White Clothes Turned Yellow? Why and How to Fix

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It can be a challenge to keep white clothes looking their best, especially after a couple of wash cycles. White clothes will often turn yellow with time because of how we wear them, wash them, and store them. 

Fortunately, white clothes turned yellow aren't necessarily ruined for good. There are plenty of DIY tricks you can try to whiten dingy-looking clothing, as well as steps you can take to prevent yellowing in the future. 

Why White Clothes Turn Yellow

There are a number of different reasons that your favorite white shirt might be turning yellow. Once you know the root of the issue, you can figure out the best way to restore your clothes to their original color and take steps to prevent yellowing in the future. 

1. Your Deodorant

Yellow armpit stains are often caused by perfume, deodorant, and anti-perspirant.

Many people think sweat is the main culprit behind yellow underarm stains, but often, it’s actually deodorant that’s to blame. Many of the most popular deodorants contain aluminum as an active ingredient. 

When aluminum in your deodorant mixes with sweat, it can soak into white clothing and cause moderate to dark yellow stains. Switching to an aluminum-free deodorant may help to reduce staining.

2. Your Detergent

Using the wrong kind of detergent can wreak havoc on your clothes, especially the delicate fibers often found in white fabrics. While it might seem counterintuitive, you should avoid strong bleach solutions when doing laundry. Otherwise, you may end up causing more staining than when you started.

Many people use diluted bleach to eliminate stains and whiten fabrics. However, concentrated bleach will have the opposite effect. It breaks down fabric fibers and whitening agents, leaving your clothes looking yellow and ragged. It may even lead to thinning and holes in the fabric.

Using too much or too little detergent can also lead to stains, especially in white clothes. With too much detergent, your washer may have difficulty eliminating residue and leave whites looking gray or yellow. Too little detergent will leave grime on your clothing that can decompose and leave visible yellow stains. 

3. Your Washing Method

If you don’t wash your clothes properly, dirt and other debris can remain on the fabric and stain clothes yellow. It’s best to follow the directions on the tag when washing clothes to achieve the best results.

As a general rule of thumb, you should always include a rinse cycle when washing whites. Doing this allows your machine to remove the grime lifted during washing instead of allowing it to settle back into your clothes. 

A warm rinse cycle is usually the best choice when dealing with whites. Cold water may solidify detergent residue and other unwanted debris on fabric and lead to staining. On the other hand, hot water will cause colorfast stains to set into exposed fibers. 

4. Your Clothing Dye

It’s a common misconception that most fabrics are naturally white. Most are yellow to off-white in color and require special dyes to produce a bright, pristine white. However, these whitening agents don’t last forever.

Older clothing can turn yellow with time as white dyes in the fabric begin to break down and expose the original color. Storing clothing for long periods without wearing it may cause whites to turn yellow. Certain washing agents such as bleach can speed up the breakdown process and lead to dull, yellow fabric. 

5. Your Closet Storage

Even if you regularly wash your white clothes, you may still see it turning yellow with time. Storage conditions can lead to yellowing, including acidic materials such as wood, cardboard, and certain types of plastic.

If you have to store clothing for a prolonged time, opt for an acid-free container. Otherwise, you may see irreparable yellow stains from contact with gasses, paints, chemicals, and other harsh byproducts.

6. Color Bleed

Separating light clothes from colored loads can help prolong their lives. When you mix white fabric with colorful items, dyes may run and bleed to cause staining. It does not matter whether you use cold water or hot water, as both water temperatures can cause the dye to run if it isn't colorfast.

Even just a small amount of dye in your wash can make a difference to white fabrics. Color can build up over time to create grimy yellow or gray tones. Check clothing carefully before loading it into the washer or dryer to ensure no unwanted articles make their way into the wrong cycle.

How to Whiten Clothes That Have Yellowed

When your whites start turning yellow, there’s no need to worry. There are plenty of tricks you can try to have clothing looking clean and pristine again in no time. Here are 10 effective methods:

1. Use Carbona Color Run Remover

Carbona Color Run Remover
Carbona® Color Run Remover |...
Carbona Color Run Remover
Carbona® Color Run Remover |...

