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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Chlorine Bleach

By Dr. Laundry October 28, 2010

Q. I have a pair of white linen pants and want to launder and bleach them. The label reads “do not use chlorine bleach;” can I or can I not use Clorox® Regular-Bleach on fabrics with a similar label. I am really confused.

A. This is a really interesting question. While most white textiles can be safely bleached, some cannot, so it is important to proceed with caution. The fact that your white linen pants are labeled “do not use chlorine bleach” is actually odd because this language is actually unacceptable to the Federal Trade Commission, which has a pretty specific protocol for bleachability labeling. Since the pants’ manufacturer is not following government standards for care label language, I wonder if the pants were actually tested. You can do this yourself: dilute 2 tsp of Clorox® Regular-Bleach in ¼ cup water and apply a drop to a hidden part of the garment, like the inside of the waistband. Blot dry and check for discoloration. No color change means the linen can be safely bleached. However, if there is any yellowing, or if the pants are lined and the fabric lining doesn’t also pass the same bleachability test, then I would use Clorox2® Stain Remover and Color Booster.

By the way, FTC guidelines for bleach labeling are as follows:


  • “If all commercially available bleaches can be used on a regular basis without harming the product, the label does not have to mention bleach.”

  • If using chlorine bleach on a regular basis would harm the product, but using non-chlorine bleach on a regular basis would not, the label must say, “Only non-chlorine bleach, when needed.”

  • If all commercially available bleaches would harm the product when used on a regular basis, the label must say “No bleach” or “Do not bleach.”