These Easy Tips Will Keep Your White Shirts White, Not Yellow

Many of us dislike doing laundry. One of the most annoying things about it is that regular washing can have some unsightly effects on your clothes, especially your white tees and shirts. In fact, white shirts often look yellow or even gray after numerous wash cycles. As a result, you’ve probably noticed that a brand-new white shirt often looks a whole lot brighter than an older one. But, with a couple clever laundry tips, that doesn’t have to be the case!

Below, check out some genius tips that can keep your white shirts white, no matter how often you wear and wash them!

1. Wash them every one or two wears

Man Doing Laundry
Clean them, even if they don’t look dirty. | iStock/Getty Images

Some people would never wear a shirt more than once between washes, while others take pride in wearing things several times before dropping them in the hamper. Good Housekeeping recommends that when it comes to your white clothes, you should wash them every one or two wears. Even if you can’t see or smell them, body oils and perspiration build up and turn fabrics yellow or gray. To wash them out (and prevent them from building up), wash those items of clothing frequently. 

2. Always wash white clothes separately

Separating laundry
Not separating is just asking for your white clothes to turn pink. | Martin Poole/iStock/Getty Images

Martha Stewart cites improper sorting as the major cause of white shirts going gray or looking dull. Most people don’t have enough white clothes to run an all-white load. So they mix their white shirts in with other garments. Unfortunately, many types of cloth aren’t colorfast. That means that garments made of such materials bleed onto your white clothes and cause staining. The solution? Just wash your white clothes separately from everything else, even if it’s a smaller load.

3. Use the hottest water you can

Check your labels first, though. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Once you have that load of white clothes ready to go, you’ll want to check out the care labels and figure out the hottest water temperature the materials can take. Martha Stewart reports that water around 120 degrees is the most effective at removing soil. However, you’ll need to take your specific fabrics into account. Not every material will tolerate the hottest setting on your washing machine. Delicate linen, for instance, probably needs a lower wash temperature than a more robust cotton oxford cloth. 

4. Don’t overload your washing machine

Don’t overfill your machine. | iStock/Getty Images

According to Good Housekeeping, another mistake that keeps your white shirts from looking their brightest is the tendency to overload the washing machine. It may feel hard to resist the urge to throw in a few more items if there’s space at the top of the machine. However, you should try!

Clothes need to circulate around the machine to get clean. If you fill the machine to the top, the detergent doesn’t have enough room to interact with the soil on your clothes or to give you the best cleaning performance. 

5. Choose detergent with a bleach alternative

Tide with bleach alternative
Tide Original Plus Bleach Alternative | Target

Many people don’t like using traditional bleach on their clothes. However, Martha Stewart recommends choosing a detergent with a bleach alternative or enzymes to keep your white shirts bright. To make sure the enzymes or bleach alternative are effective, you should use the maximum amount recommended for the size of the load. It’s tempting to skimp, especially if you want to make your bottle last as long as possible. But to really get the results promised, you’ll need to use enough detergent to make a difference.

6. Always measure your detergent precisely

Female Hand Pouring Detergent In The Blue Bottle Cap
Measuring precisely is vital. | AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images

Similarly, Good Housekeeping advises that you always measure your detergent precisely. Underusing and even overusing detergent can leave the fabric gray. You wouldn’t think that adding a little extra detergent would make your white shirts look dull — but it can. As the publication explains, “Suds cushion fabrics and dirt, so stains get trapped and don’t wash away like they should. Bottom line: Just follow the instructions on your bottle.”

7. Add a laundry booster

All oxi laundry whiteness booster
all OXI Laundry Booster for Sensitive Skin | Amazon

Another tip that Martha Stewart recommends for better results (and whiter shirts)? Add a laundry booster. The publication notes, “You can increase the cleaning power of a detergent by adding a booster, such as borax, oxygen bleach, or washing soda to help maintain whiteness.” Especially if your clothes are looking dingy, a laundry booster can help make them look brighter and whiter, all during a regular cycle in the washing machine.

8. Skip the fabric softener

fabric softener
Fabric softener can leave residue. | Manuel-F-O/iStock/Getty Images

You might not think twice about adding fabric softener to your laundry. After all, you want your white shirts to feel as soft as everything else in your wardrobe. However, you should skip the fabric softener if you’re trying to keep your whites bright. Fabric softener adds residue to your garments, and that residue can actually attract extra soil to the fibers. That results in more yellowing or dullness — exactly what you want to avoid with white clothing. 

