Bleach aids detergents in the removal of soil and stains. There are two types of bleach commonly used in home laundry: 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 and some bleaches disinfect fabrics by killing bacteria.
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 water and mixed in well before adding to the washer or added to the proper automatic dispenser in your washer. Never pour chlorine bleach directly onto fabrics. If using bleach for stain removal, bleach the entire garment to prevent spotting. For best results, follow these six tips for using chlorine bleach properly.
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 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.
Oxygen bleach is most effective is used in a powdered formula that is activated when mixed with water. Liquid versions of oxygen bleach can lose their effectiveness with age. If adding powdered oxygen bleach to wash loads, add the powder to the empty washer tub first, then add clothes.
When mixing powdered oxygen bleach with water, use warm water to ensure that all of the powder dissolves, then add cold water if needed. Completely submerge the stained garment and allow to soak for as long as possible - up to eight hours or overnight. Oxygen bleach works more slowly than the harsher chlorine bleach and patience will give you great results.
The same hydrogen peroxide you use to clean scratches or achieve "sun-bleached" hair can be used in the laundry room. Hydrogen peroxide is most commonly available from pharmacies at 3 and 6% concentrations in a water-based solution.
Hydrogen peroxide will whiten and disinfect laundry. Add 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide to whites in the washing machine to brighten them. It will permanently remove dye on darker colors; test it on a swatch of fabric before using.
- Always check fabric for color fastness first, following the instructions on the container, before using either type of bleach.
- Never pour full-strength chlorine bleach into a clothes-filled washer.
- Add any type of bleach to washer water, mixing well, before adding clothes.
- Never mix any 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 chlorine bleach on silk, acetate, wool, spandex, polypropylene foam, some flame retardant fabrics or rubber. Oxygen bleach should not be used on wool or dry clean only silks.
- Repeated use of chlorine bleach can weaken cellulosic or cotton/ramie/linen fibers.
- Repeated use of chlorine bleach can cause yellowing of fabrics.