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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Removing Odor from Colored Clothing

By Dr. Laundry October 21, 2010

Q. I recently purchased an HE machine and was wondering if I could use a little bleach in the dispenser for my dark clothes. There was some odor on a few of my darks that I needed to get out, and I was looking for some advice on how to get it out. If not bleach, then what do you recommend?

A. This is a great question that actually touches on several issues, so let me review them before I answer your question.


  1. As a general rule of thumb, avoid bleaching dark colored clothing unless you have confirmed that it is bleach-safe. To test an item, do a quick bleachability test: mix 2 tsp Clorox® Regular-Bleach in ¼ cup of water, apply a drop to a hidden area (hem, inside cuff, side seam) and blot dry. For multi-colored items, be sure to test each color since they all need to pass. No color change means the item can be safely bleached, but a loss of color means that even a small amount of regular bleach could cause damage.

  2. HE clothes washers can develop an off-odor from water that is left behind inside the washer’s interior system. It is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, but you can control the problem by running a cycle with ¾ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach once a week, or every few loads if you do a lot of loads per week. These can be empty loads with bleach, or better yet, white loads with bleach.

  3. Removing dark and colored loads promptly after the cycle is finished is another strategy to prevent odors from transferring from the clothes washer to the clothes.


Now to answer your question: to get rid of the off-odor on your dark clothes, just re-wash the items following a bleach clean out cycle, and that should take care of it. And for extra cleaning and brightening of your dark clothes, add Clorox2 Stain Fighter & Color Booster along with your regular detergent. Good luck with your new washer, and let me know if you have any more questions.