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How to Bleach Stains Out of White Clothes

When you’ve got a stain on a white shirt or other white clothes, you can get it out, even stains you find after taking clothes out of storage. With Clorox® products and the right techniques it’s easy.

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By Mary Gagliardi
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When you can deal with a stain right away, like a coffee or wine spill, often it will come out with machine washing as long as you add the right bleach along with your detergent. Other times you find yellow stains months after packing away your white clothes or a tablecloth.


Of course it’s best to treat a stain right away, but even a months-old stain can come out by presoaking or pretreating. White bleach-safe clothing like cotton or polyester are washed after presoaking with Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach; wash white clothes that include a little spandex after pretreating with Clorox 2® for Colors.

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Washing stains immediately is ideal

The sooner you treat most stains, the easier it will be to get them out just by machine washing with the right bleach product. Clothes with stains on them that sit around waiting to be washed for a few days often need more effort like presoaking or pretreating stains. Getting to a stain right away usually means less work. Care labels will tell you what clothes are made of, so you know which product to use.

Tip

Always avoid bleaching wool, silk, mohair, leather and spandex. 

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Washing stains you find after storage

If you packed away “clean” white clothes or linens after washing only to find yellow stains months later, chances are these new stains have an oily component that didn’t come out all the way when they were washed before storing. Detergent brighteners can hide stains, but in time the oil oxidizes and yellows.

Breaking up the oil first with dish detergent so the bleach can do its job to get the stain out all the way is key. Pretreating with dish detergent followed by either presoaking or pretreating depending on the fabric is a great technique to use anytime you aren’t sure what caused a stain. 

How to bleach white clothes with stains

  1. 1

    Pretreat stains with dish detergent

    Starting on dry fabric, apply enough liquid dish detergent to saturate the stain and gently massage it in. Wait 5 minutes, then rinse with warm water.

    Tip

    Make sure all the dish detergent is rinsed off the fabric so it doesn’t end up in the clothes washer.

    dishwashing liquid
  2. 2

    Make the bleach soaking solution

    Measure ¼ cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach and add it to 1 gallon (16 cups) of cool water in the plastic dishpan. Use the plastic spoon to stir the solution.

    Tip

    Wear gloves when working with a bleach and water solution.

  3. 3

    Add the stained clothing

    Fully submerge the clothing in the bleach and water solution for 5 minutes. Use the spoon to swirl the clothing around in the bleach solution and make sure it goes in completely.

  4. 4

    Machine wash

    After 5 minutes, pour off the soaking solution and then transfer the clothing to the washing machine. Use the heavy duty cycle, the hottest water recommended on the care label, a good detergent and 1/3 cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach.

    hot setting on washing machine
  5. 5

    Air dry

    It’s important to keep clothing out of a hot dryer when working on getting a stain out. Once the clothing has air dried, check your progress. With very old stains, sometimes it’s necessary to repeat a treatment to get a stain all the way out. 

    open window with curtains

How to remove stains from white clothing with spandex

  1. 1

    Pretreat stains with dish detergent

    Starting on dry fabric, apply enough liquid dish detergent to saturate the stain and gently massage it in. Wait 5 minutes, then rinse with warm water.

    Tip

    Make sure all the dish detergent is rinsed off the fabric so it doesn’t end up in the clothes washer.

    dishwashing liquid
  2. 2

    Pretreat again with Clorox 2® for Colors

    For this step, Clorox 2® for Colors can be applied to wet or damp fabric. Use the cap to apply liquid Clorox 2® for Colors to the remaining stain and massage it in. Wait 10 minutes so the product has time to work.

    Tip

    Set a timer so you keep track of the pretreating time. Never let Clorox 2® dry out on fabric.

    clorox 2 liquid pouring from bottle
  3. 3

    Machine wash

    After 10 minutes, transfer the item to the clothes washer. Use the heavy duty cycle, the hottest water recommended on the care label, a good detergent and more Clorox 2®.

  4. 4

    Air dry

    Once the clothing has air dried, check your progress. With very old stains, sometimes it’s necessary to repeat a treatment to get a stain all the way out. 

    open window with curtains

Frequently asked questions

How do I get out yellow stains from the plastic container used to store summer clothes?

When fabric yellows where it touches the storage container, it can usually be restored by machine washing with the appropriate bleach product for the type of fabric that yellowed. That’s because this is usually just degradation of the brighteners on the fabric, and it’s not permanent.

Can bleach cause yellow stains and how do you get them out?

When bleach is used as directed, it will not yellow fabric. Unfortunately, misuse can cause yellow stains which cannot be removed. It’s always important to follow label instructions, including only washing fabrics that are bleach-safe, using the recommended amount of bleach, diluting bleach with water first, allowing it to contact clothing only for the recommended amount of time and rinsing thoroughly. Bleach should never be used at full strength on any fabric or surface.