Why Your Laundry Is Turning Out Yellow

by Lee Soren
yellow dirty stain on white collar shirt

When you think about fresh laundry, you may envision fluffy alabaster towels, pristine ivory sheets and pearly white T-shirts. You certainly won't picture dingy garments and yellowing fabric. Unfortunately, sweat, deodorants and other common substances can cause unappealing yellow laundry.

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If you’re struggling with this unsightly problem, don’t despair. Here’s how to make white clothes white again.

Why Is My White Laundry Turning Out Yellow?

Whether you’re laundering towels, sheets or clothing, white laundry can come out looking yellow and dingy. Many white fabrics may naturally turn yellow over time. However, textiles can become dingy and discolored for many reasons, including:

  • Deodorant stains
  • Cooking residue
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Sweat or body oil stains
  • Makeup, perfume, body lotions and other personal products
  • Oxygenation
  • Well water
  • Long-term storage
  • Overuse of detergent or fabric softener

How Do I Make White Clothes White Again?

Fortunately, clothes that have turned yellow can usually be saved. From commercial products to all-natural solutions, here are several ways to whiten white clothes that have yellowed.

Laundry Whiteners

These commercial whitening products can brighten up your whites and remove dye that’s bled from colored fabrics. Laundry whiteners typically go in the washing machine with your regular detergent, or they may be used to pretreat clothing before laundering. However, instructions may vary by brand, so always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for use.

Laundry Bluing

This old-fashioned whitening method involves adