White clothes are one of the hardest fabrics to keep in pristine condition. Sometimes, even when you follow all the rules and store them in a clean place, they can still turn yellow over time. So, why does this happen, and how do you make them look bright again?
White clothes turn yellow due to sweat mixing with deodorants, too much bleach, improper washing and rinsing, and poor storage. Easy fixes for yellowing include oxygen bleach, white vinegar and salt solution, a baking soda-peroxide-water mixture, toothpaste, lemon juice, and aspirin.
In this article, I’ll go into more detail on why your white clothes are turning yellow. I’ll also show you how to remove those yellow stains and how you can keep them shining bright.
Why Your White Clothes Are Turning Yellow
White clothes can lose their shine and sparkle for a variety of reasons. Understanding why they turn yellow can help you restore them and prevent them from happening. Let’s take a quick look at why this happens.
Sweating and Excessive Use of Deodorants
Sweat is one of the most common causes of yellow stains in white clothes. It occurs when the minerals in your sweat mix with the chemicals in deodorants, moisturizers, and antiperspirants.
Different deodorants and antiperspirants have varying ingredients, and the more you use them, the more these stains are likely to occur.
Your perspiration rate also affects the severity of the yellow stains. Also, each individual has a unique sweat composition that affects how much your whites will be stained.
The yellow stains usually begin around the underarm before spreading towards more visible parts. Over time, they build up from each wash and become more ingrained in the fabric, making them more challenging to remove.
As a result, wearing your whites too much in the summer before washing them is one of the main reasons they turn yellow.
Here’s an article on why your black shirts get deodorant stains that may interest you.
Too Much Bleach
While bleach is a whitening agent, using too much of it on white clothing can cause them to turn yellow.
Bleach is a strong and harsh disinfectant. Not only can it cause whites to yellow and deteriorate, but it may also cause holes and damages to your fabric if you use it in excess or too often.
The yellowing becomes even worse when you don’t rinse the bleach thoroughly after washing your clothes.
Poor Washing and Insufficient Detergent
When you don’t wash your whites properly, the dirt will remain in the fabric until your next wash.
This dirt and debris accumulate over time and decompose, causing your whites to turn yellow.
Poor washing mostly happens when you use an insufficient amount of detergent, as there will still be some dirt on the fabric that’s invisible to the naked eye.
It’s best to follow the manufacturer’s direction on the right amount of detergent to use. Also, washing your whites with other colored clothes to save time can cause your yellowing or stains.
More on washing machine care here.
Many people often overlook the rinsing part of the washing process. However, it is one of the most important as dirt and grime that has been lifted during washing will resettle back on the clothes.
If you keep repeating this washing pattern, the dirt will accumulate and decompose over time, causing discoloration and yellowing.
Also, your clothes go through a cold-water rinse cycle if you wash them in a washing machine, which may solidify and form a thin layer on the fabric. As a result, the garment changes color into light yellow when you store it.
Lastly, you want to avoid your skin coming in contact with chemicals in the detergent. If you don’t rinse out the detergent properly, it will stay on the fabric and transfer onto your skin when you wear it. The detergent could then cause an allergic reaction.
I also wrote an article on what sunscreens you should choose to avoid stains that may interest you.
Decay of Whitening Agents
Many people assume that white clothes have a natural white color. However, manufacturers use white dye during the production of white fabric. Like white fabrics, other surfaces with a white dye or paint can yellow over time.
When you don’t wear the item for a long time, there’s a high chance that it will turn yellow or fade.
As a result, storing your white clothes in the closet for too long can cause the dye to decay and leave a yellowish hue. If you’re wearing them regularly, you need to practice good care and maintenance to ensure they last longer.
Compounds in Storage Containers
Acids in storage containers like cardboard boxes, wooden shelves, and plastic boxes can react with your white garments and cause them to turn yellow.
Many of these storages are lined with various chemicals, gases, and other by-products that are not friendly to plain colors. If you store your whites in these boxes for an extended period, the chemicals will seep into the fabric, stain it, or cause discoloration.
Not all clothes storage containers emit these gases, and you can find some that are both acid- and lignin-free.
How To Brighten Yellowed White Clothes
Before you throw your yellowed white clothes away, there are several things you can try to restore their shine. You can use chemical-based cleaning solutions or prepare one yourself.
These methods are effective and do not cause any harm to your fabric.
Let’s take a look at how to do this.
1. Use Oxygen Bleach and Warm Water
In this method, you need to mix oxygen bleach and warm water to create a solution. You’ll want to refer to the manufacturer’s direction for the right quantity of bleach to use per gallon of water.
Although the solution is mild on your clothes, you should only use it on whites.
Allow the garment to soak for at least seven hours or overnight.
2. Use a Small Amount Of Chlorine Bleach
You can also use chlorine bleach to brighten your white clothes that have yellowed in storage.
However, too much chlorine bleach can cause yellowing of the fabric. For this reason, you need to follow the directions on the package as to how much to use.
If you notice a chlorine odor during your laundry, you’re probably using too much and should reduce it. Also, ensure you rinse out the chlorine in the clothes as much as possible.
3. Try a Baking Soda-Peroxide-Water Mixture
You can utilize the cleaning properties of baking soda and peroxide to remove the yellow patches on your white garments.
Here’s how to use this method correctly:
- Create a mixture of peroxide, baking soda, and water in a bowl.
- Apply the paste to the cloth and rub it in with a soft bristle brush.
- Allow the paste to sit on the fabric for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how stubborn the yellow is.
