It never quite feels like summer until we've slipped into our favorite white T-shirt or a pair of white shorts. The only problem? White clothes stain so easily, and they're not exactly a breeze to clean.
We've never been one to let a fashion challenge slow us down, so we consulted some laundry pros to find out how to make your whites stay white season after season. We're also recommending some top-notch stain fighters so you can spend more time enjoying summer and less time fumbling around in the laundry room.
How to wash white clothes
When you're ready to toss your stained white clothes in the laundry, there are a few steps you can take to ensure they come out looking brand new.
Choose the right water temperature: "Warm water with a sodium bleach is your friend. The only exception is with protein stains (blood, dairy, etc.) where you should use cold water on them because hot water can cook in the protein," Meurice Garment Care CEO Wayne Edelman says.
Above all, make sure to group garments with similar care instructions together. Wendy Saladyga, a stain expert at Persil ProClean at Henkel, recommends tossing shirts and blouses in warm water; towels, sheets and socks in hot water; and delicate white items (sheer blouses and undergarments) in cold water on a delicate cycle.
Find the detergent that works for you: "Using the right detergent will help keep your clothes fresh and looking great, so it’s important to follow the care label instructions. When it comes to liquid versus single-load units, it’s all about convenience," Saladyga suggests.
Here's a quick go-to guide on the most commonly used options:
- Detergent discs: Simple, easy to use and pre-measured
- Liquid detergent: Great if you’re washing loads of various sizes or as a handy pre-treatment
- Oxygen bleach: "Depending on the stain, a good soak in an oxygen bleach can help tackle some of those tough stains," Saladyga mentions.
Laundry products to keep your whites white
Hundreds of Target and Walmart customers have bestowed a five-star rating on this bestselling wipe that removes stains like a champ. The set contains 12 wipes each and tackles pesky blemishes while you're on the move. It's especially ideal for travel!
For times when you're home, Edelman recommends spraying on a bit of Shout to protein and tannin (wine) stains. According to the brand, it works its magic as it "clings, penetrates and lifts stains." All you have to do is spray it on, wait one to five minutes, then toss it in the laundry.
For oil-based stains like salad dressing, Edelman recommends using good old-fashioned Dawn dish soap. The classic is already known for taking on greasy dish stains with ease, so it makes sense. It also means you don't have to buy an additional stain fighter.
"The best way to brighten and restore stained and darkened white linens/towels is to soak them in warm water, laundry detergent and use a sodium-based bleach like OxiClean," Edelman says.
With nearly 12,000 verified five-star Amazon ratings to its name, this is one laundry product that comes well recommended. The chlorine bleach alternative is chockfull of whitening prowess and works hand in hand with your go-to detergent to banish stains and brighten your whites.
In an ideal world, stains would pop up when you're at home and able to pre-treat them. But for times when you're on the go, this handy stain remover pen can be a lifesaver. It features a microfiber pad that lifts and absorbs marks and a solution that breaks down stains. Do yourself a favor and get the multipack so you can leave one in each of your bags, in the car, etc.
Don't feel like adding in an additional product on top of your detergent? This multitasker packs a whole lot of power into one pod that targets tricky stains and odors while whitening and brightening your clothes. The popular product has over 5,300 verified five-star Amazon ratings and include a long-lasting scent booster that leaves your clothes smelling delightful.
Never underestimate the power of a household essential like paper towels. They're great for scraping off thick stains since they're so absorbent. This set of six double rolls comes with paper towels that are cloth-like and durable, and you can even tear off however many pieces you need thanks to the choose-a-sheet design.
This multitasking formula brightens whites and protects colors, making it a universally beneficial product to have on hand in your laundry room. According to the brand, it works its magic by preventing dirty wash water from soaking back into clothes. This is something Saladyga recommends looking for in any detergent you use.
"When it comes to whites, make sure that the laundry detergent you use keeps the dirt that comes off in the wash suspended in the water and washes it down the drain instead of letting them deposit back on the fabric," she notes.
