How to Keep Your White Clothes White

White clothes are hard to keep clean and noticeable when they’re not. But with these tips, you can avoid the hassle and keep worn whites looking store-bought for a long time.

White tee shirt

No more constantly buying white shirts to ensure they stay bright!

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Sharon and David Bowers have written The Useful Book, a veritable encyclopedia of do-it-yourself — whatever “it” is, learn to cook it, build it, sew it, clean it, or repair it. Not only do the authors walk you step-by-step through handy repairs and projects, but they include illustrations, charts, and lists to keep their explanations simple and accessible. Like a shop teacher and a home economics teacher combined in print form, this book will have you prepared for anything!

Bright white clothing screams “clean.” Even if it’s not seen and admired by the public, a fresh, new undershirt, pair of socks, or set of underclothes can make a person feel more confident, adding a little spring to the step. And don’t forget the warning handed down by my Mom and mothers like her about clean underwear! Making sure your whites are sparkling falls under the category of “plan for every inevitability.” The good news is that you don’t have to constantly toss and rebuy basics to maintain your bright whites. With a little know-how, you can keep them shimmering long past their expected expiration date. Here are some tips for keeping your whites bright.

Basic Care of Whites

1. Sorting. Keep whites separate. Sort whites from colored clothes. Dye molecules will bleed into the water and subtly tint your whites.

2. Treating stains. Attack spills and smudges immediately. Use a solid stain stick or spot-treating liquid and carefully follow package directions because all fabrics and all stains are unique.

3. Loading the washer. Pack the washing machine loosely, allowing enough room for the dirt to lift out and float away rather than be redeposited.

4. Bleaching. Don’t always reach for the chlorine bleach. Overusing it on pure cotton fabrics can increase yellowing. An oxygen-based bleach will generally do the job and is safer in most cases. Use chlorine bleach every fourth wash and follow package directions carefully.

5. Recalibrating hard water. Because minerals deposit on whites, leaving them looking dingy, if your local water is hard, invest in a water-softening device or add softener to each load.

6. Line drying. When possible, allow whites to dry in the sun. Ultraviolet rays, although undesirable for humans, help whiten already white fabric.

How to Remove Pit Stains from a White Shirt

It’s hard to exude confidence when you’re sporting halfmoon rings in the underarm region. These unsightly patches can be caused by the aluminum chloride used in many deodorants or from minerals in your perspiration. Try these tips to keep your white shirts brilliant, from collar to hem.

• Wash the shirt with every wear, even if it looks and smells clean. Chemicals from products, and your own body, can get to work over time. In other words, while your shirt languishes in the hamper, the stain will grow.

• For newish stains, turn the shirt inside out, rinse the pits, then allow the shirt to soak in cold water.

• If soaking doesn’t remove a new stain, use a solution of 2 tablespoons ammonia to 1 cup water. Pour the solution onto the stain and let it rest for an hour. Then wash the garment on the hottest setting the care label recommends. Then allow the shirt to air-dry because the heat of the dryer will set the stain. Repeat if necessary.

• If ammonia doesn’t remove a new stain, try chlorine bleach (use only color-safe bleach on light pastel colors). Use a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 cup water. Pour the solution onto the stain and let it rest for an hour. Wash the garment on the hottest setting the care label recommends. Allow it to air-dry and repeat if necessary.

• For older stains, pour distilled white vinegar onto the stain and let it rest for an hour. Wash the garment on the hottest setting the care label recommends. Allow the shirt to air-dry because the heat of the dryer will set the stain. Repeat if necessary.

Little Laundry Facts

• To keep black clothes black, use an antifade detergent. This keeps the chlorine in the water from fading the dye. When washing, turn the garment inside out and hang or lay it flat to dry.

• To reduce odors, add 1/2 cup baking soda to 1 gallon water and presoak the garments for at least three hours. Then, as you machine wash them, add 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle.

• To disinfect your washing machine, pour in 1/2 cup mouthwash and run it through a regular cycle using hot water.

• To dry clothes in a hurry, twirl the load on the spin cycle in the washer an extra time. Then, when putting them in the dryer, throw in a dry towel or two. Finally, as with a pot of rice, don’t open the dryer door to keep checking if it’s done.

How to Fold a T-Shirt the Retail-Store Way

1. With the shirt face down in front of you, fold the sleeves, one at a time, in to the center. If the sleeves are too long (as they will be on an adult shirt, but not necessarily on a child’s shirt), fold each sleeve down toward the bottom hem after they’ve been folded in to the center.

2. Fold the bottom half up toward the shoulders, making a rectangle.

3. Stack shirts in large rectangles or, if you prefer, bring the bottom fold up to the shoulders once more to make a smaller base rectangle. Once you start folding T-shirts in this simple clean line, it’s hard to go back to anything more elaborate.


For more tips from this book, see: DIY Screen Repairs and Replacements.


Reprinted with permission from The Useful Book: 201 Life Skills They Used to Teach in Home Ec and Shopby Sharon and David Bowers, published by Workman Publishing Co., 2016.