Using bleach in laundry? 18 Guidelines & the best bleach alternatives

Learn how to use bleach in the laundry to remove stains in your clothes.

Laundry Bleaches – why do we use them ?

laundry bleach

This is why! I haven’t even worn this shirt, and it has a stain already. This is what happens with light-colored clothes – stains just find them. Unless I give it to the dry cleaners, I will have to deal with it myself – with bleach.

A laundry bleach converts soils and stains in your fabric into more soluble, colorless, or dispersible particles. This is then removed by detergent and washed away with water..

A laundry bleach converts soils and stains in your fabric into more soluble, colorless, or dispersible particles. This is then removed by detergent and washed away with water.

bleach used to de-color and make spots on a denim jacket.

Different Types of Bleach – which bleach to use for clothes ?

There are two types of bleaches – the liquid household bleach or chlorine bleach and oxygen bleach. Both work to remove stains and soils through oxidization.

And your end result is also another consideration – if you want to decorate your clothing with bleach (bleach printing) then you need to use undiluted chlorine bleach for the best results (de-coloration). Using bleach in this way is a great way to change the way a clothing looks.

Diluted bleach does not de-color as much as undiluted bleach. 

Household chlorine bleach – liquid

This is the most commonly used bleach. It contains the chemical sodium hypochlorite.

There are many reasons why you may be using this bleach. I use it on my white clothes to remove stains and make them white again.

Check out the posts on washing white clothes & Using Bleach to Remove Stains on White Clothes

Some use it on diapers for obvious reasons – it disinfects soiled clothes, removes stains, and makes them smell better. Bleach even removes the hated horrible mildew smell from clothes.

The advantages of using chlorine bleach are equally weighed down by its disadvantages of it – the ecological impact of it on the environment, the adverse effects of its fumes on our health, and the disintegration of fabric fibers, to name them.

You can get this in powder form or liquid form. And the liquid form is the most convenient form of bleach to use on fabric. 

liquid bleach in a plastic bottle.

Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach is based on hydrogen peroxide and is available in a powder form. 

Oxygen bleach works the same way as chlorine bleach. The difference is that it is not as damaging to the fibers of your fabric as chlorine bleach. And it does not fade the colors of the cloth, which is why you will find the label “color safe” on this bleach. It brightens clothes. You can safely use it in your favorite clothes again and again without much damage. 

Safety Precautions – Some do’s  and don’ts when using bleach on your clothes


1. Do dilute bleach to minimize the de-coloring effect and the harmful effect.

2. Do use chlorine bleach on natural fibers like cotton, and linen and on synthetic and permanent press fabrics rayon, acetate, polyester.

3. Do a pretest on the fabric to see if the fabric is suitable for bleaching – mix the bleach solution and place one drop in an inconspicuous place. Wait for 1 minute. If there is a problem you will know.

4. Do use rubber gloves on hands to protect your hands – bleach is damaging to your skin. You skin will wrinkle up in no time with exposure to even diluted bleach. 

5. Do use a mask on your nose when using bleach if you have allergies. Prolonged inhalation can cause damage. I would suggest using a respirator. 

6. Do check the laundry care label of the clothing before bleaching -if the following sign which says ‘no bleach’ is there on the care label – never bleach

washing symbols on clothes

7. Do follow the bleaching instructions on the packet of your bleach.

8. Do mix the bleach to the water thoroughly and then add clothes – never undiluted bleach. 

9. Do remove all traces of bleach from clothes. Rinse many times in clean water and wash as usual with detergent. You can use a solution of Hydrogen Peroxide as a neutralizing agent to stop the effect of chlorine bleach.  

10. Do be careful that you do not get even a drop of the bleach solution on the clothes you are wearing. The bleach droplets can cause bleach spots on bright clothes, which look ghastly. Rinse the fabric which got bleach in a large quantity of water very thoroughly, and immediately.

11. Do remove any metallic buttons and such embellishments from the cloth before bleaching. 

Do not’s in using bleach on fabric

12. Do not use bleach on colored fabric, especially if they are not colorfast. The bleach damages the colors of the colored clothes irreparably, as it reacts chemically with most pigments and dyes used to color garments.

13. Do not use chlorine bleach on protein fibers like wool and silk and luxury woolen clothes like cashmere, spandex or on leather, vinyl, pleather, plastic, or fiberglass. Never use on NYLON. Yellowing, a severe weakening of fiber, stiffening, etc., are consequences.

14. Do not keep the fabric in hot bleach solution for more than 5 minutes and in cold beach solution for no more than 10 minutes.

15. Do not use bleach regularly and frequently on the same clothes, even white ones; white clothes can turn yellow with overuse.  

