Have Your White Clothes Turned Yellow?

Are your whites looking a little yellowed?  Do they seem dingy, but you can’t quite figure out why?

If you are a faithful bleach user, it is the bleach that is probably the culprit.

Household bleach (sodium hypochlorite) is often used as a laundry booster or whitener.  However, its chemical makeup can often make white clothes turn yellow.

So once this happens, how do you get rid of the yellow?  Can you get rid of the yellow?

Have your white clothes turned yellow? Here's how to fix them!

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Making Dingy Clothes Bright White Again

Here are several suggestions to try if you’ve got yellowed or dingy whites:

  • Start with lemon juice.
    Although I am very willing to pull out the big guns, I like to first start with the remedies that are least harsh.  Dilute 1/4 cup of lemon juice with 1 gallon of extremely hot water (boiling, if possible).  Soak the yellowed garment in the solution for at least 1-2 hours.  Then wring out and allow to dry in the sun.  If you aren’t thrilled with your results, move on to the other ideas.
  • Try borax.
    Borax is readily available at most grocery stores in the laundry aisle. Dissolve 1-2 Tablespoons of Borax in 2 cups of water. and then add to the rinse cycle of your washer.  You can also put it in the ‘oxi’ dispenser if your machine has that feature.  If possible, dry in the sun.  Borax naturally softens hard water, so you could use it as a preventative measure when washing whites in the future.
  • Try Iron-Out.
    If you have well-water, chances are there is a fairly high iron content in your water.  Often this excess iron in the water reacts with the bleach causing the yellowing of the clothes.  Iron-Out can be applied using the directions on the bottle.  It works to counteract that chemical reaction and return white clothes to their original bright condition.  Note that this product should only be used on proven colorfast fabrics.
  • Try a laundry bluing agent.
    Laundry bluing is an old trick to get yellowed or grayed whites to appear brighter.  Bluing adds a very slight trace of blue dye to the fabric, making it appear more white.  Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing is a popular brand and their site gives detailed instructions on how to use bluing correctly.

Prevent Whites From Turning Yellow

Thankfully, there are a couple of ways to prevent your whites from turning yellow in the first place:

  • Never bleach white clothing that is polyester or a polyester/cotton blend.  The chemical reaction between the bleach and the polyester almost always yields a yellowed result.
  • Consider a water softener if you have well-water.  Decreasing the iron and mineral content of water can greatly lessen the yellowing the bleach can cause.
  • Minimize your use of bleach altogether.  There are several other ways to get your whites to be whiter.

Do you have problems with whites turning yellow?  What do you use to help get them white again?



  1. Thanks for the tips, especially about not using bleach on polyester! I’ve always been afraid to wash in hot (nervous it might set any stains) but as a favorite pair of pants have started to yellow, I may have to try the hot wash. I’m a strong user of Borox or Oxy, since we have hard water, and I’ve recently discovered (quite accidently) the cleaning power of white vinegar. Had a bunch of old rags that were dingy and grey, and I used them white treating a urine stain from a cat gone rogue: poured a mix of vinegar and water on the offending area, and after a short soak, used the rags to soak up the vinegar/water, and tossed them in a warm wash with just some detergent. I could not believe how clean and white they were! I now have the brightest and whitest rags in the neighborhood! From what I read, the vinegar helps reduce detergent buildup. So now I’m going to try vinegar in hot water to see if my pants whiten up.

    • mamalaundry says:

      Hard water can be so tough to deal with when it comes to laundry! So glad you found the white vinegar trick! It usually works really well as a fabric softener, as well as “stripping” detergent buildup from fabrics.

      Your pants should definitely whiten up with a warm/hot wash and vinegar in the rinse cycle. Let me know how they do!


    • Arsheen Awan says:

      If vinegar and water happen to make you pants white again, do you mind letting me know? Please and thank you.

    • Angela R jones says:

      i spray my white cloth with oxy for a week and they turn yellow ho w do i get rdi of the yellow

      • Lauren Hill says:

        Hi Angela,

        I’ve never known straight Oxi Clean to cause a white garment to turn yellow. But what you describe sounds like a chemical reaction, which is not easily undone, I’m afraid.

        I would try washing the cloth in hot water with regular detergent (no Oxi Clean or Bleach), and see if that does the trick.

    • how long did you let them soak

  2. Would washing a new pair of black pants with white clothing cause the light clothes to turn a light shade of yellow or green?

    Thank you for any help!

    • mamalaundry says:

      Melba, I definitely wouldn’t think so. Were you able to get the light clothes back to the right color?

