How to Choose the Right Type of Bleach for Your Laundry

Find out the difference between chlorine bleach and oxygen bleach—plus, when to use each.

Bleach is a staple in most cleaning arsenals, but choosing the right type of bleach can be tricky. Whether your goal is to remove set-in stains from your favorite red t-shirt or disinfect your white gym socks, you'll need a product that is ideal for the cleaning task at hand.

In fact, some people might want to avoid chlorine bleach entirely. For example, factors like skin sensitivity should be considered before adding bleach to your washer. Keep reading to learn whether chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach, or an alternative cleaning method is the right choice for your stubborn stains.

Chlorine Bleach

As far as bleach goes, chlorine bleach packs the most powerful punch. It not only whitens but also disinfects and deodorizes. Reach for chlorine bleach when you want to get your gym socks or sweaty undershirts clean. You can use it on almost every washable white material except silk, wool, and delicate fabrics. Remember, always store bleach in a secure place in your home, where children won't be able to access it.

How to Use

If your machine doesn't have a bleach dispenser, wait for 5 minutes before adding it to the wash water. Pouring it in before then may destroy enzymes and whiteners in the detergent. To avoid splashing, opt for bleach packs, which can be tossed right into the washing machine, such as Clorox Zero Splash Bleach Packs ($4 for 12,

The Downside

Chlorine bleach can weaken fabrics. (It's strong stuff!) For this reason, avoid using chlorine bleach on delicate fabrics or those with patterns. To protect yourself when using it, always wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated area. As you probably already know, chlorine bleach has a harsh smell, so it can be unpleasant to use.

Oxygen Bleach (Non-Chlorine Bleach)

Oxygen bleach is gentler, less toxic, and more environmentally friendly than chlorine bleach. It can be used on almost all washable garments, though it's best for colors. If you have sensitive skin, oxygen bleach is a safer bet than chlorine bleach for any set-in stain.

How to Use

To use, pour oxygen bleach into the water before adding the clothes (unlike a regular wash, when clothes go first). Use warm or hot water; it's less effective in cold. Oxygen bleach is sold in both powder and liquid forms, but the powdered version will last for longer while still staying effective. One of the most popular options is OxiClean ($13,

The Downside

Oxygen bleach is not as powerful as chlorine bleach, which means it may not remove things like blood stains or sweat marks. Also, if you use too much product, there's a chance that your clothing colors might fade more quickly. On its own, oxygen bleach doesn't have the same sanitizing potential as chlorine bleach. However, there is an OxiClean product that includes the stain remover and an additional sanitizing ingredient.

Natural Alternatives to Bleach

While bleach is proven to be a powerful whitening agent in laundry, there are some all-natural cleaning alternatives to get your white shirts sparkling. Luckily, you don't always need chlorine bleach or oxygen bleach to get rid of protein stains like blood, sweat, and tears. (OK, maybe tears are not a big laundry issue.)

If you're especially sensitive to traditional cleaners, we suggest trying a natural stain removal method before you spend money on either of the products above. One effective option: Toss stained socks, tees, and undies into a big pot of water with a few lemon slices, and bring to a boil for a few minutes. Let cool before removing the clothing. Next, launder as usual. This method should help release some tough stains.

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