White Clothes Turned Gray in Washer (How to Fix)

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Nothing beats wearing a bright and clean white shirt. Unfortunately, they can become gloomy, drab, and dingy over time. But why do white clothes turn gray in the washing machine and how to fix it?

A combination of soap scum and limescale can accumulate on your white clothes (gray coating) if you use the incorrect amount of detergent. To whiten white clothes that have grayed, wash them in the washing machine with a small amount of citric acid powder or vinegar, instead of detergent.

Alternatively, you can also use products, like the Carbona Color Run Remover, to restore the white color in white shirts. It can also remove unwanted dye stains from whites and colorfast fabrics. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about white clothes turning gray.

Why are your white clothes turning gray?

You’ll notice gray spots or stains when you don’t use the right amount of detergent, not sorting your whites, hard water stains (limescale), and overpacking your loads. Learn more about each cause below.

1. Too much or too little detergent

Not using enough detergent won’t effectively remove the stains, especially from white clothes. As a result, some of the grime will stay on the clothes, including your washer, turning your white clothes gray over time.

On the other hand, using too much detergent can allow the soap scum to accumulate on your whites, causing a gray coating to form. Don’t overestimate how much detergent you need. Instead, follow the directions.

2. Not sorting your whites from colored clothes

You’ve probably seen the laundry care label that sates “wash dark colors separately”. This instruction was given to protect light colored items from becoming darker as the result of a color transfer.

The dye from colored fabric will often leach into the water and transfer to other fabric. Black clothes have color dyes too. It is more noticeable with white clothes because there is no other color to hide it.

It won’t happen immediately, but washing white clothes with dark colored clothes will eventually cause the white clothes to take on a gray hue, rather than maintaining their bright white appearance.

3. Hard water stains

You may also have hard water at your home. This simply means your water has more minerals. This causes limescale build-up on your clothing and inside the washer, turning your white clothes gloomy and drab.

Test your water hardness level. You can call your local water municipality, and they should be able to tell you. You can also do this simple technique to test whether you have hard water or soft water at home

Once you know how hard your water is, you can decide how much laundry detergent to use, depending on your water hardness and how soiled the clothes are. Clean your washer frequently to prevent limescale.

4. Overpacking your loads

Even after separating your white clothes from colored ones, you should not overpack your loads. Doing so can reduce the effectiveness of your washer. You won’t notice it by doing it once or twice, but grime will start to build up once you make it a habit. As a result, your white clothes become gray over time.

As a general rule of thumb, you should be able to see the clothes inside your washing machine rotate during a cycle. This allows the washing machine to do its job and remove dirt and stains from your clothing.

How to fix white clothes that have turned gray (dingy)

Now that you know why your white clothes have turned gray, let’s take a look at some methods you can use to restore them back to white. All of these methods work so all you have to do is to choose one.

1. Use baking soda

Did you know that baking soda can act as an alternative to bleach? Indeed, baking soda can make white clothes whiter as well as brighten colored garments when added to the washing machine.

To whiten white clothes that have grayed, soak the garments for at least 2 hours in a solution of one gallon of hot water with 1 ½ cups of baking soda, then launder with an enzyme-boosting detergent.

Using an enzyme-boosting laundry detergent, like this one, can help clean both white clothes and colored ones break up stains while removing odors in cold water thanks to their special enzymes.

2. Use vinegar

You can also use white distilled vinegar to white white clothes that have grayed. The acidic nature of vinegar can be used as a natural clothes whitener and brightener for dingy white clothes. Launder the grayed white clothes with 1 ½ cup of distilled white vinegar to brighten them up.

3. Use oxygen bleach

Alternatively, oxygen bleach, also called oxygenated bleach or all-fabric bleach, is a gentle bleaching agent that removes stains and brightens laundry. It isn't as effective as chlorine bleach for whitening your clothes, but it is a natural, safe and gentle alternative that is also biodegradable.

Launder the white clothes with enzyme-boosting detergent and one cup of oxygen bleach. Don’t mix with vinegar. Oxygen bleach plays well with most other cleaners, but it should not be mixed with vinegar.

We don’t recommend using chlorine bleach because it releases dangerous fumes when mixed with ammonia, acetone, alcohol, vinegar, and other chemicals. Chlorine bleach can also react chemically to metal components of the washing machine and cause fabrics to appear yellowed or dingy.

4. Use Carbona Color Run Remover

If you want to skip the hassle, you can use a special product to white white clothes that have grayed. One product in particular, is the Carbona Color Run Remover. It can remove color runs from whites in 2 minutes.

We already have an article on how to use the Carbona Color Run Remover, so if you’re interested, buy the product and read the article. You can use it on a single garment, on top load washers, or front load washers. 

5. Use citric acid powder

Citric acid reacts with stains on your laundry to loosen and remove them naturally. As a result, your white clothes can appear brighter instead of dingy. You will notice the difference when your white clothes come out sparkling white without affecting the fabric. It can also remove stubborn stains from colored clothing.

You can buy ready-made citric acid powder in most stores, but you can also use lemon juice as a substitute. Indeed, lemon juice contains high levels of citric acid. Just add the juice to the washer and launder.

As a side note, you can also use citric acid to brighten up colored clothes. Citric acid cannot "bleach" colored laundry because it is not a bleaching agent. As the name suggests, citric acid is a moderately acidic molecule, so you would not see any effect on the color of clothing due to the exposure of citric acid.

How to stop white clothes turning gray (dingy)

You’ve restored your white clothes back to their former glory. What you don’t want to do is to make them dull again. Here are 4 simple methods on how to stop and prevent white clothes turning gray:

1. Wash whites separately from other colors

The best way to prevent white clothes from turning gray and dingy is to always sort whites and wash them separately from other colors. Doing this prevents any color transfer that will inevitably darken your whites.

2. Use detergent intended for whites

When washing white clothes, always use laundry detergent intended for whites. It contains bleaching agents, such as sodium percarbonate. You can also choose to use a whites only detergent that is biodegradable and plant-based. Some products, like this one, are climate pledge friendly.

3. Use the correct amount of detergent

Depending on your water hardness and how soiled the clothes are, you should always use the correct amount of detergent as per the product directions. Doing this keeps your white clothes bright.

4. Ensure the detergent bottle is securely closed

Last but not least, make sure your detergent bottle is properly closed when storing. When the bottle is not securely closed, some bleaching agents can evaporate, reducing the efficacy of the product.

Does gray go with white in laundry?

Gray clothes should not go with whites in laundry. Always wash your whites separately to avoid color transfer. Light gray clothes are safe to wash with light colors, while dark gray garments go in the dark pile.

If you have limited time and resources, you can combine whites, pastels, light gray, and white background printed in one pile once the hand wash and dry clean only clothes are separated. (Source)

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