      • Hello and thanks for your answer. I re-washed them and the green tinge faded a bit but you can still see it. I honestly don’t care about the color itself as much as it makes me worry about contamination/germs (big fears of mine). I have a feeling it was the black garment because all the loads of wash I did before and after didn’t have that color. Interesting.

  3. Can i use Borax for coloured cloths aswell ? or it only good for white ! looking forward to your reply. Thank you very much.

    • mamalaundry says:

      Fuad, you can use Borax as a laundry booster for colored clothes. However, you do run the risk of it lightly fading colors that aren’t color-fast. But this is case with any laundry booster (Oxi Clean, Clorox 2, etc).

      The typical recommendation is 1/2 cup Borax to each regular sized load of laundry.

  4. hello –
    love this site!
    I have recently moved to a new place, and I thought both the washer and dryer (full sized stackable) looked dirty. I tried washing and wiping. But I notice that my white and light clothes look yellow-y, and my white towels have noticeable yellow streaks and discoloration. I use phosphate free detergent and oxyclean powder in a soak/rinse cycle, then run a regular full cycle with no additional soap.
    any ideas why this is happening? Or how I might fix it?
    thank you so much!

    • mamalaundry says:

      Hi nh, Have you moved to a place that has hard water? That’s what it sounds like.

      If that’s not the case, I would sanitize them thoroughly to make sure there is nothing on the inside of the drum causing the discoloration.

      What a pain. So sorry –

  5. I used bleach on a White cotton polyester mix dress and it turned yellow. I there anything I can do t get it back to White? Thanks, sarah

    • mamalaundry says:

      Sarah, you could try using a bluing agent. Polyester responds very poorly to bleach due to its chemical make-up. You can give the bluing a try, but you might be stuck with a yellow dress. So sorry. 🙁

  6. Good to know. Though I just tossed my white shirt in the wash and poured half the bottle of bleach in to get rid of the yellow! I should’ve done my research BEFORE. SO, what is bleach good for then? I always thought it was to make whites whiter.

  7. Some of my white shirts and jeans have turned yellow (patches of stains) in the closet. I’ve never bleached them and I don’t think it’s the washing that caused them to turn yellow. They are always fine after washing. I also noticed stains on some of my tshirts (especially white) after a long time of storing and not wearing them. Any idea what might be the cause? (This happened when in summer, humid weather). Thank you!

    • mamalaundry says:

      Kelly, I can’t tell you the times this has happened to our family. We store our children’s clothes in the attic (for future use) and it seems like every bag I take down has at least a few of those little yellow stains. I’m fairly the stains are from where food was spilled and the stain just “appeared” to come out, but didn’t come out fully.

      Most of the stains on our clothes, come out using The Soak. While it’s a pain to do if you have a lot of items with those yellow spots, it does work a majority of the time.

      So sorry. Hope this helps you some.

      • hi i washed my new off white shirt with bleach and it gave it big yellow patches what do i do to get it back to the way it was?

        • Lauren Hill says:


          The problem is that it’s a chemical reaction with the bleach. You can try using Rit White Wash to see if it can restore the original color. Make sure to follow the directions precisely!

          And just use with the understanding that once the chemical reaction with the bleach has taken place, it can be super hard to remove.

          Best wishes!

  8. Hi.

    I’ve washed underwear (white, briefs) lots of times. Use Tide and maybe a half-cup of Clorox. No problem.

    Today, I did the same thing. Most of the briefs came out yellowed; some of them entirely, some just in areas.

    I don’t think I’ve done anything different. So I’m thinking Detergent? Bleach? Pipes? Hard water? The washer?

    I’m on a well here, but have a water conditioner. The water softener had just recently regenerated, so I don’t think that’s the problem. Same detergent as usual, same Clorox as usual.

    Don’t know about the pipes. Washer IS getting pretty old (maybe 9-10 years), but still seems to work well. It’s a Whirlpool Gold.




  9. Cherie Marion says:

    When you say to use lemon juice, do you mean fresh lemons juice or is lemon concentrate ok? This is for whitening a poly/cotton blend that got mixed into my bleach load by accident.


  10. Veronica says:

    For the Borax solution above, you say “Borax is readily available at most grocery stores in the laundry aisle. Dissolve 1-2 Tablespoons in about 2 cups of borax and then add to the rinse cycle of your washer.”

    Dissolve 1-2 Tablespoons of what?


    • mamalaundry says:

      Oh no!! Thanks so much for catching that!

      It should read dissolve 1-2 Tablespoons of Borax in 2 cups of water. I’ll go back and correct it in the post.

