Whole Living Daily

How to Keep Your Whites White

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My kids have to wear white shirts to camp. And every day, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve looked at their “white” shirts and pretended that I wasn’t bothered by their slightly dingy appearance. We use an assortment of environmentally friendly detergents. Generally, I am happy with these products, but getting our whites whiter hadn’t been working.

The other day, I broke down. I was in the supermarket walking down the huge aisle with rows and rows of bottles of bleach singing out to me “Easy fix, get your whites whiter – simple as one, two, three.” I couldn’t resist.

With no healthier alternative in sight, I reached over, grabbed a bottle, threw it in the cart and headed home. I took all the dingy white items of clothing that I could find, turned on the washing machine and – gasp - poured in the bleach.

Even though the kids’ shirts are looking quite bright and white, I am well aware of the dangers of bleach, which has been linked to respiratory issues, skin burns, and damage to the nervous system. Clearly, there were things I could have done to avoid going down this very un-eco-friendly path.

Here are some tips to keep your white clothes looking crisp and clean and save the bottle of bleach for the true emergency – like when the red sock ends up with your white load.


It is certainly a challenge to keep up with pre-treating each stain on your kid’s clothes, but it's one of the best ways to maintain stain-free clothes. Try dabbing the stain with some liquid dish soap and then soak in water prior to throwing it into the washing machine. Before you put the clothes in the dryer, check to see if the stains have vanished. If not, try soaking again.

Homemade laundry treatments

Try adding ½ cup of lemon juice into the rinse cycle and hang your clothes to dry in the sun. Lemons and sun are both natural bleaching agents and have been shown to brighten whites. This is also a great way to save energy by skipping the dryer.

Another option is adding ¼ cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle to help brighten your dingy laundry.

And finally, try adding ½ cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide (which you can buy at any drugstore) to the rinse cycle.


If you are not the DIY type person, I’ve used Oxo Brite many times and was actually looking for it that in the store before I bought the bleach. It does a good job of keeping clothes white and bright.

I also found this handy stain first aid chart for useful tips on removing all kinds of stains.

And lastly, always remember to wash your whites separately.

What do you use to whiten your clothes and get rid of stains? I would love to hear any advice or tips you might have.

Francesca Olivieri is co-founder of sage baby, an online eco-friendly baby store offering everything from organic clothes and skin care to furniture. She also runs a green consulting business; blogs for The Family Groove and Scenic Hudson; and contributes to Daily Candy Kids, YogaCity, Citiscoop, and NRDC’s Simple Steps. Please visit her website at FrancescaOlivieri.com.

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Comments (5)

  • I struggle with whites constantly, especially because we have a well that is very "iron-rich" to say the least. We have upgraded our softening system to add a iron reducer, but even still I get worried about whites. Especially because I love crisp white t-shirts, sheets and towels. I have found that adding borax to our loads helps with stain fighting and brightening whites. Vinegar works well too. I do believe you can actually mix the two for even more power!

  • Thank you for these great tips! I don't have kids, buy my husband often gets yellow stains in the armpits of his white t-shirts.

  • Thanks so much for all the tips. I have to admit that I went for the bleach option too after a few weeks of not-so-white whites this summer (sunscreen seems to be my particular nemesis -- it always seems to leave yellow stains). I can't wait to see how your hints work! Love your blog!

  • I too am very appreciative. If not for my kid and his whites, for that Stain First Aid chart! I just bought a new dress for a wedding and the first time I wore it (not white, but kind of a pink/orange) got some kind of berry stains on it. On the back, so I didn't know till 12 hours later! I'm ging to try a few of the things recommended in that Stain First Aid chart. And will be trying the white vineagar in general!

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