White clothes on washline

How to Easily Whiten Clothes That Have Yellowed

White clothing makes a style statement, be it of luxury, cool chic, or donning your Sunday best. What is a lot less impressive is a yellowed piece that’s not looking quite itself anymore. Unfortunately, white clothing is very high-maintenance, not only collecting stains like a magnet, but also going off-white over time.

Various factors may encourage the yellowing of white garments, including contact with certain chemicals, nicotine, and sweat. Though you can do your best to protect your white clothing, these pieces are quite sensitive and may discolor despite your best efforts.

Luckily, you can do a few things to restore them to their original color. If your favorite white pieces look more off-white than bright, here’s how to reel them back in!

How to Whiten White Clothes That Have Yellowed

Yellowed clothing, toweling, and linen may seem irredeemable, but the good news is that there are some effective ways to whiten and remove yellow stains from these pieces. Follow the methods below to whiten yellowed pieces or remove yellow spots and stains.

Clean It with a Home Remedy

Baking soda and vinegar

Home remedies are affordable, and easy to make from cupboard staples, like baking soda, bleach, and vinegar. The treatments listed below are all effective at whitening yellowed clothing and removing stains.

Baking Soda

Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a popular option for removing stains from garments, including synthetic and natural leathers.

There are three ways in which you can use baking soda to whiten your yellowed clothes:

  • Apply a baking soda, water, and salt paste to stains on your clothing before washing them.
  • Soak items in a water and bicarb mix.
  • Add baking soda to the end of the washing cycle. Around ½ a cup should suffice.

You can also use uncolored toothpaste in a similar manner.

Distilled White Vinegar

Vinegar is excellent at cutting away grease and odors, making it ideal to use in your washing. It can also act as a softener and whitener; just make sure you only use distilled white vinegar, otherwise you could land up with more stains.

Add one cup of vinegar, along with your laundry detergent, at the beginning of your washing cycle… or in the rinse cycle if you want to eliminate soap residue.

Spraying a vinegar and water solution directly onto stains and leaving for an hour before washing also helps.

Citrus Soak

Citrus — particularly fresh lemon juice — can help you whiten yellowed clothing. Before you wash your clothes in the machine, soak them in a tub of hot water and fresh lemon juice. Use around ¼ cup of lemon juice per gallon of hot water. You can also mix ¼ cup of lemon juice with white vinegar during the washing machine rinse cycle.

Try a Specialized Whitening Treatment

Bottle of bleach

There are tons of specialized whitening treatments on the market, from oxygen bleaches to hydrogen peroxide and bluing treatments.

Chlorine Bleach

Chlorine bleach is ideal for removing yellow stains from clothing. Look for a brand and version made for clothing, which usually comes uncolored and unscented. Also, make sure your clothing is bleach-safe, otherwise you may end up with damaged fabric and uneven stains. Then follow the instructions on the back of the packaging.

Note: never mix standard bleach with hydrogen peroxide, other household cleaning products, ammonia, or vinegar.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a powerful chemical with disinfectant and bleaching effects. Mix equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water to create a soak, and leave your white clothing in it for 45 minutes. Then wash in cold water, and dry.

Note: hydrogen peroxide should also never be mixed with any other household cleaning products, especially chlorine bleach. That said, you can mix equal parts peroxide, bicarb, and water together to make a bleaching paste.

Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach treatments are an excellent way to whiten white clothes. You can add these treatments to your regular white clothing washes or do once-off shock treatments. Simply follow the instruction on the product packaging.

Bluing Treatment

Bluing is a less modern “bleaching” treatment that whitens clothing by introducing a blue undertone to the fabric. Naturally, bluing needs to be done carefully, as too much could land you with pastel blue pieces. You can get laundry bluing in both powder and liquid forms; just follow those instructions!

Color Remover

In some cases, a color remover can help strip yellow stains from white clothing. As it removes most dyes, this kind of treatment is best-suited only for 100% white garments and textiles. Instructions and applications will vary per product, so it’s best to follow these precisely.

Dry-Clean It

Dry cleaned clothes

If your pieces are particularly badly stained, do consider dropping them off at a professional dry cleaner. They use specialized laundry equipment and methods to banish all types of stains, including yellowing. You may need to pay more for the service, but the pieces should come back looking near new. Then you can take better care of your white garments thereafter, without needing to send them in again.

Dye Your Clothing

Dyeing clothes

If your yellowed white clothing is too far gone, you can consider dying it a darker color with fabric dye. Doing so will give it a second lease on life, and perhaps revitalize your look and wardrobe. Fabric dyes are available for purchase online and in craft stores. Just make sure you use the correct one for the fabric of your garment. Some dyes don’t adhere to synthetic fabrics as effectively as they do to organics like cotton or wool.

Why Do White Clothes Go Yellow?

There are so many reasons why white clothing discolors, from bleaching it too much to not washing it enough. As you will see below, the main reason clothes go yellow is because of decaying substances that have adhered to them.

Inadequate Washing & Rinsing

Various substances, such as grime, soap scum, stains, and dirt, can cause yellowing, especially if not adequately removed from the clothing. During the washing process, enough detergent must be used to remove all dirt. Afterwards, the garments should be rinsed thoroughly to ensure no dirt or soap remains. Otherwise, any substances that do stay will begin to break down, decay, or oxidize on the garments, creating yellow spots and patches.

Overusing Chlorine Bleach

While chlorine bleach is effective at cleaning stains and whitening fabrics and textiles, it is also a harsh chemical. When you use too much bleach to whiten your garments, you risk weakening the fibers, causing them to break down and go yellow. Following the correct instructions regarding dilution and soaking times is recommended, to avoid irreparably damaging your clothing.

Contact Stains

When white clothing comes into contact with specific elements, such as grease, sweat, or nicotine, it may yellow. The chemical reaction can change the color of your white clothing quickly, or slowly over time — particularly if you wear the item again and again without washing it between wears and exposure. When wearing white clothing, it’s best to limit activity and avoid smoky or polluted settings.

Ways to Protect Your Clothes from Going Yellow

How you store and care for your white clothing greatly affects whether or not it yellows. Here are some handy tips on how to keep yellow stains and more at bay.

1. Wash White Clothes Frequently

As discussed already, it’s not the white clothing itself, but the substances on it, that causes yellowing. As such, you should wash white clothing more regularly than your other colored or black pieces. Doing so will ensure all grime, dirt, and stains are removed before they cause yellow spots to form. Of course, you should also be sure to sort your washing, keeping whites separate to avoid transferring stains.

2. Keep Dirt at Bay

Touching white clothing with dirty or lotioned hands can transfer dirt or grease onto your garments, resulting in yellow stains when this dirt decays on them. Always handle white clothing with care, making sure to wash your hands before touching them. Any liquid, like water, transferred to- or remaining on damp clothing can also cause yellow staining, so dry thoroughly.

3. Store White Clothing Right

Contact with specific surfaces, such as acid- or lignin-containing paper, can cause white clothes to yellow. Excessive heat, sunlight, or drying can also cause yellowing, staining, and decay. Make sure you store your white clothing correctly, ideally in polypropylene boxes, on hangers, or on acid- and lignin-free paper. Also, keep the tumble dryer heat to a minimum, and avoid keeping clothes in hot areas.

Conclusion

Yellow isn’t the most fashionable or complementary shade, particularly if the item was supposed to be pure white! Yellowing is a natural process that happens to most white clothing eventually. Hopefully, this post has showed you how to effectively whiten white clothes that have yellowed, at home.

Caitlin Greyling

Caitlin is a staff writer at Durability Matters.

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