  11. I don’t use bleach at all, but three items have gone yellow. They are items I have used a prewash spray on and they are in areas where I remember spraying. Could this cause the yellowing a s well?

    • mamalaundry says:

      Absolutely, Trish. It may have a bleach component in it that the ingredients don’t readily disclose. 😉 I can’t tell you the items of mine that spray stain remover have ruined.

  12. Does borax reverse the yellowing effects of bleach on whites?

    • mamalaundry says:

      In my experience, it does not. Drying items in hot, direct sunlight or using a bluing agent seem to be the most effective method in removing that yellowing effect.

  13. Do these tips also work for front-loading HE machines? All of my whites are looking gray, yuck! Thanks!

  14. Hi, my husband’s mother recently sent us his christening outfit. It’s very old and yellowed with age, and I was looking up things online to figure out how to wash it and get the yellow out. I’ve come across many different tips, but the one thing I haven’t seen is whether any of these tips bleach out color as well. The outfit in question doesn’t have much color to it, just a little lamb on the shirt and shorts that match and were formed with light blue thread, but I do NOT want to fade that color out while trying to get the yellowing out! My question is, does lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, salt, or any combination of these ingredients cause fading in colors? Or would it in fact be safe enough for me to soak the garments in the various solutions I’ve found to try without worry of the light blue thread being compromised color-wise? Thanks for any tips or instructions.

  15. Hi,
    I foolishly washed some baby clothes with a couple new red and orange dish rags… All my whites are yellow now. I rewashed them with bleach and the socks are now white again, but the shirts and leggings, and pants and dressed (all white) are still yellow? What would be the best way to get these white again? If possible.

  16. i acid washed a pair of dark blue jeans as a DIY project using clorox bleach, but they turned yellow instead of white. if i wash them with the white vinegar, will it effect the blue part? please reply.

    • mamalaundry says:

      Sher, vinegar should have no effect on the blue color of your jeans. In all of my vast laundry experience, I have never seen vinegar lift color or make a color bleed.

      But of course, all advice at Mama’s Laundry Talk is given with a healthy dose of ‘use this advice at your own risk.’ 😉

      • beentherebe4 says:

        White vinegar has been used to pre-set colors in material of us quilters for generations. It will not cause any effect of any kind on any material that I am aware of. It “sets” the colors so they
        “don’t” fade, or run etc. I’ve used it for over 40 years, and my mom, her mom and so on. Only one material I’ve not used it on is silk.

  17. Hi, I recently washed a tye-dye dress mistakingly with a white skirt, and it turn the skirt pink, any suggestions how to turn it back to white?



  18. Michelle le says:

    Hi!! I just finished reading this post-which was very wonderful & helpful- and i am curious as to if there is ANY possible way to make a cream 100% polyester dress white?? In urgent need of some answers, please help!!!! 🙂

  19. Hi,
    I have a light yellow nightgown that turned greyish because I used cheap detergent. Do you have any tricks bring it back to a more yellowish colour?

  20. Seems like vinegar does a better job and is less harmful than bleach for most things. I use it for toilets, and it works much better than bleach, and minus the unpleasant bleach-y smell. Maybe people should faze out using bleach as it’s probably really bad for the environment also.

  21. I have recently lost weight and went into my skinny boxes and found stuff that fits. Unfortunately I also found yellowed cotton blouses that were once white that might be worth saving and also found 4 rust stains on a light blue pant that resembles denim fabric. For the blouses, the whole thing turned yellow, they aren’t just stains. They are very detailed blouses from France that I paid $150 or more for each. I would like your best advice please both for the blouse and the pant. Any ideas? I washed the pants with OXY and tide 3 times already with zero change and then applied white vinegar with zero change as well.

  22. Since moving to Florida 8 years ago, my husband’s white undershirts and white briefs turned yellow after a few washings. I use only Oxiclean. We also have water softener for our hard water. What could be the problem?

    • Lauren Hill says:

      My guess is that you have some type of mineral build up related to your hard water. Even with a water softener, mineral deposits build up on white clothes causing that yellow/dingy look.

      Have you tried a brightener product?

  23. Hello! I used generic bleach on the back tail of white shirt to try to get out a stain. The stain did come out but not the back tail is yellowish. I have read all the posts above and now understand that bleach can yellow a shirt!! 🙁 Is my best approach to blot with white vinegar on the back tail (not the whole shirt) and then sun dry and repeat? Or borax on the yellow area and sun dry and repeat? The rest of the shirt is fine, just the back tail of the shirt turned a slight yellow. Please let me know what you think. Thank you so much!! John

  24. Hmm.. I have been going through a storage room where my later mother stored beautiful Irish linen and Irish table clothes, some of which are very old.

