Skip to content
Drop in on Dr. Laundry

Dr Laundry Blog

Detergent/Bleach Reaction

By Dr. Laundry February 21, 2013

I noticed when I mix Clorox® Regular-Bleach with my detergent, the water becomes orange. Why is this? Will Clorox® Regular-Bleach still sanitize my laundry when this happens?

It depends on whether you see the orange color for just a few seconds, or if it remains for the remainder of the wash cycle. If it’s an orange flash that lasts for a few seconds, then what you are observing is a reaction between the fluorescent whitening agents (also called brighteners) in the detergent with the sodium hypochlorite active in Clorox® Regular-Bleach. This happens to brighteners suspended in wash water, but it doesn’t happen with brighteners that have already deposited onto the fabric, by the way. Delaying the addition of bleach until 5 minutes after the wash cycle has begun is a great way to allow bleach adequate time to improve cleaning and whitening, as well as time for the brighteners to deposit onto the fabric. That’s why our “for best results” usage instructions recommend delaying the addition of bleach by either using a bleach dispenser with timed addition if your washer has one, or waiting and adding bleach that has been diluted in a quart of water manually.

Another possibility for the color change you observe is the presence of large amounts of metals (like iron and manganese) in your incoming water supply. These can react with the sodium hypochlorite active in bleach to form colored materials, so this could be what’s turning the water orange following the addition of bleach. When there’s a lot of metals present, over time clothing can actually become yellow or dingy from the build-up of the colored complexes on the fabric. If this is an issue for you, you might want to consider installing a water treatment/filtration system to remove impurities.

Regardless of the cause of the orange color, as long as you are using the recommended amount of bleach, you will be sanitizing your laundry. For regular size loads with an average soil level, add ½ cup New Concentrated Clorox® Regular-Bleach. For extra-large or heavily soiled loads, add up to 1 cup. And if you live in the western U.S. and (like me) can’t purchase the new concentrated product yet, then use ¾ cup to 1 ¼ cup of Clorox® Regular-Bleach depending on the size and soil level of your load.