5 ways to whiten white clothes that have yellowed.

Posted by smol on



It’s frustrating, but white clothing, bedding or towels can yellow over time and it’s actually really common. So what’s causing these annoying colour changes? 

  • Oil and sweat from our body mixing with ingredients in deodorants and antiperspirants.
  • Chlorine bleach on synthetic fabrics changes the polymers back to their original colour (yellow).
  • Nicotine from cigarette smoke.
  • Grease from cooking with oils and fats.
  • Chlorine bleach on cotton bonds our sweat permanently to the fabric, making a yellow stain.
  • Cardboard boxes or wooden shelves can have acids that react with fabrics turning them yellow.
  • Overdosing on fabric softener or detergent then baking the residue into your items in the tumble dryer.

But DON’T PANIC! There are quite a few ways to lessen or get rid of these stains so read on…

how to whiten your clothes again

1. stain remover.

Rub stain gel directly into the marks and leave for 5 minutes. Then wash as normal according to your clothing care label instructions. You can even add some more stain gel to the detergent section of your washing machine drawer for an extra boost.

2. oxygen bleach.

Mix with warm water according to the instructions on the pack and soak your items overnight. You can then wash as normal with bio (or non-bio). You can repeat the process if things aren’t quite as white as you need. It’s safe for synthetics and natural fibres but don’t use it on silk, wool or leather. The oxygen bubbles break down dirt and stains and it’s considered safe for the environment as the only by-product is soda ash which is a non toxic substance that is safe for the water supply.

3. bicarbonate of soda. 

This is a natural whitening agent and deodoriser. Mix one cup of bicarbonate of soda with 4 litres of warm water and soak your items overnight. Then wash as normal.

4. lemon juice. 

Put 2 sliced lemons into a pan of water and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Add your items and soak them for at least an hour. Wash as normal. 

5. sunshine. 

Line dry your white washing outside in the sun. The UV rays help to bleach clothing - this effect can even happen if you dry your clothes by a window. It’s a great way to remove staining and it’s completely free.

prevention is better than cure… 

Of course not having your white items turn yellow in the first place is always preferable, so how can we prevent it?

  • Don’t let sweat or oil build up on your white clothing - wash them regularly.
  • Try to separate your white washing from your colours to prevent any dye transfer.
  • Use smol stain gel on collars, cuffs or underarms as an ongoing maintenance treatment.
  • If storing white clothes away, ensure they are dry and clean. Wrap them in white archival tissue paper that is acid and lignin-free.

a final thought to save waste. 

If your clothing is really beyond rescue and the yellow just won’t fade away, you could always consider dying your item a darker colour. That way you get to keep your clothing and still enjoy it ongoing! 

Want to dip your toes into planet-friendlier cleaning? 

Claim your FREE TRIAL of laundry capsules. It's a great way to discover why thousands have already made the swap to smol. Cruelty-free & vegan cleaning products that cut carbon, plastic and chemicals AND STILL give results to match the big brands.


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