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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Bleach Myth Busting 101: Fabric Safety & Bleach

By Dr. Laundry July 7, 2006

Throughout my years, I’ve answered many questions about bleach and the safety of using it. Despite what you may be thinking, properly bleaching fabrics will not destroy them. There, I said it! And it’s not just because I work for Clorox. We’ve done what seems like a ton of fabric safety research at Clorox and outside labs.  When used as directed, we found it does NOT eat your clothing or ruin your washing machine. We’ll take a look at some of the common tall tales I’ve heard over the years about using bleach.  Let’s start with the most common one and save a couple for later.

Key Bleach Usage Hints:
The most important thing is to always read and follow label directions



  • Always use the proper amount



  • Never pour full-strength bleach directly on fabric. 



  • Dilute it using one of the three following methods




    • Adding to your bleach dispenser



    • Adding with the detergent as the washer water is filling, but BEFORE adding clothes



    • Diluting in a quart of water and adding 5 minutes into the wash cycle




MYTH: Bleach wears down fabric and shortens its lifespan. 
TRUTH: Fabrics will naturally deteriorate from wearing, washing and drying. Abrasion from normal wearing and contact with other items during washing and drying are the major contributors to fiber degradation.  So when your socks get holes at the toes or when your t-shirt stretches out, most of the wearing out occurs just by being worn. 

We evaluated a wide range of normally bleached items- socks, underwear, towels, bed sheets, t-shirts, dress shirts and baseball pants.  Our lab tests have shown no significant difference in fabric damage after 50 wash cycles between detergent alone and detergent and liquid bleach.  So what we have shown in our testing is liquid bleach does not significantly reduce the life of fabric when used as directed. 

MYTH: If a garment label says don’t use bleach, do not bleach it. 
TRUTH: It’s a shame but a lot of manufacturers will actually under-label items to minimize any legal liability.  We know almost all cotton whites and most synthetic whites are safe to wash in liquid bleach.  If a label on your whites says not to use bleach, use my bleachability test and test it in a hidden area.

Not everything is bleachable.  Remember to check the label. I don’t recommend bleaching wool, silk, mohair, leather, spandex and non-colorfast colors.