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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

White Towels and Bleach

By Dr. Laundry October 12, 2010

Q. My husband likes to wash our whites with Clorox. I have heard that long term use of Clorox will cause holes in the towels and clothing. Is this true? Our towels and some clothing have acquired these holes and yes, we’ve had these for a few years so I believe the wear and tear factor combined with the Clorox would cause the holes. However, my husband doesn’t believe this and he now thinks that we have moths eating up our whites (although our colored clothes, etc. are still hole free unless moths are just picky on what they want to eat?) So, he has put mothballs in our closet and the smell is just overwhelming the house.

A. This is obviously a touchy subject around your house. Here’s what I know from my controlled laboratory testing conducted both at Clorox and outside independent research labs. When used as directed, there was no significant difference between washing in the leading detergent or the leading detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach after 50 wash cycles on a wide range of everyday items including towels, socks and underwear. Separate studies have shown that “normal” usage is responsible for the majority of all fabric damage, as abrasion from body contact, external dirt plus washing and drying continually “grind” away at the individual fibers. So the quality of the item and its manufacturing can also definitely be a major factor on how long it can last. Finally, it is also possible that insects can be a potential problem. However, this is usually from stored items put away between seasons and very, very rarely occurs in day-to-day situations.

100% white cotton items vary so much in quality that over time any abrasion can be more susceptible to damaging clothing. For example, sometimes we brush up against things during normal wearing that can create the pinholes- then after washing they are revealed. As for the colored items, a number of those can be polyester/cotton blends which are more durable. So as long as you are using a liquid bleach dispenser or diluting it in the wash water as the water is being added to the machine and BEFORE adding the clothes, then your fear of bleach holes should be diminished. Pouring or contact with full-strength Clorox® Regular-Bleach is to always be avoided as it can create fabric damage.