Easily Remove Yellow Stains With These Genius Laundry Hacks

Everyone loves a crisp white duvet, bedsheet, or button-down shirt — until it has gone through a few cycles in the washing machine and the inevitable yellowing begins. If you have hard water, your whites are particularly at risk for premature (and intense) yellowing due to higher levels of iron and other minerals. If a good portion of your laundry happens to be white, trying to find a commercial solution to yellow staining can be a time-consuming and costly process — and it might not even solve the problem.

Fortunately, removing (and preventing) yellow staining is possible without spending a fortune on expensive, popular, name-brand sodium percarbonate powders such as OxiClean. The ingredients for many effective whitening laundry hacks can be found right in your own home and can be activated by simply adding hot water. From classic chlorine bleach to surprise kitchen staples like lemon juice, consider this your guide to removing yellow stains from your whites without expensive laundry products.

Add a cup of chlorine bleach to your laundry loads

Chlorine bleach is likely the first option you imagine when you think about how to tackle the issue of your yellowed whites. Nearly everyone is aware of bleach's ability to remove stains and pigments from fabric and other porous materials. It achieves this feat via the magic of oxidation. More specifically, the active ingredient in bleach — sodium hypochlorite — releases oxygen molecules, which disrupt the visibility of color molecules, causing them to appear white to the human eye.

Though it's highly effective, there are some things you should never use bleach for — not least of all because it's highly corrosive and releases chloroform, a known carcinogen, into the air when mixed with water. This fact alone is enough to convince many to stop using bleach in their homes immediately. On the other hand, bleach is very inexpensive compared to other fixes. If you're comfortable giving chlorine bleach a try on your white laundry, simply add about a cup of bleach to each load of laundry along with your regular detergent. Be sure to check each garment's label first to make sure the fabric is bleach-safe. Otherwise, chlorine bleach can make yellowing worse. It can also disintegrate delicate fabrics like silk or wool.

Oxygen bleach will sort out your stains

Chlorine bleach isn't the only bleach on the block. Oxygen bleach, sometimes interchangeably referred to as hydrogen peroxide, can also whiten away yellow staining on whites using oxidation. However, oxygen bleaching is a less aggressive process that doesn't release harmful chemicals like chloroform into the air. In fact, hydrogen peroxide breaks down into water when exposed to organic compounds. This makes it safer and more comfortable to use in laundry than chlorine bleach.

To use oxygen bleach to whiten your yellow-stained whites, add about a cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide per load of white laundry. The result will be whiter whites without toxic chemical reactions that can harm your health and your delicate fabrics. Hydrogen peroxide is also an excellent household product to keep on hand for menstruation stains and other common body fluid mishaps and stains. While it isn't priced quite as low as chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide is still very affordable and accessible nearly everywhere.

Soak your clothes with white vinegar

If you're familiar with the concept of natural cleaning, you are likely aware that white vinegar is an extremely versatile cleaning tool for cleaning, disinfecting, and deodorizing. You might not be aware, though, that everyone's favorite natural surface and glass cleaner can also be used to whiten your yellowed white garments and bedding. This is thanks to its acetic acid content, which strips away residues that cause staining.

The best way to whiten your whites using white vinegar is to combine a cup of vinegar with enough boiling water to cover the yellowed garments. Soak the laundry for a few hours and then wash it with detergent as you normally would. While this method is certainly more time-consuming than using a bleaching agent, it is much gentler on your fabrics. Similarly, adding ½ cup of vinegar to your wash cycle for colored garments will remove any residues that might make them appear dull or faded. Best of all, white vinegar is extremely affordable and can be purchased at any supermarket or corner store. 

Soak clothes for an hour with borax

Borax was once a completely commonplace, very popular laundry additive. Today, though, the once-revered powder is often overlooked and can be viewed as old-fashioned. In reality, borax is as useful as ever at removing yellow stains from your white laundry. A natural mineral salt known as sodium borate, borax lifts away acidic residues thanks to its alkaline pH. This is similar to how white vinegar works, but on the other end of the scale.

The most effective way to use borax to remove yellow staining is also very similar to white vinegar: combining with warm water and soaking. Add about ½ cup of borax to each gallon of warm water until the laundry is covered. Then, allow the garments to soak for 30-60 minutes. After soaking, wash the laundry with your normal detergent and dry as usual. Despite occurring in nature, borax is quite toxic and can cause significant illness or even death if ingested even in small amounts. As long as caution is used, borax is a safe, inexpensive, and accessible — albeit a bit time-consuming — laundry whitener. 

Lemon juice will whiten your yellowed fabrics

If natural solutions to cleaning and laundry conundrums are what you seek, lemon juice may be the best solution for you. When you're looking to whiten and freshen your yellow, dingy white clothes and linens plus freshen them with a natural refreshing citrus scent at the same time, this simple fruit juice just can't be beaten. It works for whitening in the same way white vinegar does — acidity. However, instead of acetic acid, lemon juice contains citric acid. Both are effective in lifting away yellow residues from fabrics.

There are two ways to use lemon juice to whiten your yellowed whites. For minor dinginess, add about ½ cup of lemon juice directly to the wash cycle along with your typical detergent. For garments with heavy yellow staining, mix ½ cup of lemon juice with enough boiling water to cover your laundry and soak overnight. Then, wash the items with detergent as you normally would. Lemon juice can be a bit more expensive than solutions like white vinegar, especially if you choose to squeeze it from fresh lemons.

Mix bluing liquid and cold water

Have you ever lightened your hair and then used a blue toner to cancel out the brassy yellow hues that emerged? The same type of color theory can be used on your laundry. When your white clothing or linen items have become stained with a yellow tinge, applying a slight tint of blue can cancel out the yellowness and restore the white to its former brightness. This is the purpose of a bluing liquid.

Bluing liquids — while still unheard of by many — have been on the market since the late 1800s. While a bluing liquid can provide you with some of the brightest whites around, it is not without its potential drawbacks. If you apply too much of the liquid, you could end up accidentally dying your white items blue. To avoid this fate, add only a few drops of bluing liquid to a quart of cold water. Once the mixture is incorporated and looks evenly light blue, add it to your washing machine's basin full of water and then add your whites. Compared to other commercial laundry whitening products, most bluing liquids are very affordable.

Soak in Alka-Seltzer water, then air-dry

Alka-Seltzer — the fizzy tablets created to treat indigestion — is another surprising household item that can brighten up your dingy yellowed whites. (It's also, like white vinegar, something of a miracle cleaner, helpful for seemingly endless household cleaning uses.) The tablets' active ingredients, citric acid and sodium bicarbonate, are both effective at lifting stains and residue — along with their effervescent bubbles.

To cash in on the whitening power of Alka-Seltzer, just add two tablets to 4 quarts of hot water. Once the fizzing stops, submerge your white items and soak them overnight. The next morning, hang the items out to dry in the sun, if you can. If sunlight isn't possible, hang them to dry in a warm room or machine dry as usual. Either way, you'll notice an increase in whiteness and brightness. The best part is that you don't even need to throw them in the washer. Alka-Seltzer in its generic form is one of the most inexpensive over-the-counter medications you can find in any drugstore, so cost shouldn't be a barrier to trying this laundry hack.