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.)

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