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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

How Much Bleach Is Too Much?

By Dr. Laundry June 18, 2009

Q. I would like to ask if you can use too much bleach in a wash load? Let me explain:

My husband is a chef. His chef coats are 100% cotton. He will soak them over night in up to 3 cups of bleach, hot water, dish detergent and laundry soap (liquid right now). His chef coats have been turning yellow. Admittedly, we have extremely hard water. Please let me know if there is a way to get the yellow out and what is the maximum amount of bleach he should be using.

A. A couple of concerns with your laundry approach. First, the amount of bleach and the second is the hard water. The yellowing may be from one or both.

Here are my reasons.

First, I NEVER recommend using Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 full-strength on any item or surface. Your “up to 3 cups” of liquid bleach with hot water is very concentrated, even with the other products. Soaking is OK but normally, I recommend 1/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1/per gallon of cool water and only 5–10 minutes of soaking. It should always be diluted because it is so strong and concentrated. Used like this, it can actually cause yellowing by either breaking down the fibers or destroying the florescent whitening agents on the fabric of the garment. Not much you can do for this problem, but repeated washing may lessen the yellow appearance.

The other likely culprit is poor water quality with high hardness and metals (iron or manganese) in the water or pipes. This is more pronounced in rural or well water areas. These react with the sodium hypochlorite active in Clorox® Regular-Bleach1, forming colored materials that deposit on the clothes. After drying, the clothes are essentially dyed with the colored material. If all the items have a uniform discoloration, then this is the most likely cause. Our Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 has a special polymer, polyacrylate, to help complex the metals. You may need to start using separate products to treat the wash water supply like a water softener. 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, as sometimes the hot water heater can also have build-up.

So here’s what I would consider. With the chef stains being so varied, I would pretreat the greasy/oily stains first, before any water is used, with the liquid dishwasher detergent (apply, rub in; wait 5–10 minutes). Then, I would use our Clorox® Bleach Pen Gel to treat the remaining bleachable stains (apply, scrub in; wait 3–5 minutes). Then, wash in hot water with detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1. Check for success before drying. Retreat any remaining stains. To help with the high water hardness, I might consider using a good powdered detergent for washing as it contains builders to help complex the hardness.