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How to Keep Whites Looking White

Keeping my white laundry looking white and bright has often been a source of frustration for me.

There’s nothing more annoying that a gorgeous white top, or even something as simple as clean, white undergarments, that come out of the dryer looking a faded gray.

I tend to shy away from products like bleach because they’re harsh chemicals and my kids have sensitive skin.

Aside from that, I’ve found in my experience with bleach that it actually causes many whites to yellow over time and seems to break down the fabric.

It’s not exactly a gentle chemical.

all natural bleach alternatives

photo credit: ilselieve

I’ve tried a few natural bleach alternative ideas over the past few years and have had some nice success with them.

It makes me feel better about what’s going onto my kids clothes as well as what’s going down the drain.

Tips to Keep Naturally Whiten Laundry

Here are a few hints and natural bleach alternative ideas for keeping your whites looking bright and, well, white without resorting to a bottle of bleach.

Pre-Treat Your Stains to Keep Whites White

I always start by treating any stains. With multiple kids (and 2 of them boys) there’s often smears of all sorts of things on their clothes…or mine.

How to Pre-Treat Stains

  • Remove the clothing as immediately as you can.
  • Rinse the stain and/or soak.
  • Treat with your favorite stain remover, such as: Stain Stick, Shout, or even hydrogen peroxide (great for blood stains!). I LOVE to use Branch Basics All Purpose Spray as a stain pre-treat solution.
  • Let the pre-treat solution soak before washing the item.
  • Always spot test in an inconspicuous area first to make sure the garment is colorfast.

Add Baking Soda To Your Wash

Add 1 cup of baking soda per load of laundry directly in with the clothes – not in the detergent dispenser on a front loader.

Like Borax (see below), Baking Soda helps remove odors, is a color-safe bleach alternative and gets your laundry detergent working better.

Related: The Many Uses of Baking Soda

Tip: Purchase Baking Soda in 13 lb. bags at Costco.

Add Borax To Your Wash

Add a 1/2 cup Borax to your laundry directly in with the clothes – not in the detergent dispenser on a front loader.

Borax helps remove stains, is a color-safe bleach alternative, deodorizes and softens hard water.

Detergent will work more effectively in soft water.

You can also pre-treat with Borax by soaking stained garments in a mixture of 1 tablespoon borax to one gallon of water.


Branch Basics Pure Oxygen Boost whitens and brightens fabrics and remove stains and odors, yet keeps you and your family safe from fragrances, binding agents, solvents, etc.

No bleach. No ammonia. No dyes. No fragrances. Safe for septic tank.

The package comes with a plastic, 1 oz (2 Tablespoons) scoop.

  • No bleach.
  • No ammonia.
  • No dyes.
  • No fragrances.
  • Safe for septic tanks

I love to add a scoop of this to my laundry loads, especially to our whites and extra stinky loads (think gym clothes and soccer uniforms!)

2 pounds of Oxygen Boost will treat approximately 32 medium sized loads of laundry.


Branch Basics has kindly provided a coupon code for all Good Life Eats readers who want to try out their awesome non-toxic cleaning supplies! Thank you, Branch Basics!


Use the Branch Basics Coupon Code GLE15 for 15% OFF a STARTER KIT!

Add Vinegar To Your Rinse Cycle

Add a 1/2 of a cup of plain, white vinegar to your rinse cycle.

Not only does it help brighten white fabrics, it reduces static and helps remove any soap residues.

Vinegar also helps with brighter colors and eliminates bleeding from fabric dyes that may stain your clothes.

Use Cold Water Cycles

Always use cold water for your wash and rinse cycles as well as soaking during pre-treating.

Heat just bakes the stain into the clothes.

Examine stained items as they come out of the wash before placing them in the dryer.

If the stain is still there, then let the item hang dry and treat it again in a second wash.

Don’t put stained clothing in the dryer until the stain is gone.

What’s your favorite way to keep stains off your white laundry so it’s beautiful and bright? Do you use a natural bleach alternative?

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Saturday 15th of January 2022

I have a mini whiteboard magnet above our washer stating ❛Laundry is not a race❜. Doesn't matter. Sometimes I get a feeling, usually when I hear the dryer and discover it's on "overcook those suckers" and rush over to see what's going on.

Just moments ago? Cleaning cloths, not on the clean end of things (never wring your cleaning cloths because you're only wringing dirt permanently into the fibers) washed with white t-shirts, washcloths, chlorine bleach‽, socks … We live in a high arid zone and never need to put dry past the "ok, heat it up and swirl it around a bit" and never dry socks and tees. Sometimes it's right side out jeans in the washer with a rainbow of t-shirts … at least the color catchers are used and appreciated.

If I didn't have cancer and weren't exhausted you can bet I'd do it all.

Now I need to decide… to brighten should I use Bac-out, color safe bleach, borax, washing soda, vinegar or baking soda?

And why do you say cold water? I've always used hot or warm for whites.


Sunday 16th of January 2022

In my experience hot water can set in certain stains

Robin Bair

Wednesday 6th of May 2020

Thank you for sharing this! I have been using borax and baking soda in my laundry for years, especially my whites. Adding baking soda to my laundry, any kind, sure does get the odors out! I have only used borax in my whites, never colors. Maybe I'll try adding a little bit of borax to colors one day. ;-) When I have whites that are really dirty and smell... I like to let them soak in baking soda, borax, and free & clear All over night. It helps all body odors to disappears and keeps the whites staying white, and removes under arm discoloration! Haven't been able to do that for 3+ years, since we use a laundromat now. Oh well. Sometimes I wash them twice instead! Thanks again!!


Thursday 7th of May 2020

Thank you for sharing! I love your tip for soaking over night. Have a great day and thanks for stopping by. :)


Wednesday 19th of December 2012

Just a quick question - do you add both the baking soda and borax to the clothes? I'm trying to find more natural alternatives. I'm curious about what you use to pre-treat the stains, I've struggled to find a more natural one to use. Thanks! Erin


Thursday 14th of June 2012

I have bedding that is white with purple. No matter how often I ask, my boyfriend, he never washes his face before bed. I noticed today how grimey and gray his pillow sham is now. How can I remove that grime, without fading the purple of my bedding?


Wednesday 27th of June 2012

I would wash the bedding adding baking soda, borax, or vinegar to the wash and pre-treating with a color safe stain remover. You can also try soaking it in water with vinegar prior to the wash.