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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Extra White Spots on a White Shirt

By Dr. Laundry April 22, 2011

Q: In the past I’ve used the Clorox® Bleach Pen® Gel when I’ve had stains on certain white shirts on which I’m hesitant to wash with regular chlorine bleach. The last time I did that the stain disappeared but the small portion of the fabric where the stain had been became even whiter than the rest of the shirt. Additionally, these shirts are truly white, not off-white or a similar color. At any rate, why did it happen, and how can I avoid it in the future?

A: If you wear and wash a shirt with detergent alone, the shirt can accumulate residual body soil overtime. By itself the shirt seems white, but in reality it is no longer its original “color”. This gradual color change became apparent when the bleach pen not only removed the stain, but also the built up, residual soil. A previous post (http://www.drlaundryblog.com/?p=96), shows how much additional soil is removed by using detergent and Clorox® Regular-Bleach than detergent alone. Combine these single-cycle differences over time, and one can end up with a white spot on a “white” shirt after pre-treating a stain.
Thankfully, a bleach pre-soak should help to even out the shades of white. Dilute ¼ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach in 1 gallon cool water; fully submerge the shirt for five minutes, then drain the soaking solution and wash immediately in detergent and ¾ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach. Many consumers can be concerned about effects of bleach usage on fabric over time, however our research shows that even after 50 wash loads, Clorox® Regular-Bleach does not wear down fabric any more than using detergent alone when used as directed. There are three recommended bleach-addition methods for normally soiled loads in standard washers:


  • Add ¾ cup bleach (or fill to the max fill line) using the washer’s bleach dispenser.

  • Add ¾ cup bleach along with the detergent to the wash water as the machine is filling, before the clothes are added.

  • Dilute ¾ cup bleach in 1 quart water and add to the wash 5 minutes after the wash cycle has begun.


If you have a High-Efficiency washer, fill the machine’s bleach dispenser to the “max fill” line. Hopefully this will encourage you to feel comfortable bleaching your white items. As a reminder, avoid bleaching wool, silk, mohair, leather, and spandex. The last fiber on the list is problematic in that spandex can be present in small amounts, so be sure to check the fiber content on your garments’ care label. It could be that this is the reason you have chosen not to bleach the shirts, and in that case add Clorox2® Stain Fighter & Color Booster along with your detergent.