How to Use Bleach in Laundry the Right Way

Keep your clothes extra clean—without ruining them.

Doing your laundry well takes lots of tools—a washer and dryer, your favorite laundry detergent, and at times, specialty products to help fend off pesky stains. Laundry bleach is one of those products that's been on the market for a while, and it can help keep your dirty clothes and linens looking and feeling fresh. “You can use bleach in addition to the detergent to boost cleaning performance, increase whitening, and aid in brightening,” Mary Gagliardi, in-house scientist and cleaning expert at Clorox, says.

But if you haven’t used it much in the past, figuring out how to use bleach effectively and safely can feel a little intimidating. The good news? It’s simpler than you think to brighten up your laundry with bleach, as long as you understand the basics and a few key cautions. Ahead, learn how to use bleach in laundry the right way, according to experts. 

Types of Bleach

Not all forms of bleach are created equal, so it’s important to understand some key differences (lest you end up with discolored splotches on your favorite blue t-shirt).

Laundry bleaches are commonly broken into two categories that correspond with the instructions on care labels: chlorine and non-chlorine bleach. 

Chlorine bleach

Chlorine bleach is commonly referred to as regular bleach or household bleach, says Gagliardi. Along with sanitizing your laundry, it’s used to brighten and remove stains from whites. (It also pulls color out, so it shouldn’t be used on anything that’s not white.) The active ingredient in liquid bleach products is usually sodium hypochlorite. You can also find dry (powdered) bleach products that use an active ingredient called sodium dichloroisocyanurate.

Non-chlorine bleach

Non-chlorine bleach is generally gentler on clothes and can be used to remove stains from both colored and white clothing, says James Chandler, founder of Laundry On Demand. This type of bleach has a lot of different names used by consumers, such as oxygen bleach, peroxide bleach, color-safe bleach and all-fabric bleach. The active ingredient for these products is typically hydrogen peroxide, sodium perborate, or sodium percarbonate. 

How Much Bleach to Use

Bleach products include use instructions that are important to follow for efficacy and safety, says Chandler. But you can adjust the amount of bleach you use depending on factors like washer type, load size, soil level, and water quality.

“Dirtier clothing, larger loads, and hard water are all situations where you would increase the amount of bleach above the minimum amount recommended,” says Gagliardi. For example, in a standard washer, you would add ½ cup of regular bleach to a lightly soiled or small load, and 2/3 cup for heavily soiled or large loads.

High-efficiency washers usually require adding regular bleach to the washer using a bleach dispenser, which limits the amount of bleach you can add (making it difficult to manually adjust the amount of bleach for soil load). For best practice, fill the dispenser to the max fill line, and for heavily soiled laundry, consider smaller loads.  

How to Dilute Bleach

Chlorine bleach should always be diluted with water before you use it, and clothes washers with bleach dispensers do this automatically.

Standard washers (traditional deep-fill models) don’t always have bleach dispensers, but you can always add the bleach with the detergent when the washer is filling, before the clothing is added, so it is diluted before contacting any laundry. “Or, you can dilute the measured amount of bleach in a quart of water and add it to the washing machine five minutes after the load has been agitating,” says Gagliardi. 

How to Use Bleach if You Don’t Have a Dispenser

Some high-efficiency washers don’t have bleach dispensers, and they lock the door after starting a cycle. For these washers, Gagliardi suggests adding powdered chlorine bleach when you’re adding your clothing, before you start the washer.

As long as you don’t mix forms, you can also add non-chlorine bleach in the detergent compartment. For example, if you use a liquid detergent, Gagliardi recommends using a liquid color-safe bleach, while powdered detergent users can add powdered color-safe bleach. You can also use pods and add them to the washer with the laundry before starting a load. 

Best Safety Practices for Using Bleach

While bleach can be effective at sanitizing laundry and fending off stains, it’s important to use caution to avoid harming your clothes (or worse, your health). “The number one thing to remember when using bleach, especially chlorine bleach, is to never mix it with any other cleaning products other than detergent,” says Chandler. Be especially careful to never mix bleach with ammonia-based products, which can produce potentially dangerous gas.

Chlorine bleach can also damage certain fabrics, according to Gagliardi, including wool, silk, mohair, and spandex. Some clothes may include unexpected materials, so always check the care labels for the fiber content of the item you want to wash just in case. “These items are easier to keep clean, white, and bright when you add a color-safe bleach when you wash them,” says Gagliardi.

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