5 steps to keep white clothes as bright as the day you bought them


Is there any look more classic than a crisp white T-shirt? For women and men alike, the versatile staple can accomplish many different fashion statements, from sexy to comfortable to just plain chic, depending on how you style it. The humble white tee has been the go-to item to look effortlessly cool ever since James Dean rocked one in “Rebel Without A Cause.” Even modern-day megastar Justin Bieber took to Instagram to imitate the iconic look.


The one thing that’s frustrating about white T-shirts, though, is they often seem to lose their “whiteness” after several wears and washes. Do you ever notice that after awhile, your staple whites start to look faded, gray, or even take on a blueish hue? While you may think it’s easier to trash them and head out to the store for a new batch, we have some simple yet effective tips that can keep your whites looking as fresh as the day you bought them.

1. Wash whites in small loads

When laundry day rolls around, it may be tempting to stuff as many items as you can in the washer in an effort to get done with the chore faster. However, this might be damaging the appearance of your clothes, making them look dingy and dirty. “The more clothes you have in the load, the more dirt and grime that’s released in the washing process,” Brian Johnson, director of education at The Drycleaning & Laundry Institute, told Martha Stewart. “Once that soil gets into the water, it will eventually redeposit back onto the clothes.” And it goes without saying that you should wash whites with other whites only, right? Turns out this is one piece of advice Mom was right about.

2. Skip the dryer

While you might blindly just throw your whites in the dryer once they’re clean (they’re just T-shirts after all, right?), letting them air dry could extend their life in your closet. This is a tip that musician and self-proclaimed white T-shirt aficionado John Mayer agrees with. “You should only put things in the dryer that you intentionally want to shrink,” Mayer told GQ. While this may not be entirely true, experts agree that if you’re going to use the dryer, you should use it in as gentle a way possible. “Drying too much degrades the cotton and can also cause yellowing,” Mike Abbott, director of R&D at Hanes, tells Martha Stewart.

dryer photo
Getty Images | Eli Kaplan

3. Use bleach with caution

Although I usually dump in some bleach with my whites without thinking, apparently this is not always the best strategy. That’s because bleach is not ideal for all fabrics. “Chlorine bleach can be very damaging to some fabrics,” Linda Cobb, author of “Talking Dirty Laundry with the Queen of Clean,” tells Grandparents.com. “Bleach is fine for cotton socks and underwear, and towels, but isn’t great for poly-blends.” In fact, using bleach on items that contain spandex, such as white jeans, can have the opposite of the intended effect, making the garment look yellow.

bleach photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

4. Use lemon juice

If you want to skip the bleach altogether and are looking for a natural whitening alternative, lemon juice is a great option. For the best results, use the hottest water possible that is safe for the fabric, mix in half a cup of lemon juice and soak the garments for a minimum of an hour or up to overnight. Then wash as usual the next day.

lemon juice photo
Flickr | mahmoud99725

5. Try borax or vinegar

Another household item that can leave your whites sparkling is borax. “Borax softens hard water, removes residue, and boosts the quality of detergent,“ says Cobb. “It’s all-natural and safe to use, and it works great on whitening whites.” White vinegar also works similarly to lemon juice. For a whitening effect, try adding a quarter to half a cup to a load.

white vinegar photo
Flickr | JeepersMedia

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About the Author
Kate Streit
Kate Streit lives in Chicago. She enjoys stand-up comedy, mystery novels, memoirs, summer and pumpkin spice anything. Visit Scripps News to see more of Kate's work.

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