Disinfecting Clothing and HE Washer

Q. I'm looking for something to run in my HE washer with colors so that any germs are compromised. What do I use? Can't I just use your regular bleach for HE machines on my colors? I heard I could add it ten minutes into the cycle or something; does that help and when exactly do I put it in? Does Clorox® 2 Stain Fighter & Color Booster have bleach in it?

A. Before addressing your questions, here’s a little background. For any laundry product to claim to disinfect it must pass a series of tests and register with the EPA. Clorox® Regular-Bleach has done this, so when consumers follow label instructions they can be confident they are eliminating germs and bacteria in their laundry and clothes washer. Clorox® Regular-Bleach is for white items or bleachable colored items made with dyes or fibers not damaged by the sodium hypochlorite active (so no bleaching wool, silk, mohair, spandex or leather whether it is white or not). Unfortunately, there is currently not a product for disinfecting any and all colored laundry items. Clorox2® Stain Fighter & Color Booster has a different bleach active, hydrogen peroxide, which is a much weaker bleach and therefore safe for colors. However, it doesn’t meet EPA disinfecting requirements.

Now, to your questions. There are definitely some colored fabrics than can be safely bleached with Clorox® Regular-Bleach, and it is only minimally based on how long the fabric is exposed to the bleach in the wash water. It mostly depends on which type of dye was used to color the fabric. You can easily test bleachability as follows:


  • Mix a test solution by diluting 2 tsp Clorox® Regular-Bleach in ¼ cup water

  • Apply a drop to a hidden part of the item such as an inside hem, cuff, or seam and then blot dry

  • No color change means the item can be safely bleached

I have had success safely bleaching light colored linens and towels, and 100% polyester fleece, to name a few items. For items that don’t pass the bleachability test, you can try the following techniques to at least reduce the germ count.


  • Wash in the hottest water recommended on the item’s care label

  • Wash any items of particular concern separately from other items to avoid germ transfer, and consider washing them twice

  • Use the hottest dryer setting recommended on the care label, and dry items separately or at least with some white towels so the items tumble properly in the dryer.

  • Finally, follow up with a washer clean-out cycle with ¾ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach to be sure the clothes washer is disinfected and germs don’t transfer to other loads. In fact, clothes washer manufacturers recommend doing this!

Finally, to your question on adding bleach 10 minutes after the cycle has started, without knowing what type of clothes washer you have, I can’t confirm you will disinfect or improve color retention compared to using the bleach dispenser and following manufacturer’s instructions. This goes back to the EPA requirements, which are based on test protocols and results that ultimately become label instructions. That’s why we consistently recommend that consumers follow label instructions to disinfect. That said, in a standard washer you can delay addition of ¾ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach by 5 minutes and still achieve disinfectancy, and this should improve color retention on dyes that are only slightly susceptible to fading with bleach. With an HE washer, always use the bleach dispenser, filling it to the “max-fill” line, and let the machine delay the addition for you.

Posted to by Dr. Laundry 0