I Learned How to Wash My White Clothes the Right Way, and Now I’ll Never Go Back

published Jun 22, 2024
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Woman hand taking wet white clothes out of automatic washing machine.
Credit: Jakkrit Kongsudee/Shutterstock

Some people go skydiving. My idea of a thrilling sport is wearing a white shirt while indulging in a dish of pasta with red sauce. And that’s why I don’t wear white very often. But I really do like wearing a white occasionally — especially now that summer is here. 

Given the option to ban the color from my wardrobe or learn a better laundry technique, I’ll go with the latter. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to wash white clothes.

How to Wash White Clothes 

Kim Romine, a fabric care scientist for P&G, says the instructions on the care label should reign supreme when laundering any garment. However, if you like a good default setting, she says, “The best approach for all of your clothes, including white clothes, is a cold water setting.” 

Aside from saving your clothing, you’re also saving energy — switching from hot water to cold uses up to 90% less energy, Romine says. For ease, you can simply default to any “white” cycles on your washer/dryer.

How to Hand Wash Delicate White Clothes

Delicate white clothes require a delicate hand. Romine suggests the following when hand-washing garments:

  1. Fill a sink, bucket, or tub with cold water, then add about half a cup of detergent.
  2. Submerge the garment in the water and gently hand wash the garment.
  3. Rinse the garment until the water runs clear.
  4. Gently squeeze out excess water, then lay flat to dry. 

How to Remove Stains from White Clothes

Believe it or not, sometimes my white shirt will emerge unscathed from Sunday dinner. But when it doesn’t, I usually pretreat it with a stain stick before washing it. I’m usually pleased with the results, but I’m also running around the house to find the stain stick — I’m still on the fence as to whether I should keep it in the laundry room (for obvious reasons) or in my bedroom so I can treat the stain as soon as I take off the said shirt — especially if I’m not doing laundry right away.

Then, there’s another option: using detergent to pretreat the stain. Here’s how Romine says it’s done.

Pretreating a Stain with Liquid Detergent

  1. Apply a dab of detergent with stain-fighting properties directly to the stain and rub it in gently. Romine recommends Tide.
  2. Allow it to sit for 20 minutes.
  3. Wash with a load of laundry as you normally would.

Pretreating a Stain with Powder Detergent

  1. Fill a sink, bucket, or tub with cold water.
  2. Pour in a half cup of powder detergent with stain-fighting properties. Romine recommends Tide Ultra Oxi powder.
  3. Submerge clothing in water and let sit for at least 20 minutes; you can leave it to soak overnight.
  4. Wash with a load of laundry as you normally would.

Regardless of which type of detergent you use, don’t overdo it. Romine says to follow the dosing instructions on the label carefully to keep clothes white and bright.

How to Keep Clothes White and Bright

You might have heard that leaving clothes and linens out to dry in the sunshine is one of the best, natural ways to keep everything white and bright. And it is — to an extent.

“UV light can fade the color residue left behind by a few specific stains, but the best option is to use a high-quality detergent to remove these stains during the laundry process,” says Romine.

What about using bleach to whiten clothes? It’s a strong product, to begin with, but if you’ve got skin sensitivities or do laundry in a spot that’s not well-ventilated — a must when working with bleach — then it’s off-limits for both you and your wardrobe. But if that is the case, know that you don’t have to commit to wearing dingy whites. 

“The most effective way to clean and whiten your whites is to use a detergent that is designed with ingredients that will whiten without damaging the fabric,” says Romine.