How can I keep a white shirt white?
May 2, 2016 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Generally I avoid white clothing, but I recently acquired a few nice blouses--plain white, white with dots, white with stripes--and I'd like to keep them nice. But all I know to do with white things is bleach them. How do you keep your white clothes white, particularly if they're not all white (i.e. patterned)? What actually works?

Google turned up a bunch of sponsored content or otherwise "buy this product" advice. I'm looking for simple, doable steps like "dab some baking soda over here before you put it in the wash."

My specific issue is with makeup on the collars. After walking and sweating just the tiniest bit this afternoon, the top of my white shirt is beige with makeup. How do you avoid that? And I see what appears to be a fleck of mustard elsewhere on the shirt. Of course.

If you wear white clothes and they look nice after repeated wear, how do you do that? Any tips and tricks welcome. Thanks!!
posted by witchen to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, OxiClean. Soak the clothes for a few hours in the recommended diluted amount, then wash them normally.
posted by moons in june at 1:57 PM on May 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

1. Don't bleach them, bleach weakens the fibers of your clothes.
2. Don't wash white garments with colors. Instead, make a load of beige/light grey/white clothes. Wash those all together with no colors.
3. Don't wash towels with clothes.
4. Be especially mindful of any oils from your skin on your clothes because oil attracts and holds onto dirt.
5. Yes to vinegar in the wash, and sure, baking soda can also help.
6. As for the makeup stuff, I don't know in detail, as I avoid makeup myself. The makeup probably has an oil or something in it that will grab onto dirt, so definitely spot treat as soon as you get home. Wet the garment, give the spot a scrub with some strain product (I don't have much storage space, so I just use a tiny dab of detergent when I have a stain removal need.) I rinse the detergent out and then put the item someplace where it can dry before I add it into the laundry bag.
7. For pits, I use a vinegar and baking soda paste just about every other wash. If I wait until there are noticeable pit stains, it is game over for the shirt.
posted by bilabial at 1:58 PM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am Devoted to Bleach but honestly, for clothes, OxiClean is better. Just add a scoop to every white load. In the case of prints, I haven't noticed OxiClean fading colors, but I also don't typically add it to loads of black/dark clothes. The directions say it works best in warm/hot water but you can also dissolve the powder in hot water before adding it to a cold-water load.

I only have experience with OxiClean powder; they also have some pre-wash treatments that might work for you.
posted by kate blank at 1:58 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wash in hot water, about half the detergent indicated by the package and Oxi-whatever.

Treat all stains when you get them, there are portable pens you can carry with you for this purpose.

Even then...resign yourself to the fact that one of these shirts will get ruined.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:00 PM on May 2, 2016

7. For pits, I use a vinegar and baking soda paste just about every other wash. If I wait until there are noticeable pit stains, it is game over for the shirt.

If pit staining is a problem for you, stop wearing antiperspirant. We sweat everywhere, but the only place that gets stained from it is armpits. It's not some magical inherent staining property of armpit sweat, but rather antiperspirant chemicals building up and getting nasty over time.

Switch to a product without the ammonium-zirco-tetrahy-whatever and pit stains will be a relic of your past.
posted by phunniemee at 2:12 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been washing my whites with baking soda and rinsing with vinegar after watching this video. I'm very happy with the results.
posted by Dragonness at 2:27 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

The OxiClean spray is miraculous stuff. I'd just blast the make-up and mustard with that, forget it until my next wash day, and be sure it would come out; it's that good.

If you have a really bad accident with an all-white garment, go to the dye section of the dept/drug/sewing store, and buy dye remover and simmer it in that until it returns to white.

If you have dingy white things, hang them in your sunniest window for as long as possible.

Most modern detergents are designed to work well in all temps; hot isn't as important for whites as people used to believe.
posted by kmennie at 2:29 PM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

We have an HE washer. I sort the whites and put them in with Oxiclean detergent (HE version) on the whitest whites cycle, which means it is the longest cycle and is with hot water. So far that is doing very well at keeping my whites pristine.
posted by bearwife at 2:40 PM on May 2, 2016

I was shocked, but oxiclean actually works.
posted by Toddles at 2:51 PM on May 2, 2016

Nthing OxiClean. I wear a white shirt nearly every day and couldn't live without OxiClean. I usually just run the washer to get a few inches of water in there, add half a scoop of the powder, then soak the clothes for an hour or so as maintenance. But for stains I will pretreat with either one of the premade solutions (I have both the gel and the spray--seriously, I am a fanatic) or by making a paste from the powder.

