gray and white tshirt

How to Whiten Clothes That Have Greyed

Are your white clothes looking grey and tired? Do your shirts need a little care and attention? How about those white trousers? Do they need a little TLC to bring them back from gloomy-land?

Yep, white clothes often demand a lot of attention. And without proper care and maintenance, they change colour and go a murky, off-silver type of hue quickly. In most cases, items look more bin-worthy than wear-worthy.

So, what can you do about this greying batch of clothes in your wardrobe?

Simple. You’re going to follow the method(s) below, and in no time at all, you’ll be saying goodbye to dingy, ashen clothes and hello to a fresher and brighter wardrobe!


What Makes White Clothes Turn Grey?

a pile of white dirty laundry

Before you re-whiten your greying laundry, it would be helpful to know why your clothes are dulling and going grey.

If you know what’s causing the discolouration, you can do something/do less of something to ensure the problem doesn’t keep happening.

Let’s take a look at this in more detail.

Your clothes might be turning grey because:

  • You’re using too much detergent and/or fabric softener, and the products are leaving a residue on your white clothes.
  • Deodorants can stain clothes after a while.
  • Dye can transfer between items as they get washed, hung up, and worn. This can dull the appearance of your white laundry.
  • Everyday pollution (smoking, for example) and wear and tear (sweat and food, for example) will impact how white your clothes look.
  • Hard water can leave mineral deposits on clothes. When it comes to white clothes, deposits like calcium and magnesium can make clothes dingy-looking.
  • If you use too much bleach on your white clothes, they will lose their glow. The bleach will strip and weaken the material’s fibres, making it go greyish.

Now you’ve got a better idea about why your clothes are greying, you can treat them using the tips below to restore their colour.


How to Get Greyed Clothes White Again

Note: Before you try any of the methods below, you should do a patch test and pop protective gear on!

Method 1: Bicarbonate of soda

Bicarbonate of soda is a slightly abrasive, non-toxic product that’s easy to get hold of and can whiten greying laundry.

There are two ways you can use bicarb to re-whiten white clothes. Check out the options below:

The overnight soak

soaking clothes in baking soda

Steps to follow:

  1. Fill a clean bucket with four to five litres of warm water.
  2. Add a cup of bicarbonate of soda to the bucket.
  3. Stir the water.
  4. Add a few (two to three items – adjust if clothes are big) greying white things to the bucket.
  5. Make sure each item is submerged in the water.
  6. Leave the bucket alone overnight.
  7. The next morning, remove the items from the water.
  8. Rinse the products under the cold water tap.
  9. Launder the items as usual.
  10. Dry clothes outside in the sun, if you can – the sun has a bleaching effect, so it will also help to whiten the laundry.


The washing machine method

putting bicarbonate of soda in washing machine drum

Steps to follow:

  1. Pop half a cup of bicarb into your washing machine’s drum.
  2. Add the grey-white laundry to the machine.
  3. Pop your normal detergent into the appliance.
  4. Select an appropriate washing cycle – check the temperature, type of cycle, and cycle length.
  5. Start the cycle.
  6. Add half a cup of bicarbonate of soda to the washing machine during the rinse cycle.
  7. Dry your laundry in the sun.

You can combine both the overnight soak and the washing machine method if you’re greyish clothes are being stubborn!

Tip: Bicarbonate of soda can treat tough stains on white clothes. Just make a paste from bicarb and water and spread it over the blemish, then leave it there for a period of time. After the allotted time, you can rinse and clean the items as usual.


Method 2: Lemon juice

using lemon juice to whiten clothes

Lemons contain citric acid, which has a bleaching effect on white clothes. This is why lemon juice can be used to re-whiten greying laundry.

To use lemon juice to spruce up white clothes, follow the steps below:

  1. Fill a clean bucket with one part lemon juice (you can decide how much lemon juice to add based on the size of your item(s)).
  2. Add two parts boiling water to the bucket (see note above on measurements).
  3. Soak your item(s) in boiling water overnight. Make sure the garment(s) is submerged.
  4. Rinse the item(s) the next day under the cold water tap.
  5. Wash the item(s) as normal, then pop it on the line to dry.

Tip: Lemon juice can also be used to treat stains on white clothes! Rust, saucy, grass, and sweat can all be taken out with a bit of lemon juice. See our guide to removing stains with lemon juice for inspiration.


Method 3: White vinegar

White vinegar is a popular cleaning ingredient because it’s non-toxic, colourless, and can rip through grime.

It’s also the ideal product to use when you need to re-whiten greying laundry. The acidity in the vinegar breaks down the dirt and brings a glow back to white clothes.

There are two ways you can use white vinegar to re-whiten clothes. Check out the options below:

The soaking method

soak white clothes in white vinegar

Steps to follow:

  1. Fill a clean bucket with four litres of hot water.
  2. Add a cup of white vinegar to the water.
  3. Place a few white items in the water.
  4. Soak the items overnight.
  5. The next day, rinse the cleaning solution off the clothes and wash them as normal.


