How to wash white clothes and keep them bright and sparkling

Everything you need to know about brightening up your whites, according to our cleaning experts

White clothes hanging in closet
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s a basic task but if you’re wondering how to wash white clothes, chances are, you’ve noticed your white laundry isn’t coming out of the washer as pristine as you’d like.

Despite following the care instructions on the label, it’s all too easy to turn your whites into a dinghy grey. Get your whites sparkling again with our expert-approved advice, including tips from the best laundry products, to removing sweat stains. 

When it comes to doing laundry and ensuring you don’t destroy your favorite white clothes, our panel of experts know the steps you need to take.  

Here’s how to wash white clothes and restore brightness

Knowing how to wash white clothes properly is vital for keeping all your favorite pieces looking their best. The reality is one misstep can unfortunately ruin a white item, just like that. Luckily, our laundry experts have plenty of tips including what temperature to wash white clothes at and the products to avoid.  And that's not all. Spilled your favorite latte? Don't panic, it's pretty easy to remove coffee stains from clothes.

1. Follow the care label

An image of a white washing machine with its lid open

(Image credit: Getty Images)

First things first, James Joun, laundry expert and co-founder of Rinse, says, “I recommend all clothing, including whites, are washed according to their care labels. 

“Typically, whites will have care labels that ask for cold or warm water. The manufacturer has conducted their own quality testing prior to manufacturing — take advantage of that.”

While cleaning expert, Karina Toner advises, if in doubt, always “Wash white clothes in cold water to prevent shrinkage and color fading, as well as preserving fabric quality.”

James Joun
James Joun

James Joun is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Rinse. He is a second-generation dry cleaner and has over 20 years of industry experience having first worked at his parents' store. 

Karina Toner, Operations Manager, Spekless Cleaning
Karina Toner

Karina Toner is a cleaning expert and the Operations Manager at Washington D.C.-based Spekless Cleaning. 

2. Wash whites separately

If you’re in the habit of tossing all your washing in together, it’s time to stop. 

Cleaning expert, Karina Toner warns, “Always separate whites from colored items to prevent color bleeding or whites turning a grimy gray hue. Wash heavily soiled white items separately to prevent dirt transfer to other clothes.”

3. Treat stains proactively

An image of a stained white top being soaked in soapy water

(Image credit: Getty Images)

James says, “In my experience, we see that the armpit area of white garments is the hardest to keep white due to sweat stains

“If you know your clothes tend to form armpit stains, then you should start pre-treating the armpit area with spray-on oxygen bleach from the first wash, regardless of if there's a visible stain or not.” 

For a more natural approach to stains on white clothes, pretreat stains with lemon juice. Karina says, "For best results, apply lemon juice to yellowed underarm stains before washing to naturally bleach and freshen fabrics.” 

For removing other types of stains, such as blood stains from white clothes, she advises mixing hydrogen peroxide with water, and applying to the affected area before washing, as this is effective without harming fabrics.

4. Use the right products

When washing white clothes it’s vital you select the right products, from choosing the best laundry detergents to picking the right whitening products. 

Karina says, “Opt for a high-quality bleach alternative or a detergent formulated for whites. And make sure to measure detergent accurately to avoid residue buildup.

“You can also pour a cup of white vinegar with your laundry (we like this Heinz distilled white vinegar from Amazon) into the washing machine during the rinse cycle to brighten whites and remove detergent residues.

Karina advises that while fabric softeners smell nice, they can leave a residue that dulls white fabrics. Skip fabric softener or use sparingly. 

James adds, “Oxygen bleach, like this OxiClean bleach powder from Amazon, is great for whites, given that it is color-safe, unlike chlorine-based bleach (this chlorine-free bleach alternative from Amazon is a great option). 

“You can either add oxygen bleach (such as this oxygen bleach liquid from Amazon) to your load, in addition to the detergent, or you can individually treat using a spray version on the stain prior to washing. I do not recommend using chlorine bleach to 'whiten your whites' as there are various shades of white, and chlorine bleach can discolor your garments.”

Karina says, “Clorox 2 for Colors & Whites from Amazon is a versatile bleach alternative suitable for both colors and whites. OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover from Target is effective in removing tough stains without chlorine bleach.Seventh Generation Free & Clear Laundry Detergent from Amazon is a hypoallergenic option for those with sensitive skin.”

5. Sun dry your whites

An image of white washing hanging on a washing line in the sun

(Image credit: Getty Images)

While it can be tempting to chuck your laundry in the dryer, Karina recommends drying in the sun, and explains, “Sunlight acts as a natural bleach, helping to maintain the brightness of white fabrics, so it’s always best to dry white clothes outdoors when feasible.”

6. Keep your washing machine clean

For further steps on how to wash white clothes and keep them bright, James says, “Make sure you're regularly using the self-cleaning cycle for your washer machines. 

“This helps remove any debris and soap from your machine, including your washing drum, which comes into contact with your whites, and ensures your load is only coming into contact with other clothing inside of the drum.”

Now  you’ve mastered the art of washing white clothes, you might be keen to learn all of the other laundry hacks that’ll help to keep your clothes looking their best. 

Beth Mahoney
Freelance journalist

Hi! I’m Beth Mahoney and I’m a former staff writer at Real Homes. I’ve been a journalist for the national press for the past six years, specializing in commerce and trends-related lifestyle articles, from product reviews and listicles to guides and features. With an eye for pretty things (think: quirky wall prints, scalloped edge furniture, and decadent-looking tableware) but a limited budget, I love nothing more than a bargain buy.