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How to whiten clothes: Banish stubborn stains and achieve dazzlingly bright whites with our expert advice

Hands taking wet white clothes out of automatic washing machine

Be gone, dingy whites. Here’s everything you need to know about brightening dull, greying garments

Is your crisp white t-shirt looking a little dull? Your white bed linen, a little faded? Then we’re going to reveal exactly what you need to know to get those garments, and the rest of your whites, back to looking their pristine best.

Over time, white items of clothing can become discoloured as a result of colour bleeding from other garments, staining from sweat or they simply fade due to over-washing, which can leave them looking dull and far from gleaming. And while it may be tempting to simply soak them bleach, it isn’t a suitable treatment for all fabrics or all types of stains.

The good news is that there is a solution for almost every type of stain – it just takes a bit of laundry know-how. From sorting your washing into suitable loads, to maintaining your washing machine and using the correct detergents, we’ve sourced the best expert advice in this simple explainer to help you achieve the whitest whites.

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How should I wash my whites?

Sophie Lane, product training manager at Miele GB, says that the most effective way to maintain the integrity of white clothing is to start by properly sorting your laundry pile. “One of the first key tips to keep your whites bright is to separate them from coloured fabrics.”

You should also pay attention to the capacity of your washing machine, taking care not to overload it. Sophie says, “It can be tempting to put as many clothes into your washing machine as possible. However, overloading your washing machine can result in trapping dirt between the fabric because there isn’t enough room for the clothes to move within the drum. Stick to the recommended load sizes for each programme to ensure brilliant results.”

It goes without saying that you should wash items such as trainers and heavily soiled clothes in a separate load to avoid the dirt spreading through the wash.

“If you have very dirty garments – for example, muddy football shirts – then try using your washing machine’s pre-wash function. This will remove the majority of loose dirt at the start of the programme,” Sophie advises.

Read our guide on how to use a washing machine for more in-depth information on laundry best practice.

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Choosing the right detergent

According to Sophie, “The active ingredients in your detergent play a huge role in the cleaning performance.” As such, she recommends looking for particular ingredients. The best laundry detergents will include a variety of hero ingredients such as active oxygenated bleach, enzymes and optical brighteners.

“Active oxygen bleaching agents are fantastic at removing dirt, odours and stubborn stains such as tea, coffee, red wine and more,” she adds. “They’re also safe to use on almost all fabrics except for delicate items, woollens and silks. Enzymes are a powerhouse cleaner that remove targeted stains even at low temperatures; the more enzymes present in the detergent, the better the clean. Optical brighteners in detergents intensify the look of white fabrics and make them appear brighter.”

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How to treat stains on white clothes

Chloe Baker, spokesperson for laundry expert Dr. Beckmann, has the following advice for dealing with stains. “It’s important to act promptly. Treat the blemish with a damp cloth and specific stain remover to break down the stain, before adding it to your regular cycle.”

Hands holding white clothing with a stain

You can also use a paste of distilled white vinegar and baking soda to remove most stains on fabrics where a stain remover isn’t suitable. Simply mix together a small amount and apply to the stain for up to half an hour before washing. Always check a garment’s label for specific care instructions and soak in cool water if required.

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Keeping whites bright

Aside from accidental staining, maintaining the original brightness of white clothing can be a chore. Chloe says, “It can be challenging to keep the whiteness of your clothing, but maintaining the vibrancy of your garments is important to prolonging the life of your wardrobe, so you wear more and waste less. Use a dedicated whitening product to help maintain and restore the brightness of your whites with every wash. You can also go one step further with a laundry whitening booster, which gets to work from the very first wash.”

Sophie recommends drying whites outside on a clear day for an extra whitening boost. She says, “On a sunny day, hang your white washing outside to dry. The direct light from the sun will naturally bleach white textiles.”

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The importance of a clean machine

A dirty washing machine is often the culprit for prematurely greying whites. Ensure that your appliance is crystal clean with our guide to how to clean your washing machine.

Person cleaning washing machine drawers with a cloth

“In order for our clothes to be cleaned, it’s essential to regularly clean our washing machines to prevent bacterial build-up and unpleasant odours, as well as maintain the machine’s performance,” Dr Beckmann’s Chloe explains. “We recommend cleaning your machine after approximately 30 washes. Run an empty washing cycle with a hot temperature and a dedicated washing machine cleaner to thoroughly clean your machine. Don’t forget to also keep the drum and seals clean by wiping these down with a mixture of water and mild detergent to remove any residue or build-up.”

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How to achieve and maintain bright whites, step-by-step:

1. Sort your whites into piles, paying attention to fabric care labels and removing heavily soiled items.

2. Spot treat any stains at least half an hour before washing.

3. Pre-soak any stained or heavily soiled items as necessary.

4. Wash on the warmest cycle permitted with specialist detergent and any desired whitening treatments.

5. Line dry outside on a sunny day whenever possible.

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