How to Get the Whitest Whites Using Bleach
Image: NCCC

Consumers have written us regarding the commercials they see promising the whitening powers of bleach for their laundry. They ask whether they should believe the commercials or simply stick to only using detergent. Well, it all really comes down to how you use the bleach and the types of bleach you use.

As with any product, you need to pay attention to the directions on the label in order to get the desired results. Bleach is no different.

Mothers and grandmothers have sworn for ages about their own special bleaching mixtures and techniques, taking great care to add bleach to the laundry at the appropriate times. Times and technology have changed, so doing it the old fashioned way may no longer be the best way to get the whitest whites. Of course, it will be your job to assess your mess and choose the method that makes whites brighter based upon your situation.

Several variables come into play when getting the whitest whites with each load of laundry.  Water temperature probably plays one of the most critical roles.  You may see better detergent washing results on newer machines since they typically add water from both the hot and cold lines in order to get a consistent cold starting temperature year round. Older washers do not, so an older washer's cycles will depend upon the unadjusted temperature of the water coming from the water lines. You may even notice that your clothes look perfectly fine without bleach using a newer washing machine.

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You will have to play around with your water temperatures a little bit to find the optimum setting for you, but generally hotter is better for whitening.  Some water heaters are set to a standard 120 degrees.  Others are set dangerously high at 140 degrees.  Some might be set too low.  Some water heaters may be a considerable distance from the washing machine, lowering the effective temperature of the wash. Some homes may be constructed with tankless water heaters that can be adjusted at will, with some homes having a small tankless water heater set up solely for the washing machine.  Experts recommend a water temperature of between 120 and 125 degrees to prevent scalding and for washing on the 'hot' cycle for maximum whitening.

The type of bleach and amount used can also play a role in getting the whitest whites.  Some bleaches use special polymers that prevent metals dissolved in the water, such as iron, from reacting with the bleach and causing yellow discoloration.  Many generic brand bleaches lack this polymer and can cause discoloration of your clothes, so cheaper isn't necessarily better.  When adding bleach, follow the instructions on the container and avoid the urge to overuse.  More isn't always better and can damage your clothes.

If your washing machine has a bleach dispenser, use it.  The machine will dispense bleach at the appropriate time in the wash cycle for the maximum effectiveness.  Bleach should generally be added later in a washing cycle so that the detergent can do its job first without interference from the bleach and vice versa.  Once the detergent does its job, the bleach can go in to attack the tough stains.

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Detergents and agitation also play a role in the effectiveness of bleach.  Some detergents work much better than others.  Others do not dissolve properly, leading to poor cleaning results.  Some even have enzymes to dissolve soils and prevent them from re-depositing on your clothes, which may be able to give you results good enough that you don't need bleach at all.  Using bleach with a good detergent will do much better than using bleach with a cut rate detergent.

Finally, regular use of bleach can give you a better quality of whites than the occasional bleacher.

This article has mentioned using better quality ingredients, such as bleach or detergent.  NCCC has not tested these products, but Consumer Reports has tested them at great length. Their testing can help you decide what types of bleaches and detergents you may wish to try.

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