Nothing ruins a great outfit as fast as a blob of mustard dripped off a hotdog or a splash of mud from a passing motorcycle, especially if you like to wear white clothes! Big stains can ruin your clothes, but so can time–many clothes grow dull and faded through wear and tear. Learning how to bleach your clothes will allow you to remove stains and brighten up dull garments.
Soaking clothes in a solution of chlorine bleach and water is the most popular way to turn fabric white. Adding oxygenated bleach to a washing machine load provides one of the best ways to brighten colorful clothing that has grown dull over time. Applying bleach to black or dark-colored garments can also create a tie-dye effect.
In this article, you will learn about the different types of bleach and how to use them safely on your clothes. You will discover seven ways to bleach your clothes. Finally, you will find tips on choosing the best bleach for your clothes.
What Does Bleach Do to Clothes?
Bleach can brighten colors or freshen white clothes, remove stains, and even sterilize fabric in some cases. If you use it correctly, it can help you keep your clothes in good shape by cleaning them more powerfully than any laundry detergent. But if used incorrectly, bleach can also disintegrate fabric, create dangerous fumes, and cause new stains on clothing.
The specific way bleach interacts with your clothes depends on the kind of bleach you use. Old-school bleach, often called chlorine bleach, remains both the most powerful and most dangerous kind of bleach for clothing. Technically, it is called sodium hypochlorite and it works by killing the proteins in cells.
This breaks up the stains on a garment and allows them to both turn white and sluice away in the washing machine. Plus, chlorine bleach can kill microbes and many types of viruses and bacteria, making it a useful sanitizing agent.
Chlorine bleach is just sodium hypochlorite powder with liquid added in to turn it into household bleach. This is the extremely powerful product you would use to turn black jeans white. You can also find many household cleaning tips that only work with this kind of bleach, such as mixing a paste of bleach and baking soda to scrub mildewed tile grout in a bathroom.
The downside to using any type of chlorine bleach is that it can quickly harm the fabric of a garment instead of just removing the stain or brightening the whiteness of a white garment. If you leave clothes exposed to chlorine bleach for too long, the chemicals will chew through the fibers in the fabric, eventually disintegrating them!
On top of that, chlorine bleach is super harmful to humans. It creates toxic fumes, so you need to use it in a ventilated area. It can become deadly if you accidentally mix it with another cleaning agent. And it can harm your skin if you splash it on yourself.
Because of these risks, many modern households prefer to use a newer kind of bleach, called oxygenated bleach, because it is much safer to use. Oxygen bleach contains hydrogen peroxide and soda ash and is technically called sodium percarbonate.
When you add oxygen bleach to water, the molecules in the cleaning product interact with the water and release a whole bunch of oxygen particles, which clump onto the clothing and oxidize stains or other matter, allowing the stain molecules to break free into the water.
Oxygen bleach is called a color-safe product because it does not strip dye out of fabric the way chlorine bleach does. It also has no caustic properties of chlorine bleach and will not disintegrate fabric. Even better, it breaks down into oxygen and water over time and does not harm the environment!
That said, chlorine and oxygen bleach work best in certain laundry situations. Choosing the right laundry product for the right situation will help you quickly rescue your clothes.
How to Bleach Clothes: 7 Methods
You can bleach clothes to remove stains, brighten up colors or lighten whites, or even turn a darker fabric white. You can even use it to create fun patterns in your clothes by using methods like bleach tie-dye!
1. Colored Clothes
One of the most popular ways to use oxygen bleach is to brighten colored clothes in the wash. It strips away the grime, old detergent, and other particles that build up in fabric over time, turning colors dull.
You cannot use any kind of chlorine bleach for this process because it will strip dye out of the garments and leave you with white and yellow blotches on the clothes. But oxygen bleach, such as the popular brand OxiClean will not damage most dyes.
Of course, you should always perform a color-fast test on a new garment before washing it with bleach. To do this, simply mix the recommended amount of bleach into a small amount of water and apply a few droplets to a hidden seam inside the garment. Let it sit for ten minutes before rinsing away the droplets.
If you see any discoloration, you will know that the garment is not colorfast. It should not go in the washing machine with other clothes at all, let alone with bleach!
The best way to use oxygen bleach in the wash is to follow the instructions on the bottle or packet, but in general, you will add the bleach before you begin a wash cycle as a way to boost the detergent.
- Turn the settings of the washing machine to cold wash. Oxygen bleach does work most effectively in hot water, but you should always wash colorful clothes in cold water to preserve the dye for as long as possible.
- Liquid forms of oxygen bleach can often go straight into the basin of the machine with the detergent. Some models offer a small chute you can use to add the bleach on a timed release during the cycle as well. If the bleach comes in powdered form, you should mix it with water before adding it to the wash.
- For powdered amounts, you typically use about ¼ of a scoop for a full load. For liquid bleach, the bottle usually comes with a cap designed to fill up with just the right amount for one load.
- Once you have added the bleach, simply run the full, normal wash cycle, and then put the clothes in the dryer!
