How To Make White Clothes White Again (they’ll look new)

There’s nothing like a brand new bright, white shirt or t-shirt. The trouble is, after two or three washes, that bright white shirt looks dull, grey and dingy.

It’s a sad fact that whites don’t stay brilliant white after a few washes. Which is why many people steer away from buying white clothes and any they do own are relegated to the back of the cupboard, never to see the light of day again.

Brightly coloured and white clothes can easily become faded, yellowed or dull in a short space of time. And even if you always sort them into washloads of the same colours, they will become discoloured over time.

Dirt and sweat can affect the colour of the clothes plus, what seems like the solution, can compound the problem. Washing clothes too often can make clean clothes look dull, grungy and faded.

For the many thousands of you in this same predicament, keep reading. As we share our top tips for keeping your whites, white and returning them to their former glory if they’ve faded.

Working out the best way to restore white or bright clothes back to their new-look self depends on a number of factors. Things like; the material the garment is made from and the type of stain you’re trying to remove.

Some stains like those caused by blood or sweat will need to be treated differently from those caused by washing mixed loads leading to colour bleeds.

How To Restore That Bright White Back Into Your Clothes

There are several things that can be added to the washing to help to whiten your faded garments. These include;

Using Lemon Juice In The Wash

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Back in the old days when we all seemed to have more time on our hands, people often soaked their clothes in a bucket filled with a mixture of hot water and lemon juice.

This was an effective way of bringing that brightness back to white garments. However, in this modern world, even with all of our labour saving devices and appliances, we seem to have less time.

Which means, pre soaking laundry is a thing of the past. You can still utilise the power of lemon juice, by adding some fresh lemon juice to the wash load in the machine.

Of course, if you have the time and want to really utilise the power of the lemon, boil two cut lemons in a large pan of water, remove it from the stove and soak your white clothes for at least an hour. Then wash in the machine in the usual way.

Using Distilled White Vinegar In The Rinse

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Many wash days of yesteryear employed the powers of distilled white vinegar. It not only removes stains, odours and softens fabrics – it also helps to restore whites to their original bright, radiance.

Just add one cup of white vinegar to the final rinse, and don’t be put off, your prize white shirt won’t smell like a chip shop, because the smell disappears in the rinse.

White vinegar isn’t a bleaching agent and so it can be used in a mixed wash as it will not negatively affect coloured clothes.

Using An Outdoor Washing Line

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We always recommend drying laundry outside on a washing line, but it’s even more important with white washing. This is because sunlight acts as a natural bleaching agent. So your whites become brighter as they dry.

However, once the clothes are dry, they should be stored out of direct sunlight. This is because direct sunlight can fade clothes and in some cases turn white fabrics yellow.

Using Bleach To Brighten Whites

If your white clothes have got to the stage where they’re looking dull, grey or have stubborn stains that aren’t removed in the wash, you could try using bleach in the wash.

There are two main types of bleach that can be used on your washing which are;

  1. Chlorine Bleach
  2. Oxygen Bleach

They’re both effective at removing stains and they’re both good at removing some bacteria too.

However, chlorine bleach will remove colours from clothes whereas oxygen bleach can be used on colours as well as whites without causing the colours to fade or bleed.

Chlorine Bleach


Chlorine bleach is a powerful chemical and needs to be diluted with water before use. It can be purchased as a powder or in a liquid form and should be added to the washing after the detergent has started to work on the ingrained stain on your clothes.

As it is such a strong chemical, chlorine bleach should never be used directly on clothes because it could cause damage. It should be added through the detergent drawer which allows the solution to work on the whole garment and not just certain areas which could leave the clothes mottled.

Oxygen Bleach

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Although not as strong as chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach (also known as percarbonate of soda) is safer to use on clothes. Oxygen bleach will remove stains and help return the brightness of your white clothes but it’s gentler than chlorine bleach, and might take more than one attempt.

It is a natural disinfectant and stain remover which is actually made from salt, water and chalk which means it’s also biodegradable and not harmful to the environment.

It should never be used on silk, wool or leather but it can be added directly into the machine without being diluted.

It can also be mixed with water to make a solution to soak your clothes in, but it will need a few hours to work particularly on stubborn, tough stains.

Oxygen bleach can also be used on coloured clothing as it will not remove the colours. 

