Have you noticed that your favorite t-shirts and summer dresses look muted and a bit dingy by the end of the summer? You may need to add the right kind of bleach to your laundry to brighten and freshen your clothing. Of course, you don’t want to accidentally turn all your clothes white, so first, you need to find out if you can bleach colored clothes!
The best way to bleach colored clothes to brighten colors or sanitize them is to use non-chlorinated bleach on colorfast garments. To whiten colored clothes, use a strong chlorine bleach such as Clorox. To bleach colored clothing without using bleach, replace Clorox with household products like distilled white vinegar.
In this article, you will learn what bleach does to colored clothes. You will discover nine ways to bleach colored clothes without ruining them. Finally, you will find tips on how to pick the best bleach for your laundry.
Can You Bleach Colored Clothes?
You can bleach some colored clothes safely, but this depends on the type of fabric in the garment, the type of dyeing method used in the garment, and the kind of bleach you want to use.
Bleaching colored clothes can remove stains from your clothing easily. It can also revive drab-looking clothing or towels that have accumulated a film of old soap or fabric softener from the wash. But the downside is that incorrect bleaching can also leave patchy, discolored blobs on your nice clothes!
That said, the type of fabric in your garment also determines if you can safely bleach your clothes. You should not use bleach on any garment with a large percentage of elastic fibers, like a pair of Spandex leggings. It will cause the elastic to turn brittle and snap!
You should never use bleach on silk, wool, or acetates like faux fur.
But how do you find out what fabric is in a pair of pants or a shirt? You have probably noticed the annoying little tag inside your clothing, often located at the back of the neck on a shirt or the back of the waistband on pants. This tag that always seems to prickle you uncomfortably has an important purpose.
Clothing manufacturers list a lot of key information on this tiny fabric tag. You can find out the fabric composition of your clothing and essential care information just by reading this scrap of printed fabric!
Look for words like “100%” polyester” or “50% Cotton/50% Polyester” to find the fabric composition.
Decoding the care symbols is a little harder. To find out if the manufacturer says that you can safely bleach a garment, look for a triangle symbol. If the triangle has an X over the top of it, you should not bleach the garment. If the triangle has no lines inside it, you can use chlorine bleach without damaging the garment, and if it has two parallel lines in the triangle, you can use bleach, but only a non-chlorine type.
The type of dye used on a garment can also impact how bleach will interact with your clothes. You can find out if the dye in your clothing is safe to use with bleach by performing a color-fast test, as you will see in the next section!
Finally, before you pour bleach into your washing machine with a load of colored clothes, you need to understand the different types of bleach.
The oldest and best-known type of bleach, made famous by brands like Clorox, is called chlorine bleach.
This is a powerful and sometimes dangerous bleach. When you use it, open a window nearby, wear gloves and never mix this product with another cleaning product!
What happens when you put chlorine bleach on colored clothes? This powerful chemical mixture can dissolve the bonds holding chromophores together. Essentially, it changes the chemical structure of the dye particles so that the color no longer reflects light that you can see.
Chlorine bleach can turn a pair of dark jeans white. It can fix many stains in white clothing easily, too. It can also sanitize a lot of surfaces and has many useful purposes.
That said, it is rarely a good choice for colored clothing unless you want to turn it white.
The second common type of bleach for your laundry is called oxygen bleach, made famous by brands like OxiClean. This product contains hydrogen peroxide and sodium percarbonate. When these ingredients touch water, they release many oxygen molecules, which can lift stains and old dirt out of fabric.
You can safely wash lots of colored garments in oxygen bleach without damaging the dye job.
How to Bleach Colored Clothes: 9 Methods
You can bleach colored clothes by using careful preparation, two popular types of bleach, or even common household products like vinegar. The key to successfully bleaching colored clothes is to do some research and make sure you use the right product for each type of garment.
1. Prep Clothes Before Bleaching
Before bleaching colored clothes, you should take three key preparation steps: reading the care label, performing a spot test, and treating any stains.
First, check the care label for a triangle shape to see if the clothing manufacturer has already done the legwork to tell you if you can bleach the garment. If the triangle has an X over it, do not use bleach! Instead, try the vinegar method listed later in this section.
Second, do a spot test on each garment.
- Turn the garment inside out and find a hidden inner seam that will not show from the outside.
- Dab a drop of bleach onto the seam.
- Let the garment sit for five minutes.
- Rinse the garment under running water.
- Check to see if you can find any discoloration or staining left where you tried the spot test. If the garment remains unaffected, it is colorfast and you can safely use it with bleach!
Finally, you should also pretreat stains before bleaching clothes. You can do this by soaking stained clothes in water for an hour before washing them to remove food particles or clumps of dirt.
You can also add two to three tablespoons of oxygen bleach to the water to pretreat grass stains or other soaked-in stains. For a non-chemical alternative, use the vinegar method to treat many low-PH stains, like coffee stains, too.
2. With Colorfast BleachMost of the time, the best way to bleach colored clothes is to use colorfast or oxygen bleach. This product will not alter the chemical bonds of the dye particles in your colored clothing, but it will remove many types of stains quickly and safely.
