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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Washing an American Flag

By Dr. Laundry December 3, 2012

I am washing a nylon American flag (Yes, washing the flag is OK!). The white stripes are a bit gray.  Is it safe to use Clorox2® for this? Also, should I wash in hot, warm or cold water?

What an interesting project! Yes, you can use Clorox2® to whiten the stripes on your flag—an important consideration is to prevent the red (or blue, as well) from bleeding onto the white stripes and stars while the flag is washing or soaking and drying. Here’s how I would proceed:

1.   Wash the flag using a gentle cycle with warm water and detergent + Clorox2® Stain Remover and Color Booster.

2.   Periodically check during the wash cycle to see if the red stripes are discharging color into the wash cycle. This can happen pretty easily when colored fabric is sewn onto white fabric and the dye wasn’t properly fixed.  If the water is turning red, immediately stop the wash cycle and rinse the flag.

3.   Air dry the flag—just be sure it can dry quickly. That’s because your damp flag may still be at risk of the colored sections bleeding into the white parts.  It’s hard to predict–nylon shouldn’t have this problem but it’s good to be cautious.

If the stripes don’t whiten as much as you’d like, you could try a little more aggressive approach with hotter water. Keep in mind that this is more likely to cause the colored stripes to bleed–if you saw any color coming off with the warm water wash then don’t increase the water temperature. But if your flag doesn’t bleed, then you could try presoaking with Clorox2®—add a capful to 2 gallons of hot water and fully submerge the flag for 1 hour. Drain the soaking solution, and then wash as described above using hot water. I would actually recommend against pretreating the stripes with undiluted product because you need to limit the contact time to 3-5 minutes, and with such a large area to treat there is a good chance the product will stay on the fabric too long, leaving behind a permanent blue spot.