It is perfectly possible to brighten white clothes without toxic bleach.
Yellowed and greyed clothes plus anything turned pink in the wash can all be brightened with gentler products you already have.
The big secret is using the right product to tackle different laundry.
Yellowed clothes need brightening differently than greyed clothes. And those pink tinges are different again.
In this post I’ll explain all including:
- How bleach is harmful
- What to use instead for brightening
- Key steps for brightening laundry
- And then how to brighten:
And finally, I’ll explain how to keep your lovely bright laundry white.
If you’re in a rush jump to key steps.
How Bleach Is Harmful
Laundry brighteners & whiteners often contain chlorine bleach.
Chlorine bleach has been tied to:
- Asthma & breathing problems
- Skin allergies
- And migraines.
You can read more here about the risks of cleaning with bleach.
Other laundry brighteners proudly pronounce they use non-chlorine or oxy bleach. This has less health risk.
But big name brighteners also come with chemicals to stabilise the oxy bleach & have low safety ratings.
So what can we use instead?
What To Use To Whiten Clothes Without Bleach
All these products can be used to whiten clothes without bleach:
- Baking soda aka bicarb
- Citric acid
- Lemon juice
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Percarbonate of soda (see below)
- Sodium carbonate (see below)
- Dish soap
- Dishwasher tablets
What Are Sodium Percarbonate & Sodium Carbonate?
Sodium percarbonate & carbonate sound fancy but are simply:
- powdered hydrogen peroxide
- and good old soda crystals.
They’re the oxy-bleach in big brands.
But are also sold as is or combined in gentler laundry bleaches.
Gentler Chlorine Free Laundry Bleaches
There are now gentler but effective chlorine-free bleaches made with percarbonate of soda & soda crystals. Check out these:
To use any of these these brighteners follow the steps below …
How To Brighten White Clothes & Bed Linen
The best bleach free brightening treatments use warm or hot soaks. But we must remember:
- Heat sets in stains
- Grubby laundry goes grey soaked.
So before whitening clothes:
- Brush off any dust or mud
- Spot treat stains
- Pop grubby laundry on a quick cool wash but don’t spin.
To soak your whites use:
- Top loading machines
- Baths for big loads
- Buckets for small items.
Water should just cover whites. A bath will need roughly 15 gallons.
Soak as hot as washing labels allow. I long since decluttered the baby bath monitor so go by:
- 30c Cool: 1 part hot to 3 cold
- 40c Warm: 2 parts hot to 1 cold
- 60c Hot: just hot water
A 12 hour soak is great but 1 is fine.
Now we’ve covered the key whitening steps we can tackle specific whites:
How To Whiten White Clothes That Have Yellowed
Removing Yellow Sweat Stains
Sweat is a mix of protein, oil & salt. The best products to clear it are:
- Dish soap and
- Dishwasher tablets.
Soak laundry in 125 ml / half a cup of dish soap or one dishwasher tablet per each bucket of water.
Crusty yellow armpit stains need a 30 minute pre-soak in vinegar, baking soda or soda crystals.
Rinse whites well before washing.
Removing Sebum From Yellowed Pillowcases
Most brighteners don’t fix pillow cases. The problem is scalp sebum.
Laundry products are not optimised for sebum but shampoo is!!
So soak yellowed pillowcases with:
- Shampoo for normal to oily hair
- Using 1 tablespoon per bucket.
Do rinse well before washing.
How To Whiten White Clothes That Have Greyed
Greyness is caused by either:
- Too much detergent
- Overloaded washing machines
- Not sorting darks & lights
- Washing very grubby clothes with cleaner whites.
All these shift detergent build up:
- Baking soda : 1 cup per bucket
- Soda crystals : 1 cup
- Vinegar : 1 cup
- Lemon juice : 4 lemons
- Citric acid : follow label
Baking soda is cheapest and best for delicates. Vinegar is very effective even with synthetic clothes.
To whiten very grey clothes soak with baking soda then vinegar. Rinse between soaks. Don’t mix!!
Percarbonate Of Soda For Dingy Greyed Clothes
The best thing to whiten clothes greyed from mixing colours is percarbonate of soda.
I use it mixed with soda crystals in this British made laundry bleach.
For brightening add to your :
- Soak: 3 tablespoons per bucket
- Standard wash: 1 tablespoon.
Hydrogen peroxide works but is only cost effective for spot treatments.
How To Fix White Clothes That Turn Pink
Red is the least colour safe dye and the reason our clothes turn pink!!
If you spot a disaster mid-wash:
- Switch off the spin cycle
- Keep pink tinged clothes AWAY from your tumble drier
- Sloosh hard with loads of cool to tepid running water
- Then get them in a soak fast.
A sodium percarbonate soak is best but use hydrogen peroxide if that is all you have. Soak in bucket with :
- 3 spoons of sodium percarbonate
- Or 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide.
Failing that soak with any of these:
- Citric acid
- Soda crystals
- Baking soda.
If you didn’t catch the pink before clothes dried then its worth buying gentle laundry bleach made from sodium percarbonate and soda crystals. Use this for a long soak.
How To Keep Your White Clothes White
Now you’ve brightened your whites, we want to keep them gleaming.
Key ways to keep clothes white are:
- Wash new non-colour fast clothes separately, especially reds
- Sort darks from whites & lights
- Add gentle bleach to whites
- Wash full loads but don’t over fill
- Don’t use too much detergent
- Run washing machine on empty hot wash with vinegar monthly
- Descale soak white tops yearly
- Shampoo soak pillowslips yearly
I do hope these practical tips really brighten your whites laundry without any nasty chlorine bleach.
Let me know how you get on.
More Laundry Hacks
For more laundry help read these:
Non-Toxic Cleaning Hacks
And for more help with a less-toxic lifestyle read my non-toxic living posts and follow me on Pinterest …