You can use colorfast bleach in several ways, but the easiest method is simply to add it to a load of laundry in your washing machine.
- Set your washing machine to a warm water setting. Add powdered bleach to the drum so it can dissolve in the water, but you can pour a liquid version into the dispenser in your machine if it has one.
- Check your clothes to make sure they will remain colorfast before adding them to the wash.
- Set aside any light-colored clothes. Do not wash them with colored clothes and bleach them because dye particles could transfer to lighter clothing.
- Add your laundry detergent as usual.
- Run the full wash cycle, but check to make sure the stains have lifted before putting any clothing into the dryer.
3. With CloroxSometimes, you can use chlorine bleach like Clorox on colored clothing without damaging it. Most of the time, you should save Clorox for whitening clothes, but you may also want to use this powerful chemical to remove stubborn stains.
To treat colored clothing with Clorox:
- Always perform a spot test before using Clorox on colored clothes. This way, you can quickly determine if the garment will lose color when exposed to this strong product.
- Let your washer fill up with water before adding the clothes or bleach. Once water fills the drum, pause the machine and add the recommended amount of Clorox to the water. You can also use the timed dispenser in your machine if it has one.
- Never pour Clorox directly on garments, even after doing a spot test! Direct exposure to chlorine bleach can eat through the fibers in your clothing, creating holes in the fabric.
- Add the clothing and laundry detergent once the bleach has dissolved in the water.
- Run the washer as usual.
4. Without Ruining Clothes
One of the best ways to bleach colored clothes without ruining them is to use oxygen bleach as a stain remover or pretreatment rather than in the laundry. This gives you the benefit of removing stubborn stains without running the risk of dye bleeding from one garment to another in the washer.
You can use oxygen bleach to pretreat your clothes in two ways.
First, you can set up an easy soak for stained clothing:
- Fill a bucket with cool water. Measure the recommended amount of oxygen bleach according to the instructions on the package (usually just one to two tablespoons). If using a powdered product, stir it into the water till it dissolves.
- Next, add the stained garment and swirl it into the bleach and water solution.
- Let the garment soak for at least one hour or as long as overnight.
- Rinse the garment thoroughly before adding it to a load of laundry.
The second easy way to bleach colored clothes without ruining them is to pretreat them with an oxygen bleach stain remover treatment. These often come in a spray bottle or roller tube for easy application.
- Brush or scrape off any chunks or clumps of matter from the stains on your colored clothes.
- Read the instructions on the stain remover and apply it as indicated. For a popular stain remover like OxiClean Max Force, simply spray liberally over the stain.
- Let the garment sit for however long the product package requires. OxiClean products can work in as little time as one hour but may remove the stain more fully if left to sit overnight.
- Many stain removers do not suggest rinsing the garment before adding it to the laundry as usual but check the instructions to ensure.
- Finally, launder the stained garment as usual, and then make sure the stain disappeared before adding the garment to the dryer.
5. White Clothes With Colors
The only way to use bleach on white clothes and colored clothes in the same load of laundry is to pretreat them separately, rinse them, and then add them to the wash. But generally speaking, you should avoid washing white and colored clothes together.
Even if you do not use bleach and simply add regular laundry detergent to the load, you run the risk that one of the colored items may not have good colorfastness. This means it could leak dye particles that will bleed onto the lighter garments in your laundry, staining them with blobs of color!
This happens often with cheaper off-the-rack clothing because some manufacturers will oversaturate clothing with dye to make it look brighter and more enticing in the store. When you wash these clothes, all that extra dye floats away into the water and can attach itself to other garments, staining them.
So the bottom line here is that while you can separately soak whites and colors in bleach to remove stains, rinse them, and then wash them together in the laundry, you should avoid this hassle by simply washing them in two separate loads.
6. To White
The best way to turn colored clothes white is to use Chlorine bleach. You may want to whiten clothes to dye them a new color or to add cool tie-dye patterns to a dark-colored garment like jeans or a t-shirt.
Bleaching clothes white works best on natural fabrics like cotton or linen. It will not work well on a garment made of 100% polyester because the type of dye used for polyester bonds inside the fabric’s fibers and does not react with chlorine bleach easily.
- Work in a well-ventilated area and make sure to wear gloves for this project!
- Add two gallons of water and three cups of liquid Clorox to a large plastic bucket.
- In a second bucket, measure two gallons of cold water and two cups of hydrogen peroxide.
- Lower the garment into the first bucket with Clorox and water.
- Set a timer for five minutes and check on the garment to see if it has bleached after the timer goes off. If not, let it sit for another five minutes.
- After this, carefully transfer the garment to the second bucket filled with water and peroxide. This key step will halt the bleaching process before the strong chemicals can eat into the fibers in your clothing.
- Finally, rinse the garment multiple times under running water.
7. Without Bleach
One of the easiest ways to brighten colored clothes without using actual bleach is to add distilled white vinegar to your laundry. Vinegar can brighten colored clothes, lighten white clothes, remove musty odors, and get rid of the buildup of soap and fabric softener on towels and bedsheets.
