How Do I Safely Whiten Clothes?

Harness the power of the sun to whiten clothes.
... Maria Teijeiro/Photodisc/Getty Images

After dozens of washes and wears, your white-as-snow clothes now look dull, dingy and gray. Your usual laundry detergent probably isn't enough to brighten clothes by itself. Bleach helps, but it's a harsh chemical that can ruin some garments. Worse, bleach is harmful to humans and animals -- it can irritate eyes, skin and airways. If you'd rather brighten clothes more safely, try a natural whitening remedy. Common kitchen items, such as lemon and baking soda, are gentle but effective whiteners. As a bonus, they're safe for you and the environment.

Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to your laundry at the start of the wash cycle. Baking soda brightens, softens and deodorizes clothes. To spot clean stains, mix together equal parts baking soda and water. Rub the paste directly on the stain, then launder.

Squeeze 1/4 to 1/2 cup of juice from a large cut lemon. Add the juice to the wash with your usual detergent. For very dirty items, fill a large bowl or tub with hot water, then add 1 sliced lemon. Soak clothes in the lemon water for at least an hour. Lemon has a bleaching effect, so only use it on white clothing.

Pour 1/4 cup white vinegar into the washing machine during the rinse cycle. Vinegar has a strong smell, but it goes away once the clothes are dry. Vinegar also cuts through excess soap or detergent. Add 1 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle if you used too much detergent.

Add 1/2 to 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide to the washing machine at the start of the wash cycle. Peroxide is a type of bleach -- but it's nonchlorine, so it's gentler on clothes.

Add 1/2 cup of borax to the washing machine along with your normal detergent. Borax is a natural mineral that dissolves stains and whiten clothes. It helps detergent work better by breaking down other minerals in the wash water.

Hang clothes to dry outside so the sun brightens them. This also helps you save money on your electric bill. Do not hang clothes outside if it's raining or may rain soon.

  • Never mix chlorine bleach with ammonia products or vinegar. Doing so may produce harmful fumes that can cause respiratory problems.
  • If you must use chlorine bleach, add 1/2 cup to the washing machine at the start of the wash cycle. Chlorine bleach can damage some clothes, so check the care tag on a garment before bleaching. You might want to use bleach as a last resort if the other whitening remedies don't work.

Melissa King began writing in 2001. She spent three years writing for her local newspaper, "The Colt," writing editorials, news stories, product reviews and entertainment pieces. She is also the owner and operator of Howbert Freelance Writing. King holds an Associate of Arts in communications from Tarrant County College.