Looking for a detergent with fewer chemicals? This bestseller (it has over 7,200 verified five-star Amazon ratings) is free of dyes, fragrances and artificial brighteners. The triple-enzyme formula is hypoallergenic, ideal for sensitive skin and tough on stains.
Made of plant-derived ingredients, this chlorine-free whitener is made without added fragrances and dyes. The bleach alternative handles hard water, stains and oils with ease and brightens whites. You can also use it as a pre-treatment or a basic household cleaner.
One verified Amazon customer raved about this Tide product, explaining that it got red snow cone syrup out of a blouse. "I absolutely swear by this stuff," they wrote.
According to the brand, it can restore up to three shades of white and can be used as an add-on to any detergent.
Over 7,500 Amazon users have given this bestseller a five-star rating and we can definitely understand why. The whitener handles yellowing, rust and other stains like a pro and is especially useful if you live in an area with high iron or red clay in your water source. It can be used as both a pre-treatment or a laundry booster with your go-to detergent.
Frequently asked questions
Are certain stains harder to remove from white clothes?
Wearing white to a summer soirée is kind of like walking through a maze filled with stain-causing hurdles, but you don't have to hide your favorite white frock in the closet out of fear. Just be extra careful when you're around the following products or liquids:
Should you pretreat stains on white clothes?
In general, darker stains are more challenging to get out of white clothing, according to Saladyga. But all hope is not lost, especially if you address it quickly.
"Pre-treating and washing a stain as soon as possible will help prevent it from setting into the fabric. This is key, regardless of the stain," Saladyga emphasizes.
Pre-treating may be the name of the game, but that doesn't mean one method works the same for every garment.
"Different stains actually all require different types of pre-treatment. It is best to address the stained areas before an overall cleaning," Edelman says.
Saladyga also recommends using your go-to laundry detergent.
"Most people don’t know this, but you can help prevent a stain from setting in by pre-treating with your laundry detergent you already have on hand — no separate product needed," the pro recommends and suggests letting this pretreatment sit for about 10 minutes.
When you're pre-treating a stain, just make sure to blot the product in and don't rub it.
"Remove any excess stain by scraping it off with a paper towel, trying not to spread it around. Then flush the stain with cool water," Saladyga adds.
If you're on the move and don't have access to household products, Saladyga suggests heading to a public restroom to improvise.
"Try to wipe the stain off as much as possible and then flush with some cool water. If you are near a sink, you can use a bit of hand soap as well mixed with water and try to give it a quick rub to help get that stain out," the pro says.
Do on-the-go stain removers work well on white clothes?
The pros we chatted with are most fond of pre-treating with a stain remover. There are times when you might need an on-the-go option, though, so you might be tempted to stash some portable stain removers in your bag when you're rocking a white frock. Just don't forget to pre-treat the stain when you get home before washing it!
What happens if you wash your white clothes and the stain is still there?
Stains happen and sometimes it takes a bit of time to get rid of them. If you take your white clothes out of the laundry machine and still notice a stain, resist the urge to toss it in the dryer.
"Drying clothes can set stains, making them more difficult to get out later," Saladyga notes.
Instead, pre-treat or soak it in an oxygen bleach, then wash it once again.
Clear stains like sunscreen, white wine and glue have a tendency of popping up on white clothes after you take them out of the wash, even if you didn't notice them before you started the load.
"They may not always be seen on your white clothing or towels but they are sugar stains and will caramelize over time. This is why you may put away a white shirt or a towel as white and pull it out to be yellow," Edelman says. "Knowing this, you should always pre-soak or -treat pieces you know are getting access to these stains and wash them. When you see the stains, you can also treat and wash/dry again!"
Meet the experts
- Wayne Edelman is the CEO of Meurice Garment Care and CLEAN by Meurice based in New York City. He previously spoke to Shop TODAY on how to keep clothes wrinkle-free.
- Wendy Saladyga is the stain expert and senior manager of technical performance at Henkel for Persil ProClean. She previously spoke to Shop TODAY on how to clean and care for your winter coats.