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Have Your White Clothes Turned Yellow?

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Have Your White Clothes Turned Yellow? Here's how to make them white again!

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?

 

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 in about 2 cups of borax 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.

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

  • 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?

 

Comments

  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!

      -Lauren

  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

  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.

  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.

    Insight?

    Thanks,

    Steve

  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.

    Thanks

  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?

    Thanks.

    • 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.’ ;)

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

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