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Whitening laundry without bleach, a review

Day 28 – 30 Days to Love the Home You Have

by Cybele
According to my schedule today was to be about walls, but sadly I left my map print order a bit late and am still waiting for the delivery so I can play around with framing it. I could do a little dance and sing a little song. Let’s call it My Tune Deaf Two Left Feet. That’s a snappy title.
Instead I will tell you about my adventures in trying to whiten clothes and linen without bleach. Once upon a time, I used Napisan with abandon. That was until we connected our grey water system up to the washing machine to irrigate the garden. The last time I used Napisan and machine-rinsed the items that had been soaking, I watched all the plants near the grey water hose die. Oops! That was a very awkward conversation with hubby, ‘Yes, I killed all your darlings.’
Hence, I have been on the look out for alternatives ever since, because I’m not quite ready to give up on my obsession with white sheets and towels just yet.
Here is my review of the three most common suggestions I have found trawling around the net:

1. Lemon

Fill a pot with water and a few slices of fresh lemon and bring the water to the boil. Turn off heat, add linens, and let soak for up to an hour and wash as usual.
I loved the idea of this so much and was so convinced that it was going to work I took a picture of it.Lemon water
Sadly, I really can’t recommend it. Lemon may have good environmental credentials but unless you have a lemon tree this is not particularly cheap. However, I might have overlooked this if it worked well. Maybe I did something wrong, but for most of the items (Heckle’s white cotton PJs, some pillow cases and a towel) I could see a little bit of improvement, but about the equivalent of a really hot wash and it took a lot more effort.
I would love to hear if someone has had more success with this and they can tell me where I have gone wrong.

2. Vinegar

½ cup of vinegar in the prewash compartment  (or pour it in as the cycle starts.) We have a set of matching white towels and I put them in separate washes on the same cycle and the one with the vinegar did come out looking cleaner. It wasn’t a huge difference, but enough to make me want to keeping trying the vinegar. However, according to this post  it doesn’t work as well in hard water.
Apparently, you can spray vinegar straight onto stains, particularly collar and underarm stains. Over time and with repeated use, this will weaken the fabric, but most stain removers do because of the way they work.

3. Bicarbonate Soda (US: Baking Soda)

I tackled the stains that didn’t come out in the lemon boiling adventure with a paste of Bicarb/Baking Soda mixed with water and that worked pretty well for most of the stains. I think I will have to do it again for two spots, but that seems like a pretty good ratio to me.
Apartment Therapy says, you can add ½ a cup of Bicarb/Baking soda to the wash. I am going to trial this one next time I have two identical white items to compare.
We also had a reader suggestion via our Facebook page to cut down on laundry detergent costs and usage, “I substitute about a third of the recommended amount of washing powder with the bicarb, together it works really well.”
Note on Borax and Hydrogen Peroxide: there are lots of recommendations for using hydrogen peroxide and borax (not together.) I am currently trying to get in contact with some specialists to figure out the safety and environmental impact of using these in the laundry (I think hubby will die if I kill more plants), so I will have to get back to you.
Otherwise, I am also keen to try these suggestions from National Geographic:

Other Stain Removers

Remove chocolate stains by soaking the fabric in club soda and then washing it (see References 1). Lipstick stains and ink stains require a 30-minute soak in straight milk (see References 3). Lemon juice cuts through raspberry stains, rust stains and perspiration marks (see References 1, 3). Apply straight table salt to fresh red wine stains, let it sit for an hour or two and wash. Use glycerin to remove tea, perfume, cola and mustard stains.
As Zobeda and Bette K both commented, I was making a fundamental error. The washing needs to be soaked in the lemon (with or without Hydrogen Peroxide – available at the pharmacy) and hung out in the sun without rinsing or washing, then it works really well.
Cybele x
What works for you?

About BlahBlahMagazine

Cybele Masterman (Bele) trained as a beauty therapist, aromatherapist and journalist. After working as all of the above has found herself on a quest for a beautiful and meaningful life that doesn't cost the earth. Follow on google: +blahblahmagazine twitter: @blahblahzine or Instagram: BlahBlahMagazine

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  1. I’ll be saving this one!

    Also – the lemons may not have worked but the pic sure is pretty!

  2. Thank you, Lisa.
    Alas alack, if only all pretty things were useful too x

  3. My mother did this an rather than rewashing she then hung it outdoors in the sun. It is the combination of the lemon and the sun that does the bleaching.

  4. Thanks Bette,
    You have given me inspiration to try again. I think this time I will put the items at the front of the washing line for maximum sun exposure.

  5. You should take part in a contest for one of the finest blogs on the
    web. I am going to recommend this web site!

  6. Spraying vinegar onto the underarms of t-shirts (or, better still, soaking t-shirts in vinegar, which is what I do) gets rid of deodorant build up. I try to do this once a month. Or when I remember. It works really well. After I soak the t-shirts, I get an ild toothbrush and gently scrub the affected area, or I rub the area into itself. Then wash as normal.

  7. I found this website & it worked for some yellowed sheets that had been stores for years. I used a hot wash though.
    I recall reading something about lemon not always being good as the cottons are different now, or something like that. But it is great fro cleaning the kitchen bench top

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