First, a few safety tips:
- Do not use vinegar on clothing that contains a high percentage of elastic fibers, as the vinegar will cause the elastic to become brittle.
- Never mix vinegar and bleach! You should not mix vinegar with oxygen bleach, but you should never mix it with chlorine bleach, which can create deadly fumes.
- Adding vinegar to laundry occasionally can have many benefits, but do not use this method too often, as the acid in vinegar can cause sealers and hoses in your machine to crack over time.
To wash clothes with vinegar:
- Set your washing machine to a presoak and add one cup of distilled white vinegar to the water.
- Add the clothes and let them sit in the vinegar and water for the full soak time.
- Finally, allow the washing machine to run through its usual cycle with normal laundry detergent.
You can also hand-soak a colored garment that has grown dull in a solution of one gallon of water and one cup of vinegar for a powerful brightening effect.
8. Grey Clothes
You can often safely wash light grey clothing with whites and bleach in the laundry, so long as you check the care labels on the clothing first. Keep in mind that certain types of fabric do not respond well to bleach.
Sometimes, you can use chlorine bleach with grey clothes without damaging them. Chlorine bleach should not damage polyester clothing, but you should do a colorfast test on cotton greys before washing them with chlorine bleach.
If this seems like too much work, try using oxygen bleach instead! This will brighten up your grey clothing and should remove most stains without worrying about removing the color.
9. Off-White Clothes
In most cases, you can launder off-white clothes together with white using chlorine or oxygen bleach. To remove stains from off-white clothes, try using a pretreatment or a soak in distilled white vinegar, as described earlier in this section.
To get sweat stains out of off-white clothes:
- Fill a bucket with cool water and add two tablespoons of liquid oxygen bleach.
- Submerge the garment in the water.
- Use a soft-bristled brush to gently scrub the sweat stain areas.
- Let the garment sit overnight.
- In the morning, gently use the brush all over the garment to remove any stiffness from the fabric.
- Rinse the garment under running water and then launder as usual.
Will Diluted Bleach Ruin Clothes?
Diluted bleach is safer than straight unmixed bleach, but it can still ruin clothes in some cases, depending on the type of bleach and the nature of the clothing.
Chlorine bleach can ruin clothes even if you dilute it in a lot of water. The strong chemicals will dissolve the fabric over time. This means you should always use chlorine carefully and according to the directions on the bottle or package.
Oxygen bleach offers a safer alternative and will not usually ruin clothes when you dilute it in water, according to the package instructions. However, even diluted oxygen bleach can ruin clothes if you do not take precautions.
Never mix colored and white clothes with bleach, and always check the care tag inside your clothes to see if the triangle with two parallel lines indicates that you can wash the clothing with oxygen bleach.
What to Do If You Accidentally Put Bleach on Colored Clothes
You can sometimes remove bleach stains if you accidentally put bleach on clothes by using rubbing alcohol. If you spot white, yellow, or orange blobs on your colored clothes, your garments may have picked up a bleach splatter or stain. Avoid putting these clothes in the dryer and set them aside to work on the stains.
- First, rinse the garment under cool water.
- Apply a thick paste of baking soda and water and let it dry.
- Scrape off the paste.
- Next, soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol. Dab it over the bleach stain, saturating it.
- Drag the cotton ball from the outside of the stain to the inside. Repeat this motion over and over again until some of the dye starts to transfer into the bleach-stained area.
- Finally, rinse the garment under cool water again to remove the alcohol.
The Best Kinds of Bleach for Colored Clothes
The best kind of bleach for colored clothes is oxygen bleach, such as OxiClean. While you can use chlorine bleach on colored clothes in some cases, oxygen bleach has a special design that allows it to brighten and clean colored clothes without removing any of the dye.
OxiClean Odor Blaster & Stain Remover & Laundry BoosterThis liquid version of the powerful oxygen bleach OxiClean allows you to easily add a capful to a load of laundry to brighten colorful clothes, remove mildew or musty smells, and get rid of lingering stains.
Its formula specifically targets tough laundry like socks, sweaty clothes, and bath towels.
You can buy it in a handy 50 oz bottle or as a pack of 2 for cheaper bulk orders.
Biokleen Laundry Oxygen BleachFor an even safer and more child-friendly version of oxygen bleach, try Biokleen’s version that uses plant-based, eco-friendly ingredients while still promising to whiten whites and brighten colored clothing.
This product does not contain any toxic ingredients and can fully biodegrade, unlike many commercial cleaning products.
You can bleach colored clothes safely by using the right kind of bleach with each type of garment. Make sure to check the care label inside the garment to see if the manufacturers recommend using either chlorine or oxygen bleach or not bleach at all. Performing a color test on a hidden area of the garment will also tell you whether or not you can use bleach on the garment.
The best kind of bleach to use on colored clothes is oxygen bleach, which will not damage the color of any colorfast garment. Chlorine bleach can turn colored clothes white when you want to strip away dye, though you can also use it on certain types of clothing for careful stain removal.
Have you ever used bleach in your laundry? What method did you try? Leave a comment below to let us know!