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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Clorox/Tide Reaction

By Dr. Laundry January 8, 2009

Q. I notice that when adding Clorox to wash water, which already has Tide in it, the water turns a rusty/orange color. (This color does not spread to my clothes). But when Clorox is added to the water without Tide, there is no change. What’s the cause?

A. Directly mixing Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 and Liquid Tide basically is a complex chemical reaction. The sodium hypochlorite active in Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 is a powerful oxidant and is looking for anything in the wash water, to react with. One ingredient in Liquid Tide that is available is the fluorescent whitening agents, also known as brighteners. The reaction between the Clorox and the Tide changes the chemical structure of this complex dye and creates what I call the “red flash.” The color observed is dependent on the type and amount of brightener present in the detergent. (So most likely the lower quality products will have a less intense/noticeable color.) As you observed, the color created by the reaction does NOT deposit on the clothes and after the bleach has done its usual great job, the clothes are still “nice and white.”

Ways to avoid this happening:

  • Use your bleach dispenser — it delays the addition of the bleach so the detergent brighteners have a chance to deposit on the fabrics.
  • Do the 5-minute delayed addition (mix 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in a quart of water, then pour into the washer 5 minutes after agitation begins). Again, this allows the detergent ingredients to begin working and the brighteners to deposit themselves on the fabric. Once it is on the fabric, the bleach does not react with it.