article background

How to Wash White Clothes (& Keep Them White)

Author: Abi Buckland

Whether you like to dress up or down, white clothes are a wardrobe staple and a timeless choice that affords endless outfit opportunities. On the flip side, washing white clothes, and trying to keep them white, can make your head spin! That’s why we’ve put together a list of tips and tricks to help make the process ‘loads’ less stressful.

5 ways to get the best results when washing white clothes

White clothes tend to turn yellow over time due to a combination of dirt, sweat, and chemicals from deodorant. But lucky for us, there are plenty of ways to revive and make them bright white again!

Check out these easy steps below:

1. Treat stains as they arise

By spot-treating new stains when they happen, you are clearing the stain before it gets a chance to set. To do this, apply a stain remover to immediately target the mess. This will clear up the stain with enzymes that break apart the stain molecules. Stain removers come in many different formats, such as sprays, gels, powders, or even natural home remedies. It’s recommended to fully wash the clothing after spot treating.

The only thing to keep in mind with stain removers is that they shouldn’t be used on delicate materials such as silk, velvet or leather – these need to be dry cleaned by a professional to ensure the fabric does not get damaged.

2. Separate whites from colours

Make sure to separate your white laundry from brightly coloured or dark clothing. If washed together, there is the risk of colour bleeding and transfer, which not only turns your whites into an assortment of colours but leaves dark washing looking dull as well. So, all around, not an ideal situation to be in, especially when the alternative is so simple.

3. Avoid overloading

Doing the laundry is no walk in the park, so it’s understandable most people want to get it over with as quickly as possible. But remember that overloading your washing machine is not the way to go.

When your machine is overloaded, there’s not enough room between garments for the water and washing detergent to target dirt and grime effectively, which can leave clothes looking dull and even grey. For reference, your largest load of washing should only take up three-quarters of the tub.

4. Pick the right detergent

Use a liquid washing detergent specially designed for white clothes (powder detergents can leave residue on clothes). The key to picking the right detergent is to take a look at the list of ingredients. You’re looking for active ingredients like surfactants and enzymes. Surfactants work by lifting the soil away from the fabric, and enzymes help to remove stains. Distilled white vinegar is also a great whitening and brightening booster you can add to your washing.

5. Avoid fabric softener

Fabric softener can cause residue build-up in your washer which, in turn, can cause your white clothes to turn grey over time. It’s best to use a mixture of baking soda and distilled white vinegar (add a cup to the stain remover compartment) which together work as a natural clothes brightener.

→Related article: Most Energy-Efficient Washing Machines


Compare electricity providers with Canstar Blue

Canstar Blue rates NZ power companies for customer satisfaction and value for money, see the table below for some of the results, or you can click on the buttons below for the full results of our survey, and to compare bundled utility providers.

Canstar Blue’s latest review of NZ power companies compares them on customer satisfaction. The table above is an abridged version of our full results, available here.

See Our Ratings Methodology

Compare electricity providers


At what temperature should you wash white clothes?

Generally speaking, white clothes are best washed in warm to hot water (40˚C-60 ˚C) to keep them looking pristine. However, it’s also important to double-check washing instructions on the garment care label to check the hottest water temperatures the fabrics you’re washing can withstand. Some materials, such as cotton, can tolerate higher temperatures. However polyester blends are best in lukewarm water.

There are several reasons to adjust the temperature on your washing machine to achieve the best wash. For example, fabric that’s significantly soiled will require a hotter temperature than fabric that is not. Whereas stains such as protein-based stains (such as blood stains) require a cold wash to help remove discolouration.

How do you keep white clothes white without bleach?

You can whiten your laundry with bleach-free alternatives, such as baking soda, distilled white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide (a mild form of oxygen bleach). You can add these natural alternatives to your wash cycle, or use them as a pre-soak. It’s even been suggested that by drying your clothes outside in the sun, the UV rays will help to keep them white!

While bleach can be an effective solution to remove stains from your white clothes, it may not react well with detergents, and can even result in white clothes looking more yellow.

How to wash whites in the washing machine

Some modern washing machines have a ‘whites setting’ designed ‘bleachable whites’ for clothes such as plain t-shirts, gym socks, underwear, tablecloths, etc. This wash setting dispenses bleach at the optimal time during the washing cycle and uses a vigorous spin for the best clean. This program can be used with or without bleach. If your machine doesn’t have this setting, a warm cycle with the right detergent will work just fine!

Compare electricity providers for free with Canstar Blue!

How to prevent white clothes from turning grey

White clothes generally start to turn grey as a result of soil from dirty clothes transferring to other items in the washing machine. To prevent this, make sure to use a detergent intended for whites (although they may contain bleaching agents such as sodium percarbonate) and don’t overfill the tub to give clothes enough room to move and the dirt to wash away. Also, ensure that the correct amount of detergent is used to suit both your load size and the level of soil.

How to sort & wash colours

It’s best to wash ‘dark colours’ on their own and keep the lighter colours for a different load. This is because, similar to whites, lighter colours also run the risk of colour transfer, turning your once light blue shirt into a striking purple.

In the ‘light colours’ pile, you can include white items with labels or designs, as well as light colours, such as pastel pinks, purples, blues, etc. Dark colours include clothes that are black, navy, dark blue/grey/purple, maroon, etc. If you have the time, you can separate out bright colours like reds and yellows, as they are the most likely colours to bleed in the wash. If not, put them in with the dark clothes.

How to wash dark clothes

To preserve dark colours as much as possible, it’s recommended to wash them together in a cold water cycle and make sure that whatever detergent is being used does not contain bleach. To further protect your clothes, make sure to close zippers, fasten hooks and turn clothes inside out. This reduces the amount of abrasion caused in the washing machine when items naturally collide, resulting in less colour loss.

Just keep in mind that a bit of colour fade, particularly in dark clothes, is inevitable due to the nature of the dyes used in their manufacture.

What should you do if colour runs?

If the unthinkable does happen and your favourite shirt is now a completely different colour – don’t panic! Don’t put it in the dryer because then the colour will set, making the change of colour permanent. If you notice that the colour of clothes has run, simply rewash the clothes separately. There are no guarantees that the garment will be exactly the same as it was before, but it should at least remove some of the unwanted colour.

Compare appliances with Canstar Blue


author andrew broadley

About the reviewer of this page

This report was reviewed by Canstar Content Producer, Andrew Broadley. Andrew is an experienced writer with a wide range of industry experience. Starting out, he cut his teeth working as a writer for print and online magazines, and he has worked in both journalism and editorial roles. His content has covered lifestyle and culture, marketing and, more recently, finance for Canstar.


Enjoy reading this article?

You can like us on Facebook and get social, or sign up to receive more news like this straight to your inbox.

By subscribing you agree to the Canstar Privacy Policy

Share this article