If you're anything like me, you both insist on all-white bedding—from the pillowcases and duvet cover, down to the fitted sheet—and regularly spill stuff on it. Not intentionally, of course, but regularly all the same. (Lookin' at you, Sunday morning coffee, and uncapped pens of all colors.)
But no big deal, right? Because bedding was made to be washed. And my entire life, I've thought the secret to washing whites was simple: just separate them from colors, use hot water, and add bleach.
Well...not quite. As I recently learned, that last step might be making my whites look even dingier.
"I encourage people to ditch chlorine bleach for laundry," Jolie Kerr, the cleaning expert behind behind Lifehacker's "Ask a Clean Person" column, told me via e-mail. According to Kerr, bleach actually has a chemical reaction with protein—aka, any lingering sweat on your T-shirts or bed sheets—that causes whites to yellow. If you do want to wash with chlorine bleach, the best method is to run your clothes through a regular cycle to get any protein washed out first, and then run a second cycle with bleach.
Even for those of you who aren't trekking a woeful eight blocks to a crowded laundromat (lucky!), that's a lot of time, effort, and water to spend on one load of laundry. Which is precisely why Kerr suggests an alternate method for regular upkeep: "Use a good detergent along with a whitening laundry booster, but be sure not to overdose your laundry products. Detergent buildup will create a dingy appearance in whites over time." Her picks? Tide Ultra Stain Release for detergent, and OxiClean White Revive or borax for boosters.
As the owner of two sets of all-white bedding and several huge fluffy white towels that have all, um, seen better days, I'm also interested in any advice that helps me reverse the damage that wear and time (and my mistaken laundry habits!) have already done. Luckily, there are some handy tricks for reversing the dinge too, not just keeping it at bay.
"There's a product called bluing that I love-love-love for whites that have gone yellow," Kerr said. "It does exactly what it sounds like: It makes things blue. Which, in the case of whites that have yellowed, is a good thing because blue and yellow are opposite one another on the color perception wheel, so adding a bit of blue to something yellow will make it appear bright white to the eye."