Help, Heloise. These Sheets are Yellow.
March 12, 2010 3:08 PM   Subscribe

Just inherited some lovely, but dirty old bed linens. Need advice on how to restore them.

The bed linens in question are yellowed, largely from never really being changed--we think they remained on the bed for months. In a few cases, the linens have taken on a translucent appearance. What I want to do is just restore these back to a state where they are white again and don't smell like old oil paintings.

Bleach alone doesn't seem to do the trick.

And I'm also not interested in hearing how gross this is. I am fully aware. Call it a labor of love for someone who means a lot to me.
posted by yellowcandy to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
i think you'll need to order it but Didi Seven used to be pretty awesome when it was widely available ten years ago.

We use Oxy Clean for everything, but my gut is that if bleach isn't doing it, Oxy Clean won't either. But that might be worth a shot too.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:27 PM on March 12, 2010

They have a translucent appearance and smell like old oil painting? That, to me, sounds like much more than dirty linens. Were they used for some other purpose that you know of?
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:28 PM on March 12, 2010

Hot wash. As hot as you can get it. Linen can take a lot of abuse. Add water softener to the wash if your water is at all hard. Use an enzymatic (UK: biological) detergent. And linen should be bleached with oxygen-based bleach rather than chlorine. Then dry in bright sunlight if you can manage it.

Good luck!
posted by stuck on an island at 3:30 PM on March 12, 2010

Well when I've had linens that needed serious cleaning that OxiClean two times through a HOT washer didn't resolve I've used my bathtub and "Yellow-Out" that I added to a bathtub full of hot water over night to two days depending on how bad things were. It usually did the trick.

I never spot test first because if it didn't work I was going to throw out the linens anyway but you might want to try a pillow case first to see how it turns out.

Oh, and the soaking water may turn PINK, RED or even green-blue, dont' panic. It's part of the smelly process.
posted by saradarlin at 3:32 PM on March 12, 2010

I washed my great-grandmother's white cotton wedding dress, which was quite yellow, in OxiClean and it turned white. So if you haven't tried OxiClean that's where I'd start: it's really good at this sort of thing.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:56 PM on March 12, 2010

Use a detergent with optical brighteners, such as Cheer powder, or All with stain lifters. Bleach with an oxygen type bleach, such as OxiClean or Clorox 2. Dry/air extensively in sunlight.

If, after several cycles of this wash regime, discoloration remains, try a cycle or two without the bleach, and with a detergent that doesn't contain optical brightners, and add some old-fashioned bluing. But first, try modern detergents with brighteners, and sunlight, to their fullest extent. The combination, over time, is pretty powerful.
posted by paulsc at 4:20 PM on March 12, 2010

I think the above advice is pretty comprehensive, but if nothing else works, you could consider trying vinegar.
I've recommended vinegar twice this week in AskMe. Odd, because I don't even use it myself that often-- but when I do (for cleaning the coffeemaker, soap scum on the shower wall) it totally works.
Lots of firsthand reviews out there for laundry purposes. Good luck!

posted by mireille at 4:28 PM on March 12, 2010

Ignore all the above; boil them in dye remover. They will be white in fifteen minutes with no harm done to the fabric, I absolutely promise.
posted by kmennie at 4:48 PM on March 12, 2010

If these bed linens are very old, or are fragile, then wash in Orvus and use Sodium Perborate to get out the yellow.
posted by gudrun at 5:04 PM on March 12, 2010

"Ignore all the above; boil them in dye remover. They will be white in fifteen minutes with no harm done to the fabric, I absolutely promise."
posted by kmennie at 7:48 PM on March 12

Rit and similar dye removers work by reductive discharge, a different chemical process than bleaching. But, neutralization of color by reductive discharge is pretty specific to man made dye stuffs, not body soils and fiber aging (yellowing).
posted by paulsc at 5:09 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

What are they made of? Are they synthetic or a natural fibre? Makes a big difference. Please advise?

Synthetics discolour (and bleach can actually increase this), absorb odours - especially of the bodily sort - and when the blends wear, the fibres wear at different rates depending on their components, often leading to that translucent appearance.

For my part, I always like adding Borax for the boost, Baking Soda for odours and as was said, sunshine - especially if they're cotton or linen.
posted by peagood at 8:32 PM on March 12, 2010

I've de-yellowed a number of vintage garments with dye remover with great success. Synthetics and non; I was amazed at the success with synthetics, but. It does get the yellow out. Also removes some general "dinge" (speaking as somebody with terrible well water -- I use a lot of dye remover).
posted by kmennie at 9:49 PM on March 12, 2010

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