16. Do not (ever) mix chlorine bleach with any other cleaning products. And not with Vinegar – the chlorine gas it produces is dangerous.

17. Do not use metal containers to mix bleach or use it. Use plastic or glass.

18. Do not use bleach if the water has high iron traces or acidic water. Chlorine doesnot work in acidic water. Chlorine solution is highly alkaline and has a ph value above 9.

using bleach to lighten clothes in the laundry.

How much chlorine bleach  should you use

 For spot cleaning 

Instead of using bleach on the whole garment, you can spot clean the stain.You can mix equal parts of liquid chlorine bleach and water. Use an eye dropper to drop the mix on the stain. Rub if necessary with a tooth brush. Wash as usual.

 For soaking

Mix one tablespoon household liquid bleach to one cup of cold water. If this is not enough for soaking your garment increase proportionately. Soak as usual for some time. Wash as usual. Do not wash this clothing along with coloured fabrics 

How to use oxygen bleach. 

You can mix oxygen bleach in water or sprinkle the product directly on the stain and dip the fabric in hot water. The clothes may have to be soaked in this bleach for some time as per the instructions on the package, if the stain is tough. Do a pretest in case you suspect that the colour of the fabric may run.

Nowadays some detergents come premixed with oxygen bleach.

How to make your own bleach alternatives.

You can make your own bleach solution at home, but let me tell you, nothing is as effective as bleach.

For a quick alternative, take a solution of washing soda and boiling water. There are other alternatives for bleach. 

Method 1 Mix chloride of lime with cold water. Let this mixture stand till it settles down.Now separate this clear liquid to another mug. Add it to the washing soda solution.

Allow the precipitate to settle and then strain off the clean liquid.

Store in coloured bottles.

Method 2 Buy Hydrogen Peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide (3%) is mostly available at medicine stores as an antiseptic. 
Take 1.5 tbsp hydrogen peroxide and mix with 1 cup of  water. Add 2 drops of ammonia to this. Soak the garment in this solution. Hydrogen Peroxide as it is may damage fabric so use with caution and plenty of dilution.

Method 3 Sodium hypochlorite can be used when diluted in hot water as a bleaching solution.

Method 4 You can also  dissolve 1/2 tbsp dishwash liquid soap in 4 cups of warm water. Add 2 drops of ammonia in this. Soak the garment in this for some time

You can use Ammonia as such in the wash along with detergent. It does not fade the color of clothes when diluted and removes stains to an extend. (Do not mix ammonia with chlorine bleach – never). But if you do not like strong smells stay away from Ammonia.

Method 5 You can also try using Vinegar in the wash for its bleaching properties. The problem is that Vinegar undiluted can be as dangerous for fabric fibers as bleach, so use diluted. Never use vinegar with bleach.

Method 6 Lemon juice does have some bleaching capacity. Of course not a replacement for bleach in its strength and effectiveness.

Method 7  Mix borax and caustic soda with hydrogen peroxide and warm water. To use, dilute this solution in lots of water. Add some ammonia for more effectiveness.

Method 8 Dissolve 4 tsp of washing soda in 500 ml of boiling water. Dip the fabric in this solution when hot for about 10 minutes. Rinse thoroughly.

Method 9 Then there is the most natural of all bleaches – Sunlight. For small stains and discolouration, It is the best method of bleaching for cotton and linen. 

These are good bleach alternatives, which though should be tested before use on the actual garment.

Neutralizing effects of bleach

Bleach can damage fabric fibers, most times beyond repair. Distressing fabric requires you to use undiluted bleach for its beautiful discolouring effects but it is killing for your poor cloth. The worst thing is that bleach continues to corrode the fibers even after you have rinsed it off.

You can try a bleach neutralizer to reduce the negative impact. Check out this post on on bleach neutralizers.  

Ref : Some facts on chlorine 

Related posts : Stain removers ; How to keep white clothes white; How to remove blood stains ; How to remove ink stains

how to remove ink stains from clothes

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

6 thoughts on “Using bleach in laundry? 18 Guidelines & the best bleach alternatives”

  1. Yes that’s true, silks are so delicate fibres, should it be super diluted household bleach or diluted oxygen bleach, please clarify. Thank you.

    • Hi Nasreen
      Sorry, I think Silk fibers will be damaged with household bleach as well as oxygen bleach.

  2. Very helpful information, do you have any suggestions for bleaching some high quality silk crepe which I needed to dye in dark hues for my autumn collection. All this is spare fabric unused and I wish to tye and dye let the hue already on it minimally and bleach the background. Thank you

    • Hi
      Nothing but to dilute bleach very well and rinse thoroughly. Bleach can eat away at silk like anything.

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