The essential step-by-step guide to whitening your whites
1. Sort by Color
Separating whites from colors might be one of those classic nuggets of wisdom every mom passes along to her college-bound child. Still, it can feel silly to have a heaping pile of laundry with just a handful of whites. But resist the temptation to merge.
Why? If you've ever seen a clothing tag with rather specific care instructions — "Turn Inside Out to Launder," "Use Cold Water," "Color May Wash Down," or "Wash Before Wear" — it's because those garments aren't colorfast, so their dye molecules wind up in the wash water only to settle on other fabrics. (Anyone who's ever accidentally put their new red towels in with their crisp white bed linens knows what this means.)
2. Sort by Fabric
Color separation is Priority No. 1, but if you're a bit fanatical, you might consider separating them by fabric or level of dinginess. Linens and cottons can be washed together, and so can acetates and acrylics. Wash wool pieces on their own, and if your delicates should be washed by hand, just suck it up.
And if you are determined to whiten your heavily soiled socks, don't throw them in with your just-worn white tee — the dirt removed from one might end up on the other.
Yes, we get it: You've got a measly "pile" of whites that consists of a tank top, a button-down, and a pair of denim jeans. As much as you might think it best to set these aside until you've gotten a few more pieces to add to the pile, it's not.
The longer you let those clothes sit before laundering, the more time once-invisible stains have to set. If you wait a month to wash that white button-down, for instance, by the time you throw it in the washing machine, it has very likely acquired yellow stains under the armpits from perspiration and deodorant that have taken hold of the fabric.
White-Hot Tip: Wash white pieces after every wear, even if they still look clean. We're all for rewearing jeans and sweaters, but your whites should be the exception.
1. How to Tackle Grease Stains
If you've got perspiration or other oil stains, pretreat them with liquid detergent, dishwashing liquid, or even clear shampoo. Don't rub in the liquid with your fingers if you can avoid it — instead, opt for a toothbrush.
2. How to Tackle Colored Stains
For anything that has left a color — whether it's a dribble of coffee, a splash of red wine, or a dollop of pasta sauce, and even those yellow deodorant stains — apply an undiluted oxygen-based bleach like OxiClean.
White-Hot Tip: If you've got time, soak the pretreated garment in hot water to loosen up the stain before throwing it in the wash.
1. Don't Overload
A benefit to not having a ton of whites? You won't run the risk of overstuffing your washer. You need enough space for the detergent and water to work their magic.
2. Use Hot Water
The best way to retain whiteness is to wash items in the hottest water possible, at least 120 degrees.
3. Don't Scrimp on Detergent
Now is not the time to be conservative about how much detergent to measure. Use the maximum amount recommended for your whites.
4. Add a Whitening Boost
Baking soda or oxygen-based bleaches can increase the effectiveness of your wash. If you prefer a more natural route, a good alternative is lemons! Use a half-cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice with your detergent to slightly whiten those whites.
White-Hot Tip: Steer clear of bleach. It's a common misconception that chlorine bleach is a cure-all for all your laundering woes. In fact, if used over time, it weakens the fibers in your clothes and, if you have water that's high in iron, can even cause yellowing.
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Every Summer, it never fails: I buy the perfect white dress or the crispest pair of white jeans, and the instant I set foot outside, it's as if all the stains found a new place to hang out. This year, I'd given up on the prospect of wearing my now-dingy whites - until I tried a few tricks (one of which involved a lemon and my fire escape) that actually managed to work.
If you're determined to wear only the whitest of whites this season, let this eight-step garment care guide brighten the way. And not every white tee in your closet needs the complete workup, so figure out what's doable for you. After all, no one wants to spend their Summer at the laundromat.