This post is inspired by a comment left on Home Ec 101′s Facebook page in response to her post about why we should wash our sheets regularly. The commenter said she washes her sheets every week with bleach..
I fell for the ads. You know, the ones where a family is wearing white clothes while they are out camping? Of course they are covered with mud and dirt and other camping remnants. Chlorine bleach to the rescue!
And so, faithfully over the years I added chlorine bleach to our white loads of laundry because I couldn’t bear the shame of dingy socks and underwear. And when they started looking a bit yellow, I just used a bit more bleach.
Until 2009, that is…
I took a textiles class as part of my custom clothing certificate. I think my 30-years-younger-than-me classmates thought something terrible had happened to me when I accidentally said out loud, “Oh…my…goodness!” during one of the lectures.
I didn’t mean to say it aloud. I really didn’t. But it was one of those life changing moments.
What did my professor say that was so life changing for me?
My professor put up a slide that quoted the textiles textbook (I was a bit behind in my reading *sheepish look*):
Use of chlorine bleach is appropriate for spot removal, but should not be used in regular laundering because excessive bleaching weakens cellulosic fibers (2007, Sara J. Kadloph, Textiles, 10th Edition, Pearson)
My regular use of the bleach was actually causing my whites to deteriorate and look dingy and yellow. And, I was not being a good steward of my money because I was shortening the life of those garments and had to replace them more frequently than if I hadn’t used the bleach.
You may have heard that the sun is the best way to bleach whites. Unfortunately, according to the textbook, the sun oxidizes cotton which degrades and turns it yellow, too.
Your Best Bet To Keep White Cottons White
Hard water is often a culprit in causing whites to look dingy. If this is the case, adding a water softener or conditioner such as baking soda or borax (which is also a sanitizer) will help prevent hard water minerals from clinging to your whites. Just follow the instructions on the box.
An oxygen based “bleach” such as Oxiclean does an amazing job of keeping things looking white. The chemists in the group will have to explain it all to me but essentially one of the ingredients turns into hydrogen peroxide when it hits the water. And, according to my sister’s best friend who is a delivery room nurse, hydrogen peroxide is what nurses use to keep their uniforms clean (and she became a nurse when they still wore those white uniforms and not scrubs). Oxiclean itself is pricey but you can get “generic” versions for much cheaper. That said, you don’t need much for it to do its good work.
As an aside, after I posted the laundry soap recipe yesterday, I discovered that variations on the recipe often include either baking soda and/or oxygen based bleach.
I also read on a laundry website that white vinegar is an effective pretreating method to get dingy clothing white again. I haven’t tried this method, so cannot verify the information. But, I thought I should throw it out there…
Since giving up bleach, The Mister’s whites do seem to last a lot longer. If I remembered when putting in a load of white stuff, I would add either borax or baking soda. Since making my own laundry soap, though, I don’t seem to need to add anything except the Sun oxygen based bleach if The Mister’s clothes are really dirty (I really need to make him those coveralls I’ve been promising him for a couple of years now…).
I don’t miss the bleach…at all.