Bleach is useful for keeping your clothes looking fresh and bright. It can also be bad news for your favourite shirt if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you aren’t used to it, using bleach may be a little intimidating—so here’s how to do so with confidence while doing (not ruining) your laundry.
The different types of bleach
Bleach can be separated into two categories: chlorinated bleach and non-chlorinated bleach, sometimes called oxygen bleach or colour safe bleach. Chlorinated bleach is a really powerful disinfectant, but it doesn’t work well for a lot of fabric types, so it is typically just used for white fabrics. Non-chlorinated bleach, or colour fast bleach, is safer to use on a lot more types of fabrics. Unlike chlorinated bleach, it won’t damage colours or patterns on most types of fabrics.
For all the laundry and disinfecting novices out there, a warning: Never, ever mix bleach with ammonia, which can be found in many cleaning products, including many types of glass and window cleaners, multipurpose cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, shining waxes or oven and drain cleaners. Mixing bleach with ammonia creates dangerous, toxic fumes that could seriously hurt or kill you.
How to tell if clothing is bleach safe
If you look at the tags on your clothing, you’ll notice some little symbols. One of the symbols is a triangle, which indicates if this article of clothing can be bleached, and with which type. An open triangle means it is safe to bleach with chlorinated bleach, a triangle with two lines through it means it is safe to bleach with non-chlorinated bleach, while a triangle with an X through it means it isn’t safe to be bleached.
If the tag is missing, you can test whether it is safe to bleach by mixing two tsp of bleach with ¼ cup of water. Then, apply a small drop to an inconspicuous spot. After one minute, blot dry and look at the spot. If the colour has been altered or the fabric looks compromised, don’t wash it with bleach.
Sort laundry into whites, lights and dark colours
When using bleach, you’ll want to sort your laundry into three separate batches: whites, lights and darks. All-white laundry can be bleached with chlorinated bleach. For coloured laundry, sort the clothing into lights and darks, as the dye from darker clothing could stain the lighter clothing. Wash the light and dark clothes in two separate loads, both with non-chlorinated or colour fast bleach. For all colours of fabric, you’ll want to wash them at the highest temperatures suitable according to their labels, as bleach works best at higher temperatures.
How and when to add bleach
Most washing machines will have a bleach dispenser that adds the bleach at the right time in the wash cycle. For high-efficiency machines, the little bleach dispenser will be tucked in among the detergent and fabric softener dispenser. You’ll want to fill the dispenser right up to the line. For these types of washing machines, this is the only way you can add bleach to your load of laundry, as you can’t open the door mid-cycle.
For older, top-loading machines, the bleach dispenser is that little triangle shaped crevice in the corner of the top of the machine, to which you’ll add ¾ cup of bleach for the average-sized load.
If you don’t have a bleach dispenser, you can dilute ¾ cups of bleach with 1 quart of water and add it 5 minutes into the wash cycle, in order to give the detergent a little time to work first.
Once you’ve finished washing and drying, enjoy the feeling of wearing bright, fresh clothing. It’s certainly an improvement over the usual quarantine wardrobe of sweatpants and a ratty old t-shirt.