

Answers

August 14, 20090 found this helpful
Best Answer

This may not help much because it only refers to stains, but put fresh lemon juice on the stain after you wash the garment BUT before you dry it. Putting stained cloths in a dryer will set the stain. Put the wet garment with the lemon juice on the stain out in the sun and the stain should come out.

I've heard that stains from oils on the skin can be washed out using ordinary hair shampoo because shampoo is made to dissolve hair oil, body oil. I'd use a 'clear' type of shampoo not one with conditioners in it.

There are homemade recipes on this site for Fels Naptha Soap - I think that's how you spell it. But I don't know if you can buy it in your area. You can try to find it on line. But I'd search this site first if I were you. Good Luck!

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August 21, 20090 found this helpful
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I have been in the restaurant business all of my life--inherited it from both parents. Mom was a bakeress & daddy was a Chef. I myself am a retired Chef. When working, I was very picky about my white coat & pants. My solution was to use just a dot or 2 of Dawn dish washing liquid on any spots I thought would stain-scrub them for just a minute with a fingernail brush. Then I would fill my washer about 1/4 of the way with straight hot water & add a 1/2 c. of automatic dishwasher soap to the tub--the cheaper the better because most cheaper brands have more phosphorous. I'd swish the water around, turn the temp. to warm, & put in my whites when the tub was about halfway full. Then I'd add about half the amount of detergent to the tub that I would normally use.

I rinsed my whites in cold & added a cup of baking soda. Baking soda seemed to freshen the fabric because--as you know, even washing sometimes doesn't remove the food or grease odors from your whites. I also took my Chef whites from the dryer before they were completely dry. Complete drying seemed to make them feel stiff & scratchy against my skin. Then, because I was such a fanatic about looking right, I ironed them whether they needed it or not. A light coating of spray starch somehow seemed to keep the whites from staining so badly.

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May 9, 2012

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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May 10, 20120 found this helpful
Best Answer

It could be several things - first, check your bleach dispenser to make sure it's not blocked. If that's not it, then I imagine the problem is that your towels have accumulated a soap film and need to be "stripped".

Wash the towels in HOT water with 2 cups of white vinegar and run through two rinse cycles. If that doesn't help, repeat the process. If they are still dingy, and the bleach dispenser is clear, you might have a problem with your water. Good luck!

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March 15, 20141 found this helpful
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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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July 13, 2011

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
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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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July 23, 2017

I have a white blouse with colored sparkles on it and I sent it to the laundry while I was on a cruise. When it came back the white was a pale brown and the colored sparkles were unaffected. What can I do to return the blouse to white without damaging the sparkles?

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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 30, 20111 found this helpful
Best Answer

If you are using a dryer all the time for drying your clothes, you might try finding a way to use the sun to help whiten some of the cotton fabrics. I'm not sure that the sun will help too much when it comes to the polyesters and other man-made fibers, but I know for sure that the sun alone will help whiten cotton towels, "t" shirts, socks, bed and table linens, as well as dish or tea towels.

Boiling cotton on the stove will help too, but not everyone has the tubs or buckets to do that with today. You might also try using a little of the electric dishwashing powder, Cascade in some loads to see if it helps.

Water is so often the culprit when it comes to whitening clothes today. Water which contains a lot of iron is just always going to dull the whites and even the pastel colored clothing. You might try adding Oxyclean to those washer loads.

Good luck. I've been there and done that, and it can be a troublesome problem. I understand. I grew up during the time of when a woman was judged partially by the quality of her laundry abilities, and the way the clothes looked hanging out on clotheslines.
Pookarina

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April 30, 2014

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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May 1, 20140 found this helpful
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If you have hard water and add bleach to it, the water in the washer will turn kind of brownish, and any white laundry will turn kind of a peachy-beige color. This happened when my oldest daughter was a baby we had moved into a town that had hard water, and I had added bleach to the water I had put her diapers into and when the load was done, she had colored diapers. Over time they did lighten, but they always had a light tint of color. I don't know if all bleaches work that way in all hard water, but that was my experience. This happened back in the mid-sixties.

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November 1, 20140 found this helpful
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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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August 26, 2011

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 29, 20110 found this helpful
Best Answer

Bluing is an old remedy that works to remove yellow stains from whites, especially if they are caused by water and washing rather than by something spilled on the item. You can find Mrs. Stewart's Bluing in the laundry section of stores.

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December 8, 2014

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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January 15, 2013

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 duff from Rothesay, Argyllshire

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January 21, 20130 found this helpful
Best Answer

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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September 8, 2010

How do I get white clothes white again? They have a dingy, a rusty color to them. The tops are made of cotton, with some rayon in them.

By Jill from Durant, IA

Answers

September 14, 20100 found this helpful
Best Answer

One thing you can try is bluing. It is on sale in the laundry section of your supermarket, likely. Also, whites should only be washed with whites, If you are washing them with coloreds, they will get dingy In that case, I would bleach them, T-shirts should come quite nicely whiter with about a cup of bleach in the wash water.

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