2. By Hand/Turn Clothes White
The best way to turn clothes white is by hand, using chlorine bleach in a soak. In a chlorine bleach soak, most colorful garments will turn white in just ten to fifteen minutes. Black-dyed clothes like black jeans may take longer, up to twenty minutes.
However, this method works best on clothes that contain 100% cotton fabric. Both chlorine and oxygen bleach do not work super effectively on synthetic fabrics like polyester.
Another thing to remember is that some garments will turn back to a natural yellow shade and never fully turn white.
- Open a window and turn on a fan nearby. Wear gloves and old clothing in case of splashes.
- Measure 1 ½ cups of chlorine bleach into a large plastic bucket. Add one gallon of cold water and swish the water around.
- Lower your garment into the solution and squish it down to make sure it gets fully soaked.
- Let it sit for ten minutes.
- Still wearing gloves, carefully lift the wet garment up to see how much color remains.
- If you still see a lot of color in the fabric, let the garment soak for another ten minutes.
- Meanwhile, set up a second bucket with one gallon of cold water and one cup of hydrogen peroxide.
- Carefully transfer the bleached garment straight into the peroxide mix and swish it around thoroughly.
- Finally, rinse out the clothing under running water.
You can also use a cold soak with oxygen bleach to whiten already white clothes by leaving them to sit overnight.
- Follow the package directions or add one scoop of a special product like Oxicean WhiteRevive for each gallon of hot water in a basin.
- Add the garment and stir it around, so no dry patches remain.
- Let it soak for six hours or as long as overnight.
- Finally, place the garment in a regular load of laundry and run it through a full wash cycle.
3. Spot Treatment
The best way to use bleach as a spot treatment for stained clothing is to use oxygen bleach or a special oxygen bleach stain removal product. Chlorine bleach will often remove the dye or finish on the fabric and leave a whitened spot, even though it will also remove whatever stained the clothing in the first place!
- Mix one tablespoon of oxygen bleach in a disposable cup with one cup of warm water.
- Dip a clean white rag or sponge into that mix and blot or dab the stain.
- Once you see the color of the stain on the white rag, switch to a new corner of the rag and keep blotting.
- When you can no longer see the stain on the garment, rinse it in cold water.
You can also find lots of stain removal products that contain oxygen bleach. You should apply these according to the package directions. Usually, you apply the remover and let the garment sit for an hour or so before washing it.
4. Washing Machine
One of the easiest ways to bleach clothes is to use the washing machine because it fills itself with water and can hold a lot of clothes!
- To clean and sanitize white clothes, add chlorine bleach five minutes after starting a regular hot-water cycle in your washing machine. Measure the amount of bleach per load recommended on the bottle.
- You can safely mix bleach and laundry detergent in the wash because it is so diluted in water, but keep in mind that you should not usually mix chlorine bleach with any other products.
- You can use your washing machine to bleach colorful clothes white by setting up a soak session in the machine instead of a regular wash. However, this does run the risk of dying the basin of your washing machine!
- Of course, you can also use oxygen bleach in the washing machine, as you saw in the section on how to brighten white clothes. Many laundry detergents today contain some element of oxygen bleach as a part of their cleaning recipe!
5. Without Bleach/Vinegar
If you don’t like using strong chemicals on your clothing, you can sometimes use white vinegar instead to remove stains or lighten white clothing. Distilled white vinegar contains acetic acid, which can break down and dissolve many types of stains like food, grass, and coffee. Vinegar is also popular to remove yellowing from old natural fabrics like cotton and linen.
You can add half a cup of vinegar to a normal load of whites to brighten and freshen them. This works well for towels, too!
For super dingy whites, like socks and underwear, try using vinegar in boiling water:
- Bring a big pot of water to a boil and add one cup of distilled white vinegar.
- Gently add the soiled clothing and stir it around with a long spoon.
- Turn off the heat and let the clothes soak overnight.
- In the morning, rinse them out and let them dry. The vinegar smell will dissipate into the air, and you should see spotless white clothes waiting for you!
You can also use several other natural products like lemon juice and sunlight to bleach white clothes, too!
6. Bleach Design
One of the most interesting ways you can bleach clothes is to create a bleached design using chlorine bleach and a stencil.
- Pick out any garment that contains a high percentage of cotton and has a dark color.
- Mix a 50-50 blend of chlorine bleach and water in a spray bottle.
- You can make a stencil in several different ways. You can use a Cricut to cut out a more complex shape from freezer paper or draw your own design and use a craft knife to cut it out of freezer paper. Or you can print out a design on regular paper, tape it to the freezer paper, and use that as a template to cut out the design.
- Place the freezer paper shiny-side down on the garment and use an iron on low heat to smooth it place. It will lightly stick to the fabric and then easily peel away later!
- Make sure to put a magazine or piece of cardboard inside the garment so nothing soaks through to the other side.
- Use masking tape to hold down the edges of the stencil on the garment.
- Hold the spray bottle a few inches from the garment and spritz the bleach solution over it.
- Wait ten minutes to see if the design looks light enough.
- Quickly remove the stencil and rinse the garment under cool water.
For other fun effects, you can also use a bleach pen to freehand draw a design onto a black garment!
