Keeping Cotton Whites Bright

Wednesday April 02, 2008
New York, NY

With spring here and summer just around the corner - it's time to put away those dark, dreary garments and bring out warm weather’s most popular color--white. White, often mistaken for the absence of color, is actually the perfect harmony of all colors at once. It complements tanned skin and is pleasing against a bright blue sky. But when the wattage on whites dims to a dingy yellow or gray, well, that’s a horse of a different color.

There are a lot of myths about how to wash whites. “Keeping whites white is not as much a matter of what you use, but how you use it,” says Norma Keyes, Cotton Incorporated Director of Product Standards. “For instance, chlorine bleach may not be the all-purpose answer. In fact, using several, simple, stacked laundering techniques in combination can provide the best ways to keep white clothes looking their best.”

Below, in more detail are the guidelines for keeping summer whites crisp and bright.

Separate for Success
Separating whites from colors may take more time and create an additional load, but it is certainly worth the effort. Dingy whites are often caused by bleeding from darker colors within the same load.

Another culprit is using too much detergent. Excessive detergent use can provide sites for dirt to be attached. Always be sure to adhere to your washer’s loading instructions to ensure proper water levels for washing and rinsing, and follow detergent manufacturer’s instructions for the recommended amount to use. Detergent manufacturer’s recommendations are based on water volume to detergent to load weight ratios and not to get consumers to use more detergent.

Nip Stains in the Bud
Treat stains as they happen. Treating a fresh stain with a liquid detergent or a stain product will help break up the stain and allow it to be removed in the wash. Letting a stain settle will make the stain more difficult to remove. If you opt for a stain-remover to combat a spill, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for applying the stain remover to achieve the best results. Rinse with cool water and repeat until the stain is lighter or removed.

Spy Before You Dry
Remember to inspect garments before drying to ensure that all stains have been removed. If you don’t, the drying process can set the stain into the fibers, making it more difficult or impossible to remove. If the stain is still visible after a single wash, treat it and wash again.

Resist the Bleach Reach
Most of us assume that the use of chlorine bleach will keep our summer whites bright. But this may not be the case. Chlorine bleach can break down optical brighteners (additives applied during fabric processing), and turn bright whites to dingy yellow or gray. There are three bleach options possible on a care label: Do not use chlorine bleach, do not use any bleach, or use any type of bleach. If the care label says to not use chlorine bleach, “oxygen” products or colorfast bleaches may be used. The garment care label will state whether chlorine bleach should not be used in which case “oxygen” products or colorfast bleaches can be used.

So whether you are headed to a summer getaway or taking the family to a picnic in the park, these simple tips can help you keep clothing clean and white throughout the season.

Cotton Incorporated, funded by U.S. growers of upland cotton and importers of cotton and cotton textile products, is the research and marketing company representing upland cotton. The Program is designed and operated to improve the demand for and profitability of cotton.

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