Keeping whites white and brights bright

(Vetta Collection/Istockphoto)
By Martha Stewart
February 4, 2010

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Of the many household tasks, doing the laundry seems to be a no-brainer: Put clothes in the washer, add detergent and press start. But regular washing can take a toll on your garments.

Here are some tips.

How to keep whites white
Wash whites separately: The best way to retain whiteness is to launder white items together in the hottest water the fabric will tolerate (water that is at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit is most effective at removing soil). Choose detergent with a bleach alternative and/or enzymes, using the maximum amount recommended.

Add a laundry booster: You can increase the cleaning power of a detergent by adding a booster, such as borax, oxygen bleach, or washing soda. Before washing, soak heavily soiled items using an enzyme detergent (available at many supermarkets) or oxygen bleach, and launder them separately.

Pretreat stains: To remove perspiration and greasy stains, pretreat with liquid detergent, dishwashing liquid, or shampoo (use colorless ones to avoid dye transfer). Gently rub the liquid into the fabric using a clean toothbrush.

Use a color remover: Once a month or when your whites become dull, wash them with a color remover (available at many supermarkets). Alternatively, soak fabrics that won’t shrink in boiling water and oxygen bleach in a basin.

Minerals and water: If your water has a high iron content (look for reddish stains in the shower and toilet), launder with an iron-removing product (at many supermarkets).

Don’t use chlorine bleach: Combined with iron and hot water, it can yellow clothing. Instead, use oxygen bleach, which is more effective (and more environmentally friendly). For hard water (evidenced by rough, hard-to-clean deposits on bathroom fixtures), some detergent labels call for using larger amounts. If your water is particularly hard, you may not be able to get whites pristine unless you install a water softener, which removes minerals.

How to keep darks dark
Wash darks separately: To help preserve dark items’ original colors and prevent bleeding onto lighter clothes, wash darks together using the cold-water cycle (60 to 80 F).

Use the shortest cycle: Select the appropriate setting depending on how soiled the clothes are and what fabric they’re made of. Experts say that detergents don’t really contribute to fading. While some formulas are designed specifically for darks, any liquid detergent without a bleach alternative is suitable (liquids work better in cold water; powders may not dissolve fully).

Avoid the dryer: Whenever possible, hang dark items to dry (out of direct sunlight). When you use the dryer, opt for the lowest temperature suitable for the material, and don’t overdry your clothes. Remove them from the machine while they’re slightly damp.

Washing in winter: Frigid outdoor temperatures may cause the washer’s water temperature to fall below 40 F, rendering detergents designed to work in cold water ineffective. If you live in an area with particularly frigid winters, don’t use the cold-water wash setting during that time of year. Instead, select a warm-water wash and a cold rinse.

How to keep brights bright
Separate by color intensity: Launder colored items in two groups: brights and pastels. Wash new brights on their own for the first few cycles, when they’re most likely to bleed dye.

Turn items inside out: Keep brights looking good longer by reversing them before washing. Choose the shortest cycle appropriate for the soil level and fabric.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.