Chlorine bleach does an amazing job at getting your dirty socks, tees and washcloths white again. But like most chemicals that make our lives easier, bleach’s superpower comes at a price.
The harsh fumes from chlorine are dangerous to inhale and can lead to serious respiratory issues over time. The chemical residue also remains on clothing, towels, sheets and cloth diapers. These fabrics rub against our bodies and can cause rashes and irritation for those with sensitive skin. Babies and children are especially susceptible to respiratory and skin irritations from chlorine bleach.
For a more natural white, replace chlorine bleach in the washing machine with white vinegar or non-chlorine bleach. Or whiten your laundry while it’s drying by using the cleanest, most powerful and lowest cost bleach of all: the sun.
Here are a few natural ways to whiten your laundry.
Pour 1/2 cup of liquid non-chlorine bleach into the bleach tray as the washer fills with water. OR add 2 tablespoons of powdered non-chlorine bleach alongside your regular detergent. Add laundry and wash as usual. It’s really that simple.
Fabrics tend to whiten better in the sun when they are wet, so wash or wet items first. Hang wet laundry on a clothesline or drying rack. Or if you only have a few items, you can just lay them on a towel.
To boost the sun’s bleaching power, mix 1/3 cup lemon juice and 2 cups water into a spray bottle and spray any dark stains or extra dingy items.
Straighten any wrinkles as best you can, so the sun hits everything evenly. And only keep your laundry in the sun for 2-3 hours. Leaving them out for too long can weaken the fabric.
Especially dingy clothing or dark stains may require another sun-soak or two before fully whitening.
Tackling especially dingy whites
Fill a large pot halfway with water. Add one cup of distilled white vinegar. Bring the pot to a rolling boil and then turn off the heat. Carefully place the dingy items into the pot. Let them soak overnight and wash as usual. This works really well for t-shirts, socks, cloth napkins, and dishcloths.
Good to know
- Vinegar and chlorine-free bleach aren’t just great at whitening whites — they also brighten colors, following the same methods as above. Just don’t mix your whites and colors, because the colors can still bleed onto the whites.
- In liquid form, non-chlorine bleach is usually just a mix of hydrogen peroxide and water. In powdered form, it’s a mix of hydrogen peroxide, washing soda (sodium carbonate), baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and/or other natural oxidizers.
- Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) quickly breaks down into pure water (H2O) and oxygen (O2), so it is easily biodegradable. In fact, it is this fizzy release of oxygen that lifts wine, blood and yellow armpit stains without harming the fabric.
- Vinegar should not be used with PUL (polyurethane) diaper fabrics because the soft plastic fibers can degrade over time.