9. Pre-soak heavily soiled items

dirty shirt hanging
Pre-soak your items to get out as much of the stain as possible. | Erllre/iStock/Getty Images

Did you wear a white tee for a sweaty workout or messy garden work? Then Martha Stewart recommends pre-soaking those heavily soiled items before they go in the washing machine. Just cover them in an enzyme detergent or oxygen bleach, then launder them separately from our other items. That extra step is pretty hands-off, but still does a great job of preventing stains or dullness. 

10. Pretreat areas with stains

Better pretreat that, stat. | iStock/Getty Images

Similarly, you’ll want to pretreat clothes that have stains. To remove perspiration and other greasy stains, pretreat the garment with liquid detergent, dishwashing liquid, or a colorless shampoo using a clean toothbrush. To tackle food stains or underarm yellowing, apply undiluted liquid oxygen bleach to the fabric immediately before you put the item in the washing machine. 

11. Check your clothes when they come out of the washing machine

Washing machine or dryer
Check for stains before drying them. | iStock/Getty Images

Most of us just automatically move everything from the washing machine to the dryer. But The Spruce recommends that you always check your clothes when you take them out of the washing machine. You should never dry a garment on high heat if it still has a stain. If you do so, the stain can become permanent. Your best bet is to re-treat the area and wash it again before you put it in the dryer. 

12. Dry your clothes according to the instructions on the label

Laundry folded with detergent
Read the care label carefully. | AlenaMozhjer/iStock/Getty Images

Good Housekeeping reports that over-drying your clothes can make them look more worn out. To avoid this, always check the care label to determine how you should dry your shirts (or whether you shouldn’t dry them at all). If you don’t want to read the label on every single shirt, Good Housekeeping recommends using the automatic setting. The machine will sense when your clothes are dry, and stop accordingly. 

13. Consider drying your items outdoors

The sunlight will whiten them even further. | BrianAJackson/iStock/Getty Images

The Spruce has a recommendation for people who don’t mind foregoing the convenience of the washing machine. Consider drying your white clothes and fabrics outside, if you can. According to the publication, “the ultraviolet rays from the sun will help to brighten and whiten the garment.” The next best thing? Put them in the dryer on a low heat setting, remove them while still slightly damp, and let them air-dry the rest of the way. Excessive heat can cause stains and residual soil to yellow. 

14. Use a color remover monthly

Out white brite color remover
Out White Brite Laundry Whitener | Walmart

Once a month, or whenever you notice your white clothes looking dull, Martha Stewart recommends using a color remover. If you don’t want to buy another product in the laundry aisle, you can also soak your items in boiling water and oxygen bleach instead. However, Martha Stewart notes that this method only works for fabrics that won’t shrink. You may have to experiment to find out which technique works best. 

15. Clean your washer every three months

Clean machines make clean clothes. | iStock/Getty Images

The Spruce notes that if your washing machine isn’t clean, your clothes won’t get clean. So, the publication recommends cleaning your machine thoroughly at least once every three months. That’s an especially important step to remember for high-efficiency washing machines, both top-loading and front-loading models. These machines use much less water in each load and can benefit from regular cleaning. 

16. Counteract the minerals in your water

Female hands under the stream of splashing water
Hard water might take extra care. | ValuaVitaly/Getty images

Another important step in keeping your white shirts white is counteracting the effects of any minerals you have in high concentrations in your water. For water with a high iron content (you’ll see reddish stains in your shower and toilet), use an iron-removing product. However, don’t use chlorine bleach because it can yellow clothing when combined with iron and hot water. If you have hard water (you’ll see rough, hard-to-clean deposits on your bathroom fixtures), you may need to use a larger amount of detergent; just check the label first. If your water is particularly hard, though, Martha Stewart reports that you may not be able to get pristine whites without installing a water softener to remove minerals. 

17. Realize that there’s only so much you can do

Blue background with white baby onesie and sock
Know when it’s time to call it quits. | Dash_med/iStock/Getty Images

Ultimately, there’s only so much you can do to keep your white shirts white. As Martha Stewart explains, “Even with meticulous sorting, don’t expect whites to stay fluorescent bright forever.” Many white fabrics are treated with optical brighteners, which boost whiteness. Once those wash out, you can’t replace them. So, you can keep your white shirts looking bright, but you’ll likely have to accept that they aren’t going to look brand-new forever.

Read More: Surprising Things You Didn’t Know You Could Clean in the Washing Machine