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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Whitening Antique Scarves

By Dr. Laundry June 25, 2009

Q. I have several sets of old dresser scarves that are gray and dingy. I would like to whiten them but am not sure what mixture of Clorox and/or soap to use. A few of them were hand embroidered by my grandmother and I would hate to ruin that in some way. Is it safe to soak these in a solution of liquid Tide, water and Clorox? What proportions should I use?

A. I am always cautious attempting to restore family heirlooms. You didn’t indicate if they are all white or if the embroidery has any light colored stitching.

First, I probably would try an extended presoak with Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster (follow label directions) with a small sample of the dresser scarves. The idea here is to use a weaker, all-fabric and color-safe bleach to remove the gray and dinginess. If unsuccessful, it may indicate that you need to move to a more aggressive approach with a stronger bleach. I even might consider using at least a warm water subsequent wash of detergent and Clorox 2. Always air dry after washing to help prevent shrinkage. Doing another similar presoak may need to be tried. If it fails to produce the desired results, you probably will need to kick your approach up a notch and consider using liquid bleach.

First, I want to be sure all parts of the scarves can be bleached. I find that a lot of colored items can be bleached. To find out if these items can safely be bleached, I recommend consumers do the quick Bleachability Test (2 tsp. Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in 1/4 cup water; apply a drop to the colored portion on a hidden 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.

Want to proceed? I would also consider doing a quick liquid bleach soak (1/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in gallon of cool water for 5 minutes), then wash immediately in warm water using detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1. To complete the treatment, consider air drying.

When you have verified that you can get the desired result, repeat it with the remaining items.