9 Ways to Whiten Laundry Without Bleach

Ran out of bleach? Brighten your laundry using these alternatives, including some all-natural ingredients.

vinegar botle, lemons, detergent and a bag
Photo: Sarah Crowley

A crisp white shirt or a perfectly cut white T-shirt are wardrobe classics. But have you taken a look at your white clothes lately? If they look a little grey or off-white, it may be time to brighten them. If you don't happen to have any chlorine bleach on hand, or if you prefer to skip the chemicals, there are alternative ways to whiten your laundry, including some all-natural methods.

Reasons White Laundry May Become Dingy

  • Color transfer from other fabrics, especially if you wash everything together
  • Detergent and fabric softener residue left in the fabric
  • Environmental causes, like nicotine or air pollution
  • Body oils and stains from food and drink

When it's time to brighten your white clothing, bed sheets, and bath towels, many of us first turn to either chlorine or oxygen bleach. But there are other ways to whiten fabrics. Most of these bleach alternatives work best on natural fibers, like cotton or linen, and should only be used on white clothing without prints or contrasting trim to avoid fading. As with regular bleach, follow the instructions carefully! If you prefer to skip store-bought products completely, there are also some proven methods for brightening laundry using supplies you may already have on hand, such as lemons and white vinegar.

Bleach Alternatives for Whitening Your Laundry

01 of 09

1. Distilled White Vinegar

Add one cup of distilled white vinegar to one gallon of hot water. Submerge the white fabric into the mixture and allow it to soak overnight, then launder as usual. Adding one cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle when washing white or colorful clothing will help cut through the detergent residue that leaves clothes looking dull.

02 of 09

2. Lemons

The citric acid in lemons can bleach fabrics and works well to whiten cotton, linen, and polyester fibers. Mix a half cup of lemon juice (from about four lemons) into one gallon of hot water. Add white laundry to the lemon water and allow it to soak for at least one hour. You can leave it soaking longer, even overnight, to whiten. Then wash as usual.

03 of 09

3. Baking Soda

Stir one cup of baking soda into one gallon of boiling water, then remove from heat and add the dingy white clothes. Let them soak for at least an hour or overnight. The sodium bicarbonate will help cut through the soil on cotton clothing that leaves them dull. Wash as usual.

04 of 09

4. Hydrogen Peroxide

Safe to use on all washable fabrics, hydrogen peroxide is a mild form of oxygen bleach. Use the same 3 percent solution sold in drugstores for first aid and add one cup to the washing machine's bleach dispenser. Because hydrogen peroxide breaks down quickly, make sure it is fresh (it should fizz when poured into a cup). Otherwise, you're just adding plain water to the washer.

05 of 09

5. Bluing

An old-fashioned product that comes in either a powdered or liquid formula, bluing adds a trace of blue iron pigment that makes the fabric appear whiter to the human eye. Bluing can be added to the wash or rinse cycle, but you should always dilute it and follow the directions carefully. It does fade after several washes but can be reused often.

06 of 09

6. Color Remover

Used by textile artists, color removers are chlorine-free but contain sodium hydrosulfite to remove dye from fabrics. It is safe to use on cotton, linen, silk, wool, rayon, ramie, and synthetic fabrics. You'll get the best results on natural fibers, but it will also brighten dingy white polyester.

07 of 09

7. Dishwasher Detergent

When you don't have any chlorine beach on hand or don't have room to store a big container of bleach, try this trick. Most powdered dishwasher detergents contain sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) that will whiten natural fiber fabrics. Add one-fourth or one-half cup of the powder to a gallon of hot water and be sure the powder completely dissolves. Add the dingy white clothes to the mixture and allow them to soak for at least 30 minutes before washing as usual.

08 of 09

8. Borax

A naturally occurring mineral, borax is a chlorine bleach alternative that helps remove stains and cuts through dulling residue. Add a half cup of powdered borax per one gallon of warm water. Add the white clothes and allow them to soak for at least 30 minutes or longer. Wash as usual.

09 of 09

9. Sunshine

The sun's ultraviolet rays can cause colorful clothes to fade, but they also brighten white laundry. The UV rays not only bleach cloth but also kill many types of germs and help to disinfect fabrics. Hang white bed sheets or towels in direct sunlight and allow them to dry.

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