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A Cleaner World Blog

Why Do Whites Get Dull?

White shirts, including t-shirts, tops, and blouses, are staples in my wardrobe for a variety of reasons. I like the look of a crisp, bright white shirt in general, but I love how it goes with anything and can be dressed up or down. The downside of the white garment is that it tends to lose that crisp, bright look. Why is that?

There’s a whole host of reasons why whites tend to lose their optical brightness (optical brighteners are additives used to enhance the look of a garment causing a "whitening" effect) over time.

The Main Reasons Your Whites Fade:

  • Soil from dirty clothes can transfer to other garments in the washing machine. To avoid this from happening, wash white clothes separately, and wash exceptionally dirty clothes in another load.
  • Overloading the washing machine can cause dirt particles to become trapped inside the washing machine preventing them from being rinsed out. It’s an easy solution; simply don’t overload your machine.
  • Using too much laundry detergent. Too many suds can hold dirt against clothes, and the dirt and suds get caught in areas that won’t come rinse clean. Always measure your detergent to make sure you aren’t using too much.
  • Not using enough detergent. Laundry detergent is made of a variety of chemicals that are designed to lift dirt and stains off of your clothes but also to keep that dirt away from your clothes so that it can be carried out with the rinse water. Not using enough detergent can cause the dirt to be redeposited back onto clothes.
  • Sublimation. When light garments are stored next to dark garments, nitrogen gas can cause dark dyes to redeposit on white garments, creating stains and discoloring. To avoid this, simply color code your closet.
  • Storing in plastic. Plastic bags trap moisture and gases around clothes causing them to yellow. Always take the plastic bags off your clothes before putting them away.
  • Personal care products. Some antiperspirants, for instance, contain aluminum chlorohydrate which tends to clump in cotton, damage the fibers, and cause yellowing. To avoid discoloration from personal care products, allow deodorant, hairspray, and perfume to completely dry before dressing.
  • Always treat stains and spills immediately. This goes for any garments, but it is especially true for whites. The longer a spill sits, the more difficult it is to remove, and avoid using chlorine bleach as a stain remover; it can break down the optical brightener causing whites to turn yellow or brown.

Here’s something good you can do for your whites. Did you know that sunshine is a natural bleaching agent? It’s true. If your whites are looking a bit dingy, try hanging them outside to dry. Just be sure that every part of the fabric is receiving sunshine and is not overlapping another garment. And an added bonus – they’ll smell terrific too.

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