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Removing Body Soil from Sheets

By Dr. Laundry December 17, 2009

Q. My husband sweats at night and has ruined many sheets and pillow cases and even pillows with protectors. The sheets are stained with a yellowness that I just can’t get out. Of course these sheets are white with a taupe pattern and metallic gold stripe, so cleaning them is difficult at best. The stain is not little- it encompasses almost the whole fitted sheet and every pillow case is entirely discolored- mine are just like new and show the contrast. Is there any way to get these stains out?

A. Body soil is something I have written about several times in the past on my blog. If you do a search, you will find close-up pictures of sheets showing the difference between washing in detergent alone and detergent plus 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular- Bleach.

Some general tips: use hot water and at least the recommended amount of detergent. You definitely will want to add the appropriate bleach to help finish the process; the earlier you start this process, the less build-up of unremoved body oils/sweat will occur and the less yellowing problem you will have to deal with during laundering.

A lot of colored sheets can safely be bleached. I recommend consumers do the quick Bleachability Test (2 tspn Clorox® Regular-Bleach in 1/4 cup water; apply a drop on a hidden colored area like inside seam, hemline or cuff; wait 1 minute and then blot with towel); no color change means it is safe to use bleach on the item. Any color change could also show you the amount of change in color that likely will occur if you proceed with the liquid bleach usage. You can see a demo on my blog in the video Laundry 101.
If you can bleach them, consider a short presoak ( 1/4 cup liquid bleach/gallon for 5-10 minutes before laundering) before washing in hot water with detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular- Bleach. For a little more fire power, use our detergent plus Clorox® Bleach Pen Gel. It is a thickened bleach formula that has a scrubber tip that you can use to apply the bleach. Apply it, rub it into the stained area, and wait 3-5 minutes before immediately washing with detergent and liquid Clorox.

If you can’t bleach the items, wash in the hottest water recommended on the care labels using detergent and an oxygen bleach like our Clorox2® Stain Fighter & Color Booster, and I would include a 1/2 to 1 hour presoak in the oxygen bleach before the wash. Check for success before drying as you may require more than one treatment.

If the build-up is substantial, you may need several washes to see most of the yellowing diminish. You can also improve this removal by pre-treating with your liquid detergent (apply, rub into stained area, wait 3-5 minutes) before immediately washing in hot water with detergent and liquid Clorox.