How to Wash White Clothes, According to a Cleaning Expert

Those pesky stains are no match for these smart solutions.

How to Wash White Clothes

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When my mom taught me how to do laundry, I was instructed to separate my clothes into three categories — darks, lights, and whites. Sometimes, I’ll risk mixing my dark and light loads to save time, but I don’t and won’t dare mix my whites. One, because I’m terrified of turning all of my white clothes pink, and two, because there is a very specific way to wash white clothes, and deviating from the rules could end in disaster.

Now, I don’t mean to sound dramatic. Obviously, it’s not the end of the world if your favorite white T-shirt shrinks or color from another garment bleeds into the fabric — but it can feel like it is, especially if said T-shirt took you forever to find (because we all know the perfect white T-shirt can take years of hunting to get ahold of).

So, what is the right way to wash white clothes, both in general and when stains happen? In an exclusive interview with InStyle, Alex Wojenski, Grove Guide of Grove Collaborative, which is an online retailer for sustainable cleaning essentials, breaks down the proper protocols.

Always separate your whites.

Mom was right. According to Wojenski, separating your white clothes from your dark clothes is a tried and true practice that helps prevent any unintentional bleeding of colors, adding that “washing with other colors can also eventually dull whites.” Ergo, keeping them separate will not only preserve their coloring but also their brightness.

You don’t have to use hot water.

Wojenski tells us that while a lot of people wash their white clothes in hot or warm water, it’s not necessary unless your whites are “especially soiled or have a stain.” Washing in cold water will be just as effective and — bonus! — more eco-friendly.

Add a brightener when dealing with stains.

Don’t think I can’t hear your resounding “ugh” through the screen. True, no one likes to add an extra step to their laundry routine, but you’ll be happy you did when that glass of spilled merlot doesn’t completely ruin your favorite pair of white jeans.

Before tossing a stained white garment into the wash, Wojenski recommends using a brightener, like these Bleach Alternative pods or this Oxygen Whitener powder “to lift the stain and dullness from clothing to restore the original brightness.” If your garment has dried before or after pre-treatment, Wojenski also suggests using vinegar to dampen the area before pre-treating or washing.

How to Wash White Clothes

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Dirt won’t hurt.

Dirt or mud will come out of white clothing, but you first have to make sure any residue is removed before tossing it in the washing machine. If it’s wet, Wojenskin says to let the mud or dirt dry, crumble it off, then use your finger to gently remove the rest (do not rub or push on the area, as this will cause the dirt to set into the fabric). “Spray with a stain remover and blot gently until the stain has dissolved,” Wojenski says.

You’ll want to invest in stain remover for potential blood stains.

Whether we’re talking about the occasional period stain or paper cut, blood stains happen. The good news is, they aren’t impossible to get out of white garments. Simply spray the area with either hydrogen peroxide, or a powerful stain remover (Wojenskin recommends this one) and let bubbles form. “Once the bubbles have stopped, rinse under cold running water and repeat until the stain has faded,” Wojenski tells InStyle. Follow up by washing with other whites, on a hot setting, and with your favorite detergent ASAP.

Dab chocolate stains with detergent.

We hate to waste chocolate, but sometimes pieces find their way onto our white blouses. First things first, remove any lingering bits, then gently (and Wojenski stresses the word gently) with either a liquid laundry detergent or soap (note: Wojeski says Castile Soap or Dish Soap work especially well) and rub lightly to create suds. “Rinse with cold water and repeat until mostly removed and then treat with a stain remover as needed.”

How to Wash White Clothes

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Removing pasta sauce is, admittedly, a process.

“Pasta sauce stains can be especially tricky as they are made up of oils, water, and are also acidic,” Wojenski explains. Ergo, getting them out of white clothes is a bit more hands-on and time-sensitive. The first step is to remove any excess sauce by running cold water from the reverse side of the garment, to not set the stain further. “From here, the process is similar to removing other stains,” Wojenski assures.

“Apply a small amount of liquid detergent or dish soap to the affected area and starting from the outside of the stain, gently rub in circular motions inward until it is sudsy and the entire area has been agitated. Rinse again with cold water. After rinsing, apply white vinegar and let sit for 10-15 minutes then rinse and treat with a stain remover. Rinse thoroughly and repeat applications of stain remover until the stain is gone.”

Sweat stains require perseverance and patience.

Again, sorry. Though a daunting task, Wojenski tells InStyle sweat stains can be taken care of. Most prominent on the underarms of T-shirts and dress shirt collars, these types of stains are best treated by spraying the affected area and surrounding areas with a generous amount of stain remover until completely saturated.

“If you are working with a heavier dress shirt, especially around the collar or area that can handle some pressure, use a toothbrush (designated for this task) and work in circular motions to scrub the stain. If you are working with less durable material, a damp wet white cloth can be used instead. It will take some time before there is progress, but keep at it. Eventually, the stain will begin to lift. Rinse with cold water and reapply stain remover as needed. Wash immediately after treating on a hot setting with a booster.”

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