By far, the easiest thing you can do to restore white clothes that have yellowed is to use Carbona Color Run Remover. It contains no bleach, formaldehyde, and phosphate, but works just as effectively. In fact, one look at the reviews on Amazon and you’ll be convinced to try it out.

Using this particular cleaning product is super easy, but the techniques for removing stains from a single garment and a full load differ slightly. You can learn more about how to use Carbona Color Run Remover.

2. Use Diluted Chlorine Bleach

Chlorine bleach can be a good way to clear up stains, but only when mixed with water. While diluted chlorine bleach acts as a stain remover, concentrated bleach can be strong enough to damage fabric fibers and destroy whitening agents. Only use a small amount of chlorine bleach when whitening yellow clothing. 

To use chlorine bleach, separate your white clothes that have turned yellow. Use a heavy-duty cycle with hot water and an extra rinse. Don’t overload the washer. Clothes should circulate easily through the water.

For best results in a standard washer, dilute the ⅓ cup of bleach in 1 quart of water. Then, add the liquid to the wash 5 minutes after the wash cycle begins. If you use a high efficiency washing machine, add the bleach and detergent to the appropriate dispenser compartments.

3. Mix In Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach, also known as all-fabric bleach or percarbonate of soda, is a gentler alternative to traditional chlorine bleach solutions. It works well as both a pre soaking agent and a detergent, helping remove stains and brighten white fabrics. Oxygen bleach is also safer for your skin and the environment. 

To use oxygen bleach to brighten white clothes, mix the powder or liquid solution with the water in a container for soaking before adding clothes. Submerge the stained clothes. Allow them to soak for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight because oxygen bleach works slowly. Then, wash the clothes normally. 

4. Combine Baking Soda and Peroxide

When you combine baking soda, peroxide, and water, you get a stain remover that can help to remove the yellow color from white clothing. Unlike other DIY mixtures, baking soda and peroxide form a paste best used before adding clothes to the washing machine. 

Rub the mixture into stained clothing and allow it to sit for thirty minutes or more. Once you lift the stain, rinse off any remaining solids before transferring clothes to the washing machine. Wash clothes normally, repeating the process for tough or persistent stains. 

5. Make A Vinegar and Salt Mixture

Vinegar and salt also mix to make a powerful yet gentle stain remover. You can combine the two materials in a 2:1 ratio to create a cleaning solution that will remove stains from white clothes turned yellow.

Soak clothes for 30 minutes or longer before moving them to the washing machine. Then, wash normally. You may need to wash clothing twice to completely eliminate any lingering vinegar odor. Just make sure not to mix the vinegar with laundry detergent, which would strip both ingredients of their cleaning abilities.

6. Remove Stains With Toothpaste

Toothpaste can help whiten white clothes!

You may be surprised to learn that the toothpaste you keep in your bathroom can be an effective stain removal solution when white clothes turn yellow. Compounds in the toothpaste, such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, can help to brighten, whiten, and remove stains from the fabric. 

Gently work toothpaste into stained areas using a cloth or brush, then allow it to sit for fifteen to thirty minutes. Remove any solid material in the sink before transferring clothes to your washing machine. 

7. Try Denture Tablets

Denture tablets whiten bridgework the same way toothpaste whitens teeth, allowing you to use them for all-purpose stain removal. To whiten clothes with denture tablets, dissolve a couple in a container of warm water and allow clothes to soak. Once the grime has lifted away, wash as normal for brighter, cleaner whites.

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8. Squeeze Fresh Lemon Juice

Another quick and easy solution to discoloration is freshly squeezed lemon juice from your kitchen. The citric acid acts as a whitening agent, eating at yellow stains and allowing you to flush them away in the wash.

What's more, unlike many other DIY cleaning solutions, lemon juice will leave your clothes smelling naturally fresh and pleasant. Rub lemon juice into stained areas and allow it to sit in a warm, sunny spot for several hours before washing. Then, just throw the white clothes in the washing machine.

9. Soak in a Hydrogen Peroxide Solution

Hydrogen peroxide is a component in popular cleaning solutions, including many stain removers. You can use it as the active ingredient in your own DIY stain removal by mixing household hydrogen peroxide with water. 

Add about one cup of peroxide to warm water and allow clothes to soak for thirty minutes before rinsing. If you still see yellow stains, repeat the process until clothes come out looking bright and clean.

