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Is There Another Way to Sanitize Linens?

By Dr. Laundry August 11, 2016

Q: I would like to sanitize some sheets & blankets that are multi-colored. I was thinking of using bleach in my HE washer with regular detergent, but I don’t want to ruin them. How can I test them first to make sure they won’t be ruined? It’s not a question of stains, just of thoroughly cleaning & sanitizing.

Is there another way to sanitize linens?

A:  This is a terrific question—who doesn’t love freshly sanitized sheets?  I have good news: you may be able to safely launder your sheets with Clorox® Regular-Bleach even though they have color!  It depends on what type of dye was used and how it was applied, and you can’t know for sure just by looking, so we have a quick and easy test you can use to check.  Add 1+ ½ teaspoons Clorox® Regular-Bleach to ¼ cup water and apply a drop to a hidden part of the sheets and blankets.  Wait one minute, then rinse and blot dry.  No color change means the item can be safely laundered with Clorox® Regular-Bleach.  Be sure to test all the colors, and in the case of the blankets, any contrasting fabric or trim.  With sheets, I like to test the end that gets tucked in at the foot of the bed.  With blankets, start with the end that gets tucked in, and if that passes, then test any contrasting trim on the underside of the blanket.

Let’s say the sheets and blankets pass.  If the color is printed on (lighter on one side than the other) then there’s a really good chance they will!  Use the bleach dispenser on your HE washer to add the bleach—the machine will automatically dilute the bleach with water and add it to the cycle at the correct time in the washer.  Use ½ cup Clorox® regular-bleach (or fill to “max fill” line on the dispenser) along with your favorite detergent.  Select the hot water setting and an extra rinse if your machine has that option.

It sounds like you have a lot of sheets and blankets to wash.  In order to help the machine properly balance during the spin cycles, plan on washing multiple loads instead of one big load.  Because sheets and blankets absorb water differently, it would also be good to have the sheets in one load and blankets in another.  And blankets can vary in absorbency: polyester fleece blankets absorb less water than cotton blankets, so if these are combined in one load the machine can end up out of balance.  A properly balanced washer is important for thorough rinsing.

One other thing I should mention is that wool and silk (as well as mohair, leather, and spandex) should never be bleached.  If you’ve got wool blankets and silk sheets, you’ll have to skip the bleach and closely follow the care label instructions to wash these fabrics.

And finally, if any of your sheets and blankets don’t pass the bleachability test and you can’t sanitize them with Clorox® Regular-Bleach, you can at least get them as clean as possible by washing them in hot water using detergent and Clorox2® Stain Remover and Color Booster.  I hope this helps—please let me know if you have any other questions, and thanks for writing!

–Dr. Laundry