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How to Use Bleach in the Laundry


Bleach aids detergents in the removal of soil and stains. There are two types of bleach: chlorine bleach or sodium hypochlorite and oxygen bleach. Through a process of oxidation, bleach changes the soil into soluble particles to be washed away by detergents in the washing process. Bleach helps to whiten and brighten washable fabrics.

Chlorine Bleach

Chlorine bleach is a 5.25% solution of sodium hypochloride and the most powerful. The liquid version is the most common but a dry form is also available. Both must be diluted with water for safe use on fabrics.

Chlorine bleach should always be added to the washer water and mixed in well before adding clothes. Never pour bleach directly onto fabrics. If using bleach for stain removal, bleach the entire garment to prevent spotting.

When chlorine bleach is used in the wash, it acts as a disinfectant on bacteria and viruses and generally whitens fabrics. Care must be taken to use it effectively by adding it at the correct time and temperature to the wash load. Liquid chlorine bleach has a limited shelf life. If more than six months old, it may have no effect on stains and should be replaced.

Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach is often called All-Fabric Bleach and is usually safe for all fabrics and colors. It works more slowly than chlorine bleach and may contain sodium perborate or sodium precarbonate.

Bleach Warnings

  • Always check for color fastness first, following the instructions on the container, before using either type of bleach.
  • Never pour full-strength bleach into a clothes-filled washer.
  • Add bleach to washer water, mixing well, before adding clothes.
  • Never mix bleach with ammonia which causes caustic fumes.
  • Read and follow care instructions and any warnings on the fabric care label regarding the use of bleach.
  • Do not use bleach on silk, acetate, wool, spandex, polypropylene foam, some flame retardant fabrics or rubber.
  • Repeated use of chlorine bleach can weaken cellulosic or cotton/ramie/linen fibers.
  • Repeated use of chlorine bleach can cause yellowing of fabrics.

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