4. Create a Mixture Of White Vinegar and Salt
This is another simple homemade solution that you can use to fix your yellowed fabric. Here’s how to create the mixture:
- Add 1 cup (0.23 L) of white vinegar and ½ cup (0.12 L) of salt to a water bowl.
- Dip the garment in the mixture and allow it to soak for 30 minutes.
- Remove the garment and wash and rinse properly.
5. Use Toothpaste Directly To the Yellowed Sections
You can apply toothpaste directly to the yellowed whites to brighten them. The theory behind this is that if it can whiten your teeth, it can also whiten your clothing. To get the best results, rub it on the garment and let it sit for a few minutes. Then wash it and rinse it normally once the yellow patches have cleared up.
6. Use Lemon Juice On Your Clothes and In the Washing Machine
Lemon juice is known for its cleaning properties and works well for fixing yellowed and faded white clothes. Here’s how to do that:
- Rub lemon juice on the clothes and spread it out in the sun for a few hours.
- Remove the garment from the sun and wash it normally by hand or washing machine. Remember to rinse it out properly.
You can also use lemon juice in your washing machine. After adding your clothing and detergent, pour about a capful in the machine and let it do the work for you.
7. Denture Tablets Can Restore White Clothing
You can also use denture tablets to restore the brightness of your white clothes. Just dissolve two or three tables in a bowl of water and soak the garment in it. Remove it after 8-11 hours and wash as normal. The theory of using denture tablets works on the same principle as toothpaste.
8. Make a Hydrogen Peroxide Solution
Hydrogen peroxide is used in many cleaning agents and can remove yellow stains and patches on white clothes.
To use hydrogen peroxide to brighten your yellowed whites,
- Add some hydrogen peroxide to a bucket of water.
- Soak the affected garment in the mixture for at least 30 minutes.
- Wash in cold water and rinse out properly.
- Repeat the process if you’re not satisfied with the results.
More on mixing bleach and detergent here.
9. Dissolve Some Aspirin In Water
Beyond the medical uses, aspirin is a great whitening agent that you can use to brighten your clothes. So, before you throw out those expired tablets away, you can use them to relieve pain in a slightly different way.
Here’s how to use aspirin to fix yellowed whites:
- Add 4 or 5 aspirin tablets to a bucket of water. Ensure you’re only using white aspirin as the colored varieties can dye your clothing.
- Place your yellowed white clothing in the bucket and let soak for 20-30 minutes.
- Remove from the bucket and place in the washing machine and wash as normal.
How To Keep Your Whites Looking Bright
After brightening your yellowed whites, it’s crucial to take steps to keep it looking its best. These include simple things like storing it properly, as well as washing and rinsing it properly. Let’s get into a few more details.
Store Your Whites Properly
Many people don’t see this as important, but proper storage is key to keeping your whites looking pristine. Here are some things you can do to preserve your white garments:
- Store your clothes, especially whites, in a cool, dry place. Avoid storing in areas like basements, attics, garages, and other places with extreme temperatures. If you plan to store your clothes for an extended period, wash them and dry them well to prevent stains from settling in the fabric.
- Store your white garments in acid-free plastic boxes and bags. If you’re using cardboard boxes, I suggest purchasing white archival tissue paper and lining the box with it.
- If you’re hanging them in a closet, avoid putting them close to dark-colored clothes like jeans as the dye may stain them. Allow enough space between the clothes for them to breathe.
Wash White Clothes Properly and Frequently
If you prefer to wear your whites multiple times before washing them, you’re doing it the wrong way.
Even when the dirt is not apparent and isn’t smelling bad, it’s always best to wash your white garments after wearing them once or twice. The more you wear them before washing them, the more the stains will become stubborn to remove.
Any stains left on the cloth will disintegrate and cause yellowing. Also, avoid washing your whites together with colored clothes, as the dye can transfer from those clothes to your whites and present another problem.
Pre-Soak the Affected Clothes Before Washing
Another way to keep your whites bright is to pre-soak them with a small amount of detergent, as this helps loosen some stains, making them easier to remove during the actual washing process. You can use a detergent to presoak your white garments or purchase fabric whitener from your local supermarket.
Use Water at Warmer Temperatures
Although the general rule is to use water at the hottest temperature, it’s best to use lower temperatures if you’re washing delicate white linens. Thin and soft clothes may not handle as much temperature, and you can damage them in the process.
After washing, rinse out the detergent thoroughly and check for any remaining stains and dirt on the fabric. If the cloth still appears dirty or stained, repeat the washing process.
Here’s my guide for what temperature to use on your clothes.
Dry the White Garments in a Bright, Sunny Area
You can use the free UV rays from the sun to fix your yellowed white clothes. Just wash them as you normally would and spread them out directly under the sun. If you’re using a dryer, it’s best to set it to low heat. Once the clothes are fairly dry, remove them from the dryer, take them out and sun-dry them.
I also wrote a guide on what to do if your white clothes have turned grey that may interest you.
The best fix for the yellowing of white clothes is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Ensure you’re washing and rinsing them properly, wearing less deodorant, using the proper water temperature, and storing them in acid and lignin-free plastic boxes and bags. However, if your whites have yellowed, don’t fret.
You can easily brighten them yourself with homemade solutions such as:
- Oxygen bleach
- Baking soda-peroxide-water mixture
- White vinegar-salt solution
- Lemon juice
- Denture tablets
- Hydrogen peroxide
I wrote a comprehensive guide on why your clothes are changing color that covers every type of discoloration. Feel free to check it out next.