7. Bleach Tie Dye
Try bleach tie-dyeing if you want a splattered, galaxy-like swirl on your dark clothes! The popular method works best on black, navy, or dark-gray cotton clothing like a t-shirt.
- Run the shirt through the wash and take it out damp when the cycle ends.
- You can form different tie-dye designs by wrapping, twisting, or bunching the fabric of the shirt in unique ways. For a simple spiral, grab a handful of fabric at the center of the shirt and let the rest of the garment hang downwards. Twist it a bit and use rubber bands at two-inch intervals along the twisted cylinder to hold it in place.
- Use a clean squirt bottle like the kind of ketchup at a restaurant. Fill it with one cup of chlorine bleach and one cup of water.
- Place the rubberbanded shirt in a sink or bucket.
- Douse it with the squirt bottle solution.
- Let the shirt sit for half an hour.
- Carefully cut away the rubber bands and immediately rinse the shirt in cold water.
Types of Bleach for Clothes
The two main types of bleach for clothes are chlorine and oxygen bleach. You can find many popular brands selling these products.
Popular brands of chlorine bleach include Clorox, PureBright, and KI Bleach. You can also just buy jugs of bleach called Sodium hypochlorite in various concentrations, but you generally use these for cleaning public restrooms, not personal laundry.
Big-name brands of oxygen bleach include OxiClean, Seventh Generation, Biokleen, GuardH, and Molly’s Suds.
Bleaching Different Color Clothes
The trick to bleaching different colors of clothes is to know which kind of bleach to use.
You have lots of options when it comes to bleaching white clothes. You can use chlorine bleach to powerfully whiten and sanitize white clothes, especially anything made out of cotton. You can use a gentler, all-natural product like vinegar on old linens to remove yellowing or stains. You can also use oxygen bleach on white clothes, although it does not work quickly.
You should avoid using bleach on black clothes unless you want to remove some of the dye to make a cool design or bleach the garment white.
You can use OxiClean or oxygen bleach products on black garments so long as you do a colorfast test first to ensure that the black dye won’t bleed.
The best kind of bleach to use on colored clothes is oxygen bleach, which uses oxygen molecules to break up stains and remove old laundry detergent from the fibers of the garment.
Sometimes clothing manufacturers oversaturate new clothes with colorful dyes to make them look brighter before you buy them. This can cause clothes to leak dye everywhere if you expose them to bleach in the wash. To avoid this, always do a color test on new clothes before washing them with bleach.
How to Bleach Cotton Clothing
You can bleach cotton clothing using either chlorine or oxygen bleach, depending on the desired effect.
Cotton clothes typically feature water-soluble dyes, which will easily come out of the fabric when exposed to chlorine bleach. So if you want to turn the garment white, use chlorine bleach on the cotton.
If you want to remove stains or brighten up colorful cotton clothes, use oxygen bleach in the laundry. This will not remove the original dye from the clothing.
Will Vinegar Bleach Clothes?
Vinegar will bleach some types of fabric quite effectively without damaging the material. It works well on cotton, linen, and other natural items, especially white-colored fabrics that need to freshen up or have yellowed over time.
Vinegar is also a wonderful stain remover for all colorfast clothes, including brightly colored or black garments. It does not work like chlorine bleach to quickly leach dye out of garments.
Do You Bleach Clothes in Cold Water or Hot?
Both chlorine and oxygen bleach work most quickly and effectively in hot water. But you should pick the water temperature based on the kind ad color of the fabric in your clothing. White-colored clothes or heavily soiled clothes should go in hot water, but dark-colored or delicate clothing should always go in a cold water wash cycle.
How to Bleach White Clothes with Stains
You can use bleach to get stains out of white clothes in several ways, including a spot treatment or a soak.
- For quick spot treatment on a small stain, soak a white rag in water with just a few drops of bleach in it. Dab at the stain until it disappears.
- For a big stain, fill a bucket with one gallon of water and one cup of chlorine bleach. Soak the clothes for ten minutes, and then immediately rinse them in cold water.
- For fresh stains, blot away any solid matter and then run the white clothes through the washer, adding the recommended bleach to the machine before you begin.
What is the Best Bleach for Clothes?
Overall, the best bleach for clothes is an oxygen bleach such as Oxiclean because you can use it effectively on most types of clothing. But chlorine bleach also has some advantages, like its ability to remove dye from clothes.
Chlorine bleach works best for:
- Turning white clothes to pure white
- Sanitizing white clothing, bedding, and towels
- Removing dye from clothes to turn them white
- Creating fun designs using stencils or tie-dye on dark-colored cotton fabric
Oxygen bleach works best for:
- Removing stains from clothes of all colors
- Brightening up colored clothing that has grown dull
- Lightening white clothes
You can bleach clothes to clean and sanitize them or remove stains. You can also bleach clothes to brighten up colors and make whites more vivid. You can even use bleach on clothes to create a stenciled design or tie-dye pattern.
Bleach for clothing comes in two main types, chlorine and oxygen. Chlorine bleach uses strong, dangerous chemicals that strip dirt and dye from the fabric. Oxygen bleach uses the action of oxygen molecules to remove stains without damaging the dye of a garment.