A Study in White

I have a pet peeve about my clothes. I like them to stay in great condition so that they last. Whites are the toughest thing to keep clean. Add hard water to your water system makes it harder and now that 99% of detergents no longer have phosphates in them, it’s near impossible. Until now.

I did a lot of research because I was tired of my whites getting dingy grey and necks and armholes getting those yellow/brown stains from body oil. I found a lot of information, but they didn’t work on their own, it wasn’t until I combined them that I found a solution.

A key thing to know is this: most detergent companies removed phosphates from their detergents, due to how harmful they are to our water supply. The problem is, phosphates helped to soften the water and activate the soap to create suds in our laundry. This is what is key to keeping our clothes clean.

With so many washing machines being a high efficiency washer that uses very little water, your just not getting enough water to really create suds to wash your clothes. Hard water compounds this problem even further.

Adding a “water softener” solution (listed below) to your detergent helps make sure your water soft enough to get suds to keep your whites clean (and I’ll use it in dedicates and sanitary items too, like towels, etc.) Even if you have a whole house water softener, it may not be enough.

There is two parts to keeping whites or light colored clothing clean. 1) Existing issues; 2) Preventative care. I am going to address both of these.

First, let me tell you my setup.

  • I have a high efficiency washer and dryer (front loading Whirlpool Duets).
  • I have hard water, so I have a whole house water softener from Culligan (which, not surprisingly is also a high efficiency softener).

My washer has a few places to put detergent/solutions.

  • the main detergent cup,
  • a Pre-wash cup;
  • Bleach;
  • Fabric Softener (which I do not use, I use an “in dryer” system.)

Whether doing Existing or Preventative, I always wash on my whites on “Whitest Whites” which is the settings:

  • “Hot wash/Cold Rinse”: The hottest temperature you can wash, with a cold rinse is key!
  • “Extra Rinse”: This is also key, as there isn’t enough water in the rinse cycle to get all that dingy wash water out of your clothes. By not doing this, this is how your whites get dingy grey.
  • Pre-Wash: Mine doesn’t do this automatically in the setting, but I always set it on “Pre Wash” as well.

Next, these are the various detergents and solutions I use for my whites and light colored clothing. (See the gallery below) You don’t need to use these exact brands, but they have worked so far.

  • Main Detergent: Wisk Deep Clean
  • Pre-wash Power Boost: Oxi Clean Free Powder
  • Water Softener Agent: Calgon Water Softener
  • Stain Pre-treat: Oxi-Clean Max Force Gel Stick
  • Preventative/Stain Pre-treat: Oxy-Clean Max Force Spray
  • White Brightener: Mrs. Stewarts Liquid Bluing
  • Bleach: Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Soaking Power Boost: Baking Soda

First, let me explain preventative care, since that is a short “laundry list” of items to do.

  1. Pre-treat any major stains with the Oxi-Clean Gel stick
  2. Spray any potential brown spot areas with the Oxi-Clean Max Force Spray (armholes, necks, backs and chests)
  3. Load your whites or light colored items (sky blue, etc.) and make sure you do NOT overfill. Especially if you have an HE washer. If its a front loading, it should just reach the top of the “window” in the door. Remember that it uses VERY little water to wash. If you overfill, you don’t have enough water to adequately wash your clothes.
  4. Put in 3/4 capfull Calgon Water Softener where you would put your main detergent. Experiment, you may need more or less depending on how bad the stains are. As long as I see lots of suds in my wash, I know I am good.
  5. Put in your Wisk Detergent. I put in a little more than a normal wash, just to make sure that I have enough soap to create suds. Mine says to use the #2 line, so I may put in #3 amount, if they are stuff that I soaked, or have some big stains.
  6. Put in a SMALL scoop of Oxi-Clean powder in your pre-wash spot. If you don’t have one, then put it in the wash tub with your clothes. The scoop that comes with it is way too big, I put in about 1/4 of that square scoop
  7. If you feel you may need it, just to be safe, then put in Hydrogen Peroxide where you would put your bleach. (follow your machine’s instructions for how much, mine says 1/3 cup).
  8. OPTIONAL: If I want my whites a little brighter, I will place a 1/4 cup full of diluted Bluing agent (mixed according to its instructions) in with my detergent. (Or more if there is more clothes in there)

For “Exisiting” issues, this requires a soak. And depending on how bad the clothes are, this can take several days. I have a dedicated plastic tub that I use to soak clothes and this is what I do (this is all based on a 11″Lx18″Wx6″D tub, adjust accordingly to your tub):

  1. Fill the tub 1/2-3/4 with VERY HOT water. (You want to submerge your items, but not overflow your tub once you put them in)
  2. Put in a cap full of Calgon Water Softener
  3. Put in a 1/4 cup of Baking Soda
  4. Put in a 1/4 scoop of Oxi-Clean Powder
  5. Put in a cap full of Wisk Detergent (#2 line in the cap)
  6. Put in a a LOT of Hydrogen Peroxide. Depending on how much I am soaking, I may put in a whole “standard size” bottle, or half of a “large” bottle. Remember that this is a gentle bleach, so it takes more than normal bleach
  7. I then mix these all together
  8. I pretreat any existing stains with a mixture of Baking Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide paste. I use a toothbrush to scrub them into the stain. If this is a second round for a shirt and that paste didn’t seem to work on it, I may try treating it with the Oxi-Clean Spray and/or Gel stick, just for giggles.
  9. I then place the items in the soaking tub. I only place enough items to submerge in the water, but not to soak up all the water, to where I would have to add more water to the tub, because then I am diluting what I just put in and then it’s not fully mixed)
  10. Every hour or so, I swish the clothes around and try and get the water moving.
  11. I will then leave this for at least two days or longer if the clothes were REALLY bad.
  12. I then wash them all using the “Preventative” list above.

This may not fully get out the brown stains or really hard stains (especially if they have already been washed and dried), but it should lighten them greatly. I’ve noticed that if I can catch a brown stain soon enough (or if I spot it after coming right out of the washing machine) then it mostly will come out after soaking and washing again.

I discovered the soaking works, because I had a white shirt and a sky-blue shirt that I had laundered for over 6-months that just were dingy and the blue shirt was turning a green from yellowing and had “clean spots” where I had removed food stains. I couldn’t wear them out in public. I soaked them both (and forgot about the soaking for three-four days) and when I laundered them, the white shirt was 90% whiter (except for the underarms–those stains were too “set”) and the blue shirt was like brand new! You couldn’t see the yellowing or “clean spots” anymore.

I also sort my clothes and wash everything else a very specific way. If you too want to preserve your clothes, I have put together a list of sorting/setting for clothes. I made it so that my children would know how to properly sort clothes and wash them. You can get the Clothing List by clicking there. (Note: I do my towels/hand towels separate from my rags, since once is used for the face, etc. and the other usually is used with chemicals.)

View photos at SmugMug

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