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How to Clean and Get Stains Out of White Cloth Napkins

White cloth napkins tend to get stained. Learn how to wash linen napkins and clean white cloth napkins. Get the stains out and keep your napkins white.

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New Clorox® Free & Clear

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New Clorox® Free & Clear

Safe around kids, pets & food.* * When used as directed.


I use cloth napkins at home and on the go. Sometimes, I keep my apple cores wrapped in my napkins until I can get to my compost bin at home but it leaves a brown stain I can never get out. I also use cloth napkins to dry my strawberries after rinsing them, but they also leave a bright red stain. How can I get my cloth napkins back to white?


It’s nice to hear from a fellow cloth napkin user!  And I am very familiar with an apple core (or pear core or banana peel) wrapped in a white napkin to get it home for composting.  We’ve got a worm bin as well as curbside greenwaste pick-up so we are always bringing compostables home rather than send them off to the landfill.

I do have good news for you—you don’t have to be stuck with the stains on your napkins.  The following is very effective on white cotton or poly/cotton napkins:
–rinse the stain in a little cool water.
–pretreat the stain with Clorox® Bleach Pen Gel:  rub a little of the gel into the stain using the soft scrubber tip on the pen.
–wash the stained item immediately after pretreating in hot water using detergent and ½ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach.

You can also use the above method for strawberry stains.  And it also yields good results if you prefer to wash in warm or even cold water to save energy (although the hotter the wash water, the better the cleaning).

To whiten your napkins that have become dingy over time, you can try a one-time bleach soak.  First, prepare the bleach soaking solution:  in a plastic dishpan add 3 tablespoons Clorox® Regular Bleach2 to 1 gallon cool water.  Add the napkins and fully submerge them in the bleach soaking solution.  Let them soak for 5 minutes, and then drain the soaking solution.  Finish by machine washing them in hot water using detergent and 1/2 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach.

If you are not a regular bleach user or are thinking you may not have enough bleachable items to make a full load (another good way to save water and energy is to always run a full load!) here’s what makes up my bleach load:  dishtowels, a tablecloth, cloth napkins, socks, t-shirts, boxer shorts, and usually a wash cloth or two.  I don’t mind washing them all together because I know that adding ½ cup Clorox® Regular Bleach2 along with the detergent will sanitize the laundry (not to mention get it much much cleaner than washing with detergent alone).

Please let me know if you have any other questions, and thanks for writing!

–Dr. Laundry