How to whiten white clothes naturally without bleach. Here are some natural alternatives to chemical bleach that work to help brighten your whites naturally and remove stains and dinginess to keep them looking white for longer. Only natural ingredients like vinegar, borax, and hydrogen peroxide are used.
I don’t tend to buy white things because they’re so challenging to keep white. In fact, I purposely avoided buying white clothes, sheets, towels, tablecloths, socks, underwear… Any type of white fabric really, because I didn’t want the trouble of trying to keep it from staining or becoming dull and dingy.
I don’t use chemicals in my home. I haven’t in years. Rather, I look for natural alternatives that are better for my body and the environment.
The Problem with Bleach
Bleach is one of the strongest chemical cleaners available on the market, and it is an effective tool for helping to whiten clothes. However, it is also a known carcinogen, and breathing it in over long periods of time can actually increase your risk of cancer. If bleach comes into contact with skin, it can burn and damage the tissue, and when mixed with certain chemicals, like ammonia, a toxic gas is produced which can damage the lungs if inhaled, and can even be fatal.
Whites are one of the hardest things to keep clean, as life just happens; you sweat, eat foods like spaghetti or berries, wear makeup, the colours from other clothes eventually bleed into the fabric when washing, even just using them causes the fabric to fade overtime.
It wasn’t until I started op shopping and thrifting clothes from secondhand stores that I began purchasing whites again. I needed a white dress for a Grecian dress-up party I was attending, and I didn’t have anything to wear. So, whites snuck back into my life.
I thought, seeing as I was wearing whites again, I may as well find some way of keeping them bright and white for longer.
And that’s how this natural laundry whitening routine came about.
How to Brighten Whites Naturally Without Bleach
Here is how to whiten your clothes naturally without the need for chemicals like bleach. I pair these natural ingredients with a natural laundry liquid or powder to help clean and disinfect my clothes.
Most of these bleach alternatives work best on natural fibres, like cotton or linen, and should only be used on white clothing without prints or other coloured patterns to avoid fading.
When washing your whites, use the “warm” or “hot” water setting. Just make sure it is safe to use on that particular fabric that you’re washing (you can double check by reading the fabric care instructions), then opt for an “extra rinse” cycle. Really stubborn stains may require another treatment such as a spot treatment, but most stains should disappear with another wash. Do not put the clothes in the dryer until you’re certain that all stains are gone (otherwise they can “bake” into the fabrics).
Baking soda can help to brighten and soften the fabric. Adding 1/2 cup of baking soda to your wash along with your regular laundry detergent can help leave clothes whiter and brighter. Do not put the baking soda in an automatic dispenser because it may not dissolve completely. Instead, sprinkle the powder at the bottom of your washing machine before adding in the whites.
For spot cleaning stains, make a paste using baking soda and water and apply it directly to the fabric. This is especially helpful for sweat stains.
You can also create a soak by combining a gallon of water with one cup of baking soda, and letting the clothing soak for at least an hour or overnight. This can help brighten whites that are dull. Once the clothes have finished soaking, wash as usual.
Hydrogen peroxide (3%) can be used to remove stains and whiten and brighten clothes. It has less of an impact on the environment than chlorine bleach, and can safely be used on whites or coloured clothes.
When hydrogen peroxide is exposed to light, it eventually breaks down to form water and oxygen, becoming a biodegradable oxygen-based bleach.
To whiten clothes, add one cup of a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution to each load of laundry. The hydrogen peroxide should be placed in the automatic bleach dispenser of the washer or added as the washer is filling with water, so that it disperses evenly before the clothes are added. Do NOT pour hydrogen peroxide directly onto dry coloured fabrics as it can bleach and cause spotting.
Distilled White Vinegar
Pre-soaking white clothes and linen in a solution made of one part distilled white vinegar and six parts warm water can help naturally brighten your whites in an environmentally-friendly and toxin-free way. Mix the solution in a tub, sink, or washer drum, and completely submerge the clothes before swishing them through the vinegar solution to make certain that all the items are saturated.
Let the clothes sit overnight and then wash as normal the following day. Do not be concerned about the vinegar smell, it will fade as the clothes dry.
Borax is a naturally occurring mineral made up of sodium, boron, oxygen, and water. It’s a controversial ingredient with no clear verdict, but it is a very effective tool for removing stains and brightening otherwise dull and dingy whites.
Add 1/2 cup of powdered borax to your washing machine by sprinkling it at the bottom of your washer drum before adding in the whites. Add your laundry detergent then set your machine to wash on a “warm” or “hot” setting.
Another option to help whiten clothes is to combine 1/2 cup of borax to one gallon of warm water. Add the whites to the solution and allow them to soak for at least 30 minutes or more. Finish up by washing your clothes as normal.
For more DIY recipes for household cleaning, and tips on how to avoid toxins in household products, water, and air, see here.
If you’re looking for something a little stronger, but are still trying to avoid chlorine bleach, an oxygen-based bleach is a more eco-friendly alternative, as it’s gentler on the environment and your clothes when compared with chlorine bleach, but is still an extremely effective whitening agent and stain remover.
Oxygen bleach is made from 100% Sodium Percarbonate and can be used on all washable fabrics except for silk, wool, and anything with a leather trim. It can be used on coloured clothes to brighten the fabric and remove stains without causing the colour to fade, unlike chlorine bleach which will permanently remove the colour from most dyed fabrics.
Oxygen bleach takes a little longer to work on fabric than chlorine bleach, and the best results are seen after allowing the clothing to soak for at least two hours or overnight in a solution of water and oxygen bleach, before washing as normal. There are instructions on how to use oxygen bleach for washing on the package, so follow the directions there for how much oxygen bleach to use per gallon of water.
Powdered oxygen bleach is activated when it’s added to water. Powdered formulas are usually more stable and tend to produce better results than pre-mixed liquid formulas, which lose effectiveness over time once the container has been opened.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.
How do you whiten your whites? Have you tried any of these natural bleach alternatives? What was your experience? Share in the comments below.
Lots of love,