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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Bleach Stains: Your Questions

By Dr. Laundry October 15, 2008

Q: I used Clorox Bleach on some new white men’s briefs. They turned yellow. I have never had this to happen before. Do you know what may have caused this?

A: It would have been helpful if you indicated how the bleach was used to narrow down the possibilities for you, and whether the yellowing was spotted or more uniform. Here’s my best guesses.

First, I NEVER recommend using Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 full-strength on any item or surface. Hopefully you did not do this treating a specific area/stain. It should always be diluted because it is so strong. If unrinsed, it can actually cause little holes in the garment. That can happen if there is accidental liquid bleach spillage and someone brushes against the washer.

If you touched up a stained area, you could have destroyed the fabric whiteners in that area, which would be seen as a yellow spot. Not much you can do for this problem, but repeated washing may lessen the yellow appearance.

The most likely culprit is poor water quality with metals (iron or manganese) in the water or pipes. Summer is notorious for sudden changes in water quality and is more pronounced in rural or well water areas. These react with the sodium hypochlorite active in Clorox® Regular-Bleach1, forming more colored materials that deposit on the clothes. After drying, the clothes are essentially dyed with the colored material. If all the items have a uniform discoloration, then this is the most likely cause.

Also, I assume this product did NOT have polyacrylate to help complex the metals. You may need to start using separate products to treat the wash water supply — here, we use IronOut — as sometimes the hot water heater can also have build-up. For the clothes, a separate product can be used to strip the discoloration away.