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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Bleach and Hard Water/Removing Baby Food Stains – Canada

By Dr. Laundry November 20, 2009

Q. I have hard water and I know not to use bleach as it yellows whites. I do have a water softener, and a system that removes the rust, iron and manganese from the water.

Do you have a product I could use that has the same properties as bleach, but does not yellow my whites?

Also I have a baby that started eating food — how do I clean carrot puree from her clothes? Some are white, some are colored and mostly all are cotton. What is the best stain remover (that I can use in hard water)?

A. Hard water with metals and liquid bleach such as Clorox® Original Concentrated Bleach are not a good combination. The water softener, properly maintained, may allow you to use liquid bleach on your whites without generating the brown, yellow reaction products that end up depositing on clothes. And, our Clorox® Original Concentrated Bleach has a polymer to catch and suspend these metals to prevent them from reacting with the sodium hypochlorite active.

Now for the fun part, baby food stains can be some of the toughest to successfully remove. Carrots and beets are so highly pigmented that they are always at the top of the hard-to-remove list, so to improve your chances of success, remove as much of the stain material as possible as soon as possible. Generally, I suggest a quick rinse right after eating by running under cool water, and trying not to rub more of the stain into the fabric. The more we keep it as a surface rather than ground-in stain the better removal you’re likely to achieve. Right before you wash (again, dried out stains will be harder to get completely out) you should pretreat using Clorox 2® Laundry Stain Fighter, our milder oxygen bleach based on hydrogen peroxide. I would use the Sensitive Skin version if you are concerned about sensitive skin, as the dye and fragrance have been removed. Simply apply to the carrot spots, rub in, wait 3–5 minutes, then wash in the warmest water recommended on the care label using detergent and Clorox 2. Check for success after washing and before you dry so that you can retreat the item if needed. After drying, these stains really can be difficult/impossible to get out.

The Clorox 2 is probably your best option for all your clothes. The oxygen bleach will not react with the metals to create the problems you were concerned about with liquid bleach. In fact, for hard water you might want to try the powdered Clorox 2 version, since it has special ingredients to help complex water hardness and will boost the cleaning power of your detergent. Always make sure any powder is thoroughly dissolved before adding laundry to the washer to prevent residue deposits on finished laundry.