    Unfortunately, they have yellowed…

    My first instinct was to dispose of them…..

    Now I want a remedy.

    How can I return these precious items to their original glorious white?


  25. Dear Lauren, I recently found an old pair of white pants that was kept away for a year. It has now lots of yellow spots on it. How can I save it? My laundry shop owner said those are like ‘rust’ stains and impossible to remove. What is your advice? Thanks.

    • Lauren Hill says:

      I definitely wouldn’t use bleach on those types of stains. You have two options, I believe.

      1) You can try to The Soak, as I describe here: http://www.mamaslaundrytalk.com/stain-removal-101-soaking-a-stained-item/


      2) You can try a product called Whink: I’ve used Whink very successfully with rust stains on white garments in the past. But be warned that it WILL cause white spots on any other colored fabric that it touches! Be super careful with it, since it has a permanent bleach-like effect.

  26. My 100% cotton undies are turning orange with bleach! Will the lemon trick work on that, too?

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Yes, try the lemon juice trick and see if you like the results. If it doesn’t work well with the diluted juice + sun, move onto something stronger.

  27. There were some stains on my white polyester jacket so I added bleach. Now it’s turned yellow.
    Please can you help me turn it white again!

    • Lauren Hill says:

      I’m so sorry about your jacket!

      Since it’s a chemical reaction, it will probably be hard to correct. I’d start with Mrs. Stewart’s bluing that I mentioned above. I think you’ll have the best results with that product.

  28. Does Oxi-Clean also cause whites with poly to yellow? I don’t use bleach at all, but I do use OC. The odd thing is that my tennis skirt overlaps in the front. The part that is covered from sun exposure is still white. It’s as if the skirt has tan lines!

    • Lauren Hill says:

      How strange, Myrna!

      I have used Oxi Clean for 15 years and have never seen it turn white clothes yellow, even those with polyester.

      It’s a mystery!

  29. Julie Binder says:

    Thank you, thank you , thank you to whoever it was that put up this post!!!

    I was so upset yesterday when my children’s clothes were stained yellow (yellow splattered stains), especially a pretty new cotton top with white lace (which ended up being completely yellow!). I have been using vanish powder in with my wash to get rid of the usual children’s stains and couldn’t get them out and didn’t realise the vanish could be the cause.

    After putting them in a bowl with lots of lemon juice (used juice from bottle as didn’t have any lemons) with boiling water and it all came out.

    I will not be using vanish any more.

    Thank you!


  30. My husbands new white cotton towels have yellow streaks on them & a couple of his t-shirts- my white clothing in the same load did not turn yellow- I did use “shout” on his towels do you think that caused the problem? If so would treating them with the Borax work? I washed them with Mrs Meyers Clean Day detergent.

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Hi Sarah,

      Did you have other VERY dirty clothes in the same washing load. If you have white towels (especially) and you wash heavily grimy items (think a child’s clothes from playing mud pies outside), the dirt removed from the clothes can certainly end up on the towels and stain them.

      I’d try washing the towels again AFTER you do The Soak. I bet it will take the stains out!

  31. I have a dress that has lace around the bottom and I do not know if the lemon would work and then put in sun I want to use a white net fabric over the dress part but not the lace on net around the bottom what do you thank

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Mae, that sounds like a tough washing task. I’d probably send it out to the cleaners to see if they can brighten it again. Look for a dry cleaners that specializes in wedding dresses and fine clothes.

  32. Donna Desmarais says:

    I usually wash all my delicates together which is mixture of whites and colored…not all but I think the polyester white have turn blue grey is there anyway to make them white again

  33. I have a blue Lenin shirt which is my favourite but it got a yellow stains on the pocket it looks horrible I’ve tried washing it many times yet the stain was not removed pls help me out on this one ……

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Jayesh, I’m so sorry about your shirt. 🙁 It’s awful when our favorite garments have stains that are tough to remove.

      I’ll be honest – yellow stains are not easy to remove at all. They’re some of the toughest, in fact. You can try soaking it in Oxi Clean (here are directions for The Soak), but I’d be careful to monitor the shirt every 30-60 minutes to see if the Oxi Clean lifts the blue dye of the shirt since it’s linen. I don’t think it will, but watch it closely, just in case.

      Of course, follow this advice at your own risk. 🙂 I hope it comes out for you!!