Two caveats. First, you aren't supposed to use OxiClean on protein fibers, so no silk or wool. I have switched to polyester and rayon blouses because of this (frankly I just don't find silk that comfortable anyway). Second, I've had some issues with colors and prints transferring if there isn't enough water for the clothes to move around freely. So you may be tempted to use less water when soaking so the solution is more concentrated, but don't do that with prints. Add more powder instead.
posted by mama casserole at 2:51 PM on May 2, 2016

>We sweat everywhere, but the only place that gets stained from it is armpits
I thought this was true too, but the necks and backs of my guy's shirts taught me otherwise.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:00 PM on May 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you use dryer sheets, consider ditching them (not just for the sake of your white shirts, but in general). They work by coating everything with a thin layer of a waxy substance, which over time can trap certain odors and stains. Vinegar in the wash also functions as a fabric softener, and I find lessens the static a bit, too.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 3:09 PM on May 2, 2016

I've probably told this story before, but...

I got married in my great-grandmother's white cotton lawn wedding dress, from about 1913. After she got married in it, my mother's bridesmaid wore the dress at my mother's wedding. Since then, the wedding dress had been stored in my grandmother's (now my mother's) camphor chest.

So when I took it out to look at it in 2002, when I got married, the dress was...dingy. Pretty yellowed. All over, but especially the pits. We didn't want to take it to a dry-cleaner's because I was worried it would get damaged.

So I put it in the bathtub with a scoop of OxiClean and left it there overnight. Changed the water, new scoop of OxiClean, another overnight soak...and it was totally white and beautiful.

Also, OxiClean is fantastic on blood and baby poop. (I don't know about makeup, though.)

I just toss a scoop into every load on general principles, and don't bother to separate my whites and colors very often. For big stains (e.g., the blood all over my daughter's dress from her epic bloody nose), I make a stronger solution (one scoop in a washbasin) and let the clothes sit overnight.

Don't let it sit overnight in your nice enamel pot, though.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:28 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a pretty high-maintenance white/ivory/powder blue laundry care routine:
  • I pre-treat with Shout around the collar as soon as I get home.
  • Right before I wash, I use dish detergent and an old toothbrush on anything that I suspect is an oil-based stain (including makeup).
  • I keep acetone-based nail polish remover on hand for ink stains.
  • I soak most of my lights in an OxiClean powder and hot water solution overnight. If it's a shirt with a print, I'll soak it separately in a salad bowl or something similar to avoid colour transfer.
  • I've avoided buying light-coloured shirts made of silk or wool because they're not OxiClean-compatible, so now I have a closet full of viscose. Yay?
  • I usually don't tumble-dry whites and light colours; I want to avoid ending up with a set-in stain if I don't do a 100% job of stain removal.
  • When I lived in a place with particularly hard water, I used Calgon Water Softener in my wash cycles to help get my whites brighter without marinating them in OxiClean for hours.
Even with all this pomp and circumstance, it's not perfect. I still manage to ruin shirts from time to time so I've stocked up on a lot of white shirts on sale.
posted by blerghamot at 7:59 PM on May 2, 2016

Response by poster: Oh, my gosh, this has all been so helpful. THANK YOU! As soon as I got home from work I dropped a glob of salsa on this shirt, and ran to the store for emergency Oxiclean. I'm optimistic that this shirt will make it. And the routines (specifically step by step by step ones) are very, very helpful. My shirts and dignity and I thank you.
posted by witchen at 8:21 PM on May 2, 2016

My husband wears white undershirts that get disgusting cakey pit stains. For the record, he has never worn antipersperant, only Old Spice Original deodorant, which is also without aluminium. The ONLY thing that has worked, which I actually believe I read about here years ago, is Simple Green spray on the pits after he takes the shirt off and before it goes in the laundry basket.
posted by Brittanie at 8:58 AM on May 3, 2016

Switch to a product without the ammonium-zirco-tetrahy-whatever and pit stains will be a relic of your past.

I wish this were true! I am a big, sweaty, smelly, oily dude who hasn't worn antiperspirant or deodorant of any kind in more than a decade. I bathe daily, and sometimes toss some starch/body powder on my armpits if I have to (let's say) be in a suit all day in a humid summer city. I am grossed out by how much body oil ends up on my shirt collars and armpits, which then attracts dirt like a magnet.

I don't wear white tees, but a lot of my dress clothes are light colors. Since these aren't daily heavy wear garments, I tend to make a point of dry cleaning them after each wear. That helps, but doesn't solve the problem entirely. After a year or so, my white shirt collars inevitably get visibly gross.

Upside: then I cut them up and use them in quilts. Lemonade!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:42 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

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