The washing machine method

why use white vinegar

Pop your greying white laundry in the wash alongside half a cup of white vinegar, choose a cycle, and start it. By the end of the wash, the clothes will be glowing and will also be clean.

Note: White vinegar can soften laundry as a bonus!


Method 4: Hydrogen peroxide

disinfect laundry with hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a strong chemical that can bleach clothes, making it ideal for treating greying white laundry.

It can also act as a cleaner and disinfectant, so it’ll be able to remove those pesky stains for you.

Trying to get hold of hydrogen peroxide in shops is often tricky, so either buy it online or ask your local pharmacy for advice!

To treat clothes with hydrogen peroxide, add a cup of hydrogen peroxide to your washing machine when your lifeless grey clothes are going through a normal washing cycle. By the end of the cycle, the laundry will be sparkling!


Method 5: Aspirin

whiten clothes with aspirin

Aspirin isn’t anywhere near as strong as bleach when it comes to re-whitening clothes. However, it has some bleaching tendencies, so it can be used to re-whiten slightly grey clothes.

Steps to follow:

  1. Grab a big, clean bucket.
  2. Put about ten aspirins in the bucket (take them out of the packet).
  3. Place five litres of hot water into the bucket.
  4. Stir the contents of the bucket.
  5. Drop a few greying items into the water.
  6. Make sure the items are submerged in the liquid.
  7. Wait eight hours or overnight.
  8. Remove the clothes from the bucket the next morning.
  9. Clean the clothes in the washing machine.
  10. Add three aspirins to the washing machine’s drum.
  11. Run a typical cycle.
  12. Hang clothes on the line to dry.

Tip: Like other products mentioned, aspirin can also be used to treat stains on white garments. For more information on using aspirin to remove blemishes, see our guide.


Method 6: Bleach

chlorine bleach

When it comes to using bleach, a strong chemical cleaner, you should make sure that you wear gloves, keep kids and pets out of the way, and ensure you’ve got lots of ventilation in the room you’re working in.

It’s possible to use oxygen or chlorine bleach to treat greying white clothes. But oxygen bleach is the gentler of the two. Nonetheless, you should be careful when handling the products.

To use bleach, you should read the instructions on the packaging to find out how the product should be used.

You should take note of how much bleach to water you need to use (to ensure proper dilution) and find out how long you can leave your clothes in the solution for.

As a guide, you will need to pour a dose of bleach into a clean bucket filled with four to five litres of water (approximately).

You’ll then put the clothes in the water and allow them to soak for a little while (this is usually a few minutes at most).

After this, you’ll need to rinse the clothes under the cold water tap and clean them as usual.

It’s also possible to use bleach in a washing machine. But you should check the instructions on the bleach you’ve chosen’s packaging to find out how you do this, as the guidance sometimes differs between products.


Method 7: A specialised cleaning product

white laundry and stain remover and whitener product

To keep your white clothes white, you should buy a specialised cleaning product designed to clean white laundry.

Specialised products in this niche are designed to lock in the colour of your clothes, make items glow as you wash them, and protect your garments! And you can also use them to treat greying clothes pre-wash and in the wash.

There’s a wealth of products to choose from when it comes to cleaning white clothes, including but not limited to Vanish Oxi Action Whitener and Stain Remover, Molly’s Suds Oxygen Bleach Whitener, and Dr. Beckmann Glowhite. (Some products are bleach-based, others aren’t).

You can find a comparison of each product in our guide to the best laundry whiteners!


How Do You Whiten White Clothes That Have Greyed Without Bleach?

how to disinfect clothes without bleach

In a pinch and need to whiten some greying clothes? You’ve most likely been told to bleach your garments as it’s one of the ‘go-to’ options.

However, not all materials should or can be bleached. Or you/someone in the family may have sensitive skin, and bleach would irritate it. So, what can you use instead to whiten your laundry?

You can use the methods above to re-whiten your grey clothes. Just don’t use any of the treatments that mention bleach.

Some methods you could use include:

  • Lemon juice
  • Bicarbonate of soda
  • White vinegar
  • Aspirin


How Do You Keep White Clothes White?

sparkling white clothes

To keep your white clothes white, try the following:

  • Make sure you wash white clothes with white clothes. Don’t add any colours, including light ones, as you may end up with colour runs.
  • Treat stains as soon as possible so they don’t have time to age and discolour the white material.
  • Pre-soak white garments in the solutions mentioned above and then wash the clothes. This is especially true for really dirty clothes.
  • Wash your laundry with detergents that specialise in cleaning, protecting, and keeping white clothes white.
  • Dry your clothes on the line outside so you make use of the sun’s natural bleaching effect.
  • Clean your clothes regularly so dust and grime don’t build up on them.
  • Make sure you don’t overload your washing machine. If you overfill the machine, the clothes won’t move around in the drum properly, so they won’t end up as clean as they should be.
  • Don’t add too much detergent/fabric softener to the washer because excess product(s) can make white clothes turn grey.
  • Be mindful about what deodorant you use and how much you spray on.
  • Don’t wash grubby clothes alongside relatively clean stuff. The dirt will rub off and onto the clean-ish laundry. And all the white laundry will end up contaminated and dull.