  34. Me and my friends were recently at a Chinese restaurant and got our box to go. There was a hole in the corner of the box and sauce dripped through and stained them. Once we got back to the house my friend made me take them off and throw them in the tub and toss bleach on them. I dryed them and put them on and they were white again. Unfortunately, I want to wear them tomorrow but I just notice there is yellow stains all over them. Any suggestions?

    • These are white jeans I’m talking about

    • Lauren Hill says:


      The problem is that the bleach caused a chemical reaction with the fabric of your jeans. Just for the future – don’t use bleach to remove stains. There are much better options! 🙂 Oxi Clean, etc.

      You can try something like Rit White Wash and see if it will remove the yellow stains. I’ve had some success with this product. Make sure you follow the directions VERY carefully and don’t oversoak the jeans. You can find that product on Amazon, or even at the grocery store.


  35. Hello, i have a jacket made of 65% polyester and 35% cotton. It got grayed and yellowed, i would like to get it whiter again. The original color if the jacket is beige, i would like to get it back at this color (which is whiter). Any suggestions? Thank you!

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Laulic, You can try using a product like Rit Whitener & Brightener to see if it would return the original color of your jacket.

      Make sure to follow the directions precisely, and not soak longer than recommended. In my own experience, a longer soak with this product does not equal better results.

      -Lauren 🙂

  36. Hi Lauren – In your Try Borax suggestion, you say “Dissolve 1-2 Tablespoons in about 2 cups of borax and then add to the rinse cycle of your washer.” Dissolve 1-2 twospoons of what?

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Oh no! Thank you for catching that after all of these years! (That post is 6 years old!)

      It should read: Dissolve 1-2 Tablespoons of Borax in 2 cups of water.

      I’m updating it now. I appreciate you letting me know.

      -Lauren 🙂

  37. Jane Bueker says:

    I have a coat, white outside, blue plaid inside. Down-like or fiber-fill weather proofing. It says no bleach, cold water gentle cycle. Outside has yellowed, I’ve done done some stains w/baking soda peroxide paste w/Dawn to lift stains. Washed on gentle & stains have lightened but 2nd app is due. But the yellowing & darkening around cuffs & bottom is visible yet. From reading about others I’m thinking the OxyClean is gonna be next. Do you have added info?

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Hi Jane,

      I would soak the coat in Oxi Clean using The Soak method. Make sure you check on the coat frequently (every 20-30 minutes) to ensure the blue inside color doesn’t fade or run. I don’t THINK it will, but you’ll need to kind of baby the garment while you’re trying to get the stains out.

      After soaking, I would take the whole bucket and dump it in the washer. Then wash on cold and gentle, just as the tag says.

      Hope this works for you!

      -Lauren 🙂

  38. Hi! I accidentally washed my babies white clothes with a pair of his green pants causing the whites to turn yellow. I soaked whites overnight on whitest white oxiclean but it didn’t help! How do I get the yellow out!! ??? Thanks!

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Hi Meagan,

      Sorry about your trouble! Been there, done that! If they’re all white clothes, you can probably use Rit White-Wash to lift the yellow/green color. If the clothes have any colors much at all, you could try using Carbona Color Run Remover.

      If you choose to use either of those products, make sure you follow the directions carefully! If you don’t, the results will be poor.


  39. Marti Jones says:

    I have an off white sweater that belonged to my mother and has been hanging in my closet for ten plus years. I am trying to get the yellow out of it from being stored I guess. Any suggestions?

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Hi Marti,

      What type of fabric is the sweater? That could come into play when trying to find the best method. If it’s cashmere or a high quality fabric such as that, you’re probably stuck with the yellow.

      If the sweater is a cotton or cotton/poly blend, I would try The Soak first. If that doesn’t work after an extended soak, I would go to use something like Rit White-Wash Dye.

  40. I bleached my adidas hat and it turned yellow does lemon juice work to get the yellow stain out

    • Lauren Hill says:

      I’m sorry, Kate. That stinks. 🙁 You’ll probably have to use a whitener/brightener and dry in the sun if you have any chance of getting the yellow out.


  41. Bettie Contee says:

    Hi Marti,
    I have a white denim jack that turned yellow in one area from being stored over the winter, I washed it but its ,still there will lemon juice help, also i have a new white linen blend shirt that looks yellow after being stored , what is the best way to return them to white

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Have you already tried The Soak? If you did and it wasn’t effective, you could try a whitening agent like Rit Dye White-Wash.

      Those two tricks are probably your best bet. And definitely dry it in hot sunshine (if possible) for a couple of hours.

      -Lauren 🙂


  1. […] Lauren at Mama’s Laundry Talk explained why your whites are turning yellow – and how to remove it […]

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