Removing Dinginess from Printed T-Shirts

Advice from Dr. Laundry
Q.

My boyfriend has a lot of white cotton T-shirts with screen-printed designs on them. They are starting to look pretty dingy, and I am wondering if adding bleach to the wash will have an effect on the printed design?

A.

Usually, dingy white cotton T-shirts are a no-brainer for using Clorox® Regular-Bleach₂ with CLOROMAX®. The screen printed design may add a complication. If it is a large patch-type design, these are not going to be affected. Results for printed, inked-on designs may depend on the quality of the ink and the application process.

I would like to find out if these items can safely be bleached. I recommend consumers do the quick Bleachability Test (2 tsp. Clorox® Regular-Bleach₂ with CLOROMAX® 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.

Want to proceed? I would do a quick liquid bleach soak (1/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach₂ with CLOROMAX® in a gallon of cool water for 5 minutes), then wash immediately in the hottest water recommended on the garment’s care label using detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach₂ with CLOROMAX®.

A couple of bonus tips:

  • Use the recommended amount of detergent. Consider using a powdered detergent since they will provide better cleaning than liquids. Be sure it is dissolved before you add the clothes to avoid having white specks on the cleaned clothes.
  • Don’t overload the washer or mix in colored items. The more T-shirt movement in the washer, the better the cleaning, and colors can have dye transfer which deposits on whites, making them appear dingy.
  • If you can’t bleach the T-shirts, then try several washes in the hottest water recommended on the care labels using detergent and an oxygen bleach like our Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster, or even a short 1/2 hour presoak in the oxygen bleach before the wash. Check for success before drying. It might require multiple treatments to get the desired result.