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How to get clothes really white without using bleach

Keeping laundry white is one of those housekeeping tasks that occupied previous generations to the point of obsession. Hanging out washing that was less than brilliantly white was a surefire way to attract finger-pointing and gossip. These days, sparkling white clothes and sheets are still a source of pride and pleasure, and many resort to laundry bleach to achieve that whiter-than-white look. However, over time bleach will have the opposite effect; turning clothes yellow, as well as destroying fibres. There are several ways to get your clothes white without bleaching them.

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  1. Wash whites separately. Even one sock or coloured tea towel may turn whites dingy. Occasionally wash white towels and sheets at the highest temperature setting. This will also help keep your washing machine clear of a build-up of scum, caused by bacteria and low-wash temperatures.

  2. Pre-soak clothes in lemon water. Slice one whole lemon for every four litres of warm water. Soak whites for an hour or longer, even overnight if possible. Lemons are nature's natural bleaching agents. Squeeze out excess water and wash as usual.

  3. Add a cupful of bicarbonate of soda to the laundry detergent. Bicarb has a neutral pH balance which will help remove any acids and grease in clothing, towels and bedding. It also means your clothes will smell of clean fresh fabric; much nicer than bleach or chemicals. You may find that you can reduce the amount of washing powder, tablets or liquid detergent you use.

  4. Use a cup of white vinegar in your wash. Add it to the dispenser along with your usual detergent. The vinegar smell will disappear by the end of the wash and your laundry will be soft, disinfected and white.

  5. Follow the directions given on the packet of borax (or borax substitute) to determine the amount you need for your machine. Add to your wash. Borax is a natural substance used in cleaning and fabric softeners.

  6. Tip

    Hang clothes outside in the sunshine when you can. Sunshine is a natural whitener.

    Once a month use a colour remover – the kind you use when you've accidentally turned your whites pink. The colour remover will remove any residual dye that has caused your laundry to turn grey.

    Use a tablespoon each of white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda to make coloured clothes fresh and clean.

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Things You'll Need

  • Lemons
  • Measuring cups
  • Bicarbonate of soda
  • White (distilled) vinegar
  • Borax

About the Author

Beverley Gee began her freelance writing career in 1982. She earned a National Diploma in information technology and business studies at Coleg Glan Hafren, Cardiff, U.K. She has written for several U.K. publications including the "South Wales Echo" and her local newspaper, "The Diary." She is also a qualified reflexologist.

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