Before Using Any Bleach When Washing Clothes You Should Always…

  1. Check the care label
    Always check the care label to make sure that whatever you are washing is suitable for using bleach.
  2. Try a test patch
    Test the bleach on a small area like the inside tail of a shirt or inside a pocket. To see how the material is affected by the bleach.
  3. Keep yourself safe
    Bleach can be an irritant as well as being corrosive in many cases. Which is why you should always wear gloves when handling bleach (especially chlorine bleach).
  4. Use the right type of bleach
    If you are hand washing delicate clothes you’ll need a different bleach than if adding it to a machine to remove stubborn stains.
  5. Rinse clothes well after using bleach
    Bleach can damage or weaken your fabrics if it’s in contact with your clothes for too long. Always ensure the clothes are thoroughly rinsed after using any bleaching agent.

Using Hydrogen Peroxide To Remove Stains On Clothes


Hydrogen peroxide has many uses; it’s used to disinfect cuts, to bleach hair and it can be used to remove stains from laundry.

Simply pour a small amount directly onto your clothes in the washing machine’s drum and then run a normal wash.

You should always test before use and it’s best to only use on white clothes as it has been known to remove colours in some cases.

Using Ammonia To Wash Whites


It’s almost an automatic reaction to reach for the detergent every time you load your washing machine. And to be fair there’s a good reason for that, we all want our clothes clean and germ free.

The problem is many detergents can be the cause of your white garments becoming off white. The detergent doesn’t always all get removed in the final rinse which can, over time, cause a yellowing to the white fabric.

 Putting a white wash on and replacing the detergent with a cup of ammonia can really help to revive the whiteness of your clothes. Plus it won’t change the colour of any coloured clothes either.

Using Baking Soda (Soda Crystals) To Brighten White Clothes


Putting baking soda (or soda crystals as they’re also known) in your washing machine will help to enhance the brightness of the white in your white clothes.  

Plus, because of its gentle action, baking soda can be used with coloured clothes too. In fact, using baking soda in a coloured wash will enhance the clarity of the colours in your clothes.

All you need to do is sprinkle ½ cup of baking soda on top of the clothes directly in the drum then add your usual detergent and wash as normal.

Using Bluing Liquid To Brighten White Clothes

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Bluing liquid contains ferric ferrocyanide or Prussian blue and it works by adding a blue pigment to the fabric which makes it appear whiter as well as brighter.

It is available in a powdered or liquid form and the bluing helps to conceal any yellowing caused by age or wear and tear.

It’s quite expensive but as you only use a small amount it will last for some time.

Aspirin Does Not Whiten Clothes

It has been widely reported that dissolving aspirin in hot water and soaking the whites in this solution helps to restore their whiteness. 

Unfortunately, there have been scientific tests[1] conducted which have found that using aspirin to remove stains and brighten whites doesn’t work.

How To Keep Whites White & Bright Clothes Bright

There are several things that can be done to help prevent whites and other bright colours from losing their sharpness, these include;

Separate The Colours

As with many things in life, prevention is better than cure. Which means always washing clothes of the same colour together and never mixing colours in the wash. Keep all of your white clothes separate from other colours which are more likely to bleed colours.

Wash Dirty Clothes Together

You should also only wash heavily soiled clothes with other heavily soiled clothes to stop whatever has soiled them in the first place from spreading onto less dirty garments.

Use The Correct Amount Of Detergent

Added to which, you should always use the correct amount of detergent for the size of the wash load you’re doing as well as taking any environmental issues into account. 

For instance the hardness of the water can play a large part in the effectiveness of the detergent. Hard water areas require more detergent than soft water areas.

Keep Loads At The Correct Size & Temperature

You should never overload the drum either, clothes in an overloaded drum are less likely to get all of the dirt etc rinsed out of them.

Cold water washes are also a good way to help prevent colours from running.

Only Wash When Necessary

Bright colours and whites should be washed less frequently to help prevent fading. Another good tip is to always turn clothes inside out when washing to help prevent wear and colour fade.


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Frequently Asked Questions

How can I whiten my whites without bleach?

You can whiten your whites without bleach by using; lemon juice, distilled white vinegar, baking soda or hydrogen peroxide and drying them in direct sunlight.

Does baking soda whiten clothes?

Baking soda does help to whiten clothes. It also softens the fabric and should be used as well as your regular detergent.

How do you get yellow out of white clothes?

A great way to make your white clothes become bright white again is to use bluing liquid. Bluing liquid adds blue to the fabric which counteracts the yellow and appears as white to the human eye.

How much baking soda do I put in whites?

You should add ½ a cup of baking soda to the wash. Place it directly on the washing and add detergent in the usual way.

Can you put bleach in the washing machine to whiten clothes in the UK?

You can add bleach to the wash as long as the clothes are bleach safe (check the care label). The bleach will clean, disinfect, remove stains and whiten your clothes.

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