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Can You Bleach Polyester?

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Find out whether or not you can clean polyester with bleach and if so how to bleach polyester to remove stains from 100% polyester shirts and clothing.

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My hubby gets food stains on these shirts, and I have been using a spray pretreater in my new high efficiency washer.  I have now noticed that his two white shirts have picked up all-over shadowy like stains.  How can I get rid of these?


There are multiple things contributing to the problems you are seeing, but first let’s talk about getting your shirts white again.

To restore bleach-safe shirts if they are dingy, there are a few things you could try.  For 100% polyester white shirts, they actually can be washed with , and you can start with a presoak.  Add ¼ cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach to 1 gallon cool water and stir.  Add the shirts, fully submerging them, and let them soak for 5 minutes.  Drain the soaking solution and then wash the shirts in hot water using detergent and ⅓ cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach. Finally, let them air dry.  This can be very effective at stripping dingy build up from an item.

Since so many sport shirts now have a small amount of spandex in them, I also wanted to alert you that even a small amount of spandex shouldn’t be washed with Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach, so double check the care label before trying the above bleach soak.  If the shirts have even a small amount of Spandex (also called Lycra or Elastane) you could instead try an 8-hour presoak using a scoop of Clorox 2® For Colors Powder added to 2 gallons hot tap water.  Stir to be sure the Clorox 2® product has dissolved completely before adding the shirts to the soaking solution.  Weigh them down with a dishwasher safe dinner plate to make sure they are completely submerged.  Allow them to soak for 8 hours (overnight makes this easy).  Next, drain the soaking solution and wash the shirts in hot water using detergent and more Clorox 2® For Colors Powder.  Air dry.

Also, with clothes washers that use only a small amount of water, it is absolutely critical that you use a High Efficiency (HE) detergent, one that is specially formulated for a low volume wash system. I’m sure you probably already are, but I wanted to mention it anyway. HE detergents use different surfactants with little or no foaming compared to regular detergents. Excessive foaming in a low-volume washer can lower cleaning performance substantially. With front loaders, the foam cushions the load as it tumbles, reducing performance. With recirculating spray-wash systems, the suds can lock up the pump. Often these washers are programmed to recognize this, and in order to protect the machine they bypass the wash and go straight to the rinse to work the suds out, which really hurts cleaning. Using less of a regular detergent isn’t a good option either, because you won’t be adding enough of the ingredients you need for good cleaning, especially when you consider you’ve got the same amount of soil you are trying to get off the laundry and keep suspended in what little wash water there is before rinsing it away.

Presoaking and pretreating stains are important techniques to use to get good cleaning and stain removal in these washers. If your washer has a presoak option–something that fills the water with a few gallons of water that a few items can be submerged in just for the soak, and then drains it before the wash cycle, I would definitely try using that regularly when washing a load of laundry. Additionally, what product you use to pretreat can make a difference. Try using Clorox 2® For Colors Stain Remover and Laundry Additive for pretreating stains before washing.

Learning to work with this type of wash system is challenging, but as you adjust your wash habits, you should see better results.   And then you can feel better about using less water!

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