11. Add to Dissolved Aspirin

If you don’t have any cleaning supplies on hand, you may be able to raid your medicine closet for a DIY whitening solution. For this hack, you will need aspirin. Yes, you heard that right.

Aspirin is a common painkiller that breaks down in hot water to form salicylic acid and acetic acid, or vinegar. These acids can help to lift and remove yellow stains on fabrics. Simply dissolve five or six pills in a drum of hot water and allow clothing to soak overnight for brighter whites.

How to Keep White Clothes From Turning Yellow

Now that you’ve transformed your stained yellowish clothes back to its glorious white color, there are a couple of things you can do to keep the fabric looking pristine. Here are 7 tips for you:

1. Wash Whites Frequently

It can be tempting to wear the same outfit more than once, especially if it’s still looking clean. However, each time you wear whites, you expose your clothes to compounds that will cause yellowing. This repeated, prolonged exposure can cause even new clothing to fade in just a matter of months. 

Washing your whites between each wear minimizes contact with yellowing chemicals found in sweat, deodorant, and more. It’s a good idea to wash white clothing as soon after wearing it as possible to keep the fabric looking bold and bright.

2. Presoak Loads

One of the best ways to deal with white clothes turned yellow is by lifting and removing the stain. Presoaking can help you to loosen dirt and grime that can lead to dull, yellow fabric. Doing this makes it easier for detergents to work on fabrics and remove stains for brighter, whiter colors. 

Many newer washing machine models have a built-in presoak function for soiled loads. You can also perform a presoak by filling your washing machine drum with water, adding a small amount of detergent, and allowing your clothing to soak for thirty minutes or more. 

3. Separate Colors When Doing Laundry

One of the easiest ways to prevent white clothes from turning into another color is to separate your load of whites. Wash white clothes with other white clothes only. This prevents bold colors and dyes from leaching into the water and changing the color of your white shirts.

Remember, even one colored item can cause a laundry disaster! You’ve probably had a mixed wash accident where all your entire white pieces of clothing turned pink. That’s caused by one red item in the load.

4. Use Lower Temperatures

For many of us, hot water is the default for washing clothes. While hot water might be a good choice when dealing with soiled or contaminated clothing, it doesn’t work well for treating stains. Hot water tends to set colors into the fabric, leading to long-term damage. 

When you’re dealing with white clothes turned yellow, hot water is likely to do more harm than good. Instead, warm or lukewarm water is better for lifting stains and aiding detergents. Most washers and dryers offer low or no-heat settings ideal for white loads.

5. Sun-Dry Clothes

Instead of drying your clothes in the dryer, you can use a clothesline to air them out in the sun. Not only is this an eco-friendly alternative to drying machines, but it will help to keep clothing white for longer. 

UV rays from the sun can fade unwanted colors from fabric, restoring it to a bright white without using any bleach or harsh chemicals. They can also slow or prevent yellowing in newer articles of clothing to keep them looking their best wash after wash. 

6. Know How to Store Your Clothes

All too often, people see white clothes turning yellow in closets due to improper storage conditions. Certain materials can cause whites to fade and turn yellow, even without frequent wear. 

It's best to store whites in a cool, dry location with plenty of ventilation. If you have to place them in a container, make sure it contains non-reactive, acid-free plastic. Contact with acidic materials such as cardboard will often cause yellowing over time.

7. Don’t Spray Perfume or Deodorant on White Clothes

Last but not least, avoid spraying perfume, deodorant, or antiperspirant on your clothing, especially white shirts. Yellowish stains are made of the minerals (especially salt), mostly due to body oils and sweat mixing with the ingredients in antiperspirant or deodorant (primarily aluminum).

This is why you often see yellow stains on white clothes, particularly in the collar, cuffs, and underarm areas. The best time to put on perfume or deodorant is right after shower and before getting dressed as it gives the fragrance time to dry and prevents it from staining your white clothes.

Key Takeaways

Now you know why your white clothes have turned yellow. There are a wide variety of reasons you might see white clothing turning yellow, from poor washing techniques to a dirty closet. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of tricks that you can try to get white clothes turned yellow looking pristine once again. Taking care to wash, dry, and store each piece properly can prevent yellowing in delicate fabrics and keep your favorite clothes looking whiter for longer.

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