Ever see someone wearing a crisp white T-shirt or gleaming pair of white pants and wish your clothes could look like that? Ditto goes for your sheets and towels. Well, now your laundry can look spectacular with these tips from cleaning expert Linda Cobb, the Queen of Clean. And says Cobb, these tips not only keep whites white, but can make dingy clothes look like new.
Separate your colors
“The biggest mistake people make is that they don’t really separate their loads,” says Linda Cobb, author of nine books including Talking Dirty Laundry with the Queen of Clean. “Even light colors can transfer onto whites, so make a pile for clothes that are white only, no exceptions, then wash light clothes together in their own load.”
Don’t use too much detergent
We all think the more detergent we use, the cleaner it will get clothes. But that isn’t the case at all. “Too much detergent and fabric softener coats fabrics,” says Cobb. “When there is a lot of residue on clothes it acts like a magnet and sticks to dirt.”
You read that right: Too much detergent can actually make clothes dirtier. And no matter how much detergent you use, make sure that the load is always rinsed well.
Consider optical brighteners
Also call “bluing” agents, these products add a trace of blue to yellowed or dingy whites. Since yellow and blue are complimentary colors, the products help create the appearance of a whiter white.
“You can use Mrs. Stewart’s Liquid Bluing, which works fantastic,” says Cobb, “but follow the directions. You can’’t pour it on clothes directly or put in the machine’s detergent dispenser, or it will spot them.” Cobb keeps a clean food jar in her laundry area to mix the bluing with water, then adds the mixture to her laundry.
Dry clothes on low heat
Heat can singe or scorch fabrics, says Cobb, making them look yellow. She suggests always following the drying directions on the label. Really. Also consider using a lower heat setting, and take the clothes out of the dryer while they’re still a little bit damp.
Only use bleach on cotton
“Chlorine bleach can be very damaging to some fabrics,” says Cobb. Even though you think it will whiten, it can turn whites yellow or grey. “Bleach is fine for cotton socks and underwear, and towels, but isn’’t great for poly-blends.”
Try lemon juice
Lemon juice is a natural bleaching agent and works great on white clothes. Cobb suggests using the hottest water that’s safe for the fabric, and mixing in half a cup of lemon juice. “Then soak the clothes for an hour or overnight, and wash as usual the next day.”
“Borax softens hard water, removes residue, and boosts the quality of detergent,” says Cobb. “It’’s all-natural and safe to use, and it works great on whitening whites.” Follow the directions of the box.
Another household item to try: white vinegar, which acts much like lemon juice. Cobb suggests adding 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of white vinegar to a load of laundry, then launder as usual. One household item Cobb says to steer clear of: ammonia. “It’s very alkaline, too hard on fabrics, and if you use with bleach it can be hazardous to your health.”
Try automatic dishwasher detergent
Yes, you read right: dishwasher detergent. “It has brighteners and very good cleaners in it, making it good for things like kids socks and underwear,” says Cobb. Don’t worry too much about which brand, she says—any brand is fine. Add a couple of tablespoons into a couple gallons of water, and wash clothes.
“Hydrogen peroxide is 100 percent natural and you can make a great spot-remover from it,” says Cobb. Mix one part Dawn Original or Dawn Ultra dish detergent (it must be one of these two and not another Dawn product, says Cobb) and two parts hydrogen peroxide. Then work the mixture into the collar, underarms or any other tough spots on clothes.
You can even keep the mixture in a squirt bottle for easy access. Another trick: Combine 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide with 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1 cup water and use that on spots and stains.
If you don’t want to make your own whitener, Cobb loves: White Brite. “It removes yellowing, dinginess and even rust stains. You can use it on colored clothes too,” she says. “A little goes a long way.”