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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Brown Water

By Dr. Laundry June 16, 2009

Q. I use Clorox bleach for my whites. I recently moved and since then when I add bleach to the water in my washer, it turns brown and turns all of my white clothes brown. Is there anything I can do or add to stop this from happening?

A. Sounds like you have minerals in the water supply or pipes. This is prevalent with well water and the amount can vary in intensity during the year.

You can have the water tested to determine the overall quality, which will help guide your choice(s) of solutions. A water softening system will usually be very helpful.

The metals can react with bleach, actually oxidizing them, to form more colorful material like the brown you described that unfortunately deposits on the clothes. After drying the clothes are essentially dyed with the colored material. Thus, I suspect the brownish/yellowed laundry is caused from metal contamination.

Thus, you will probably need to start using separate products to treat the wash water supply. For the clothes I have heard that products (e.g., IronOut®, Rit® Rust Remover, Summit Brands White Brite®, etc.) can be used to strip it away before drying. I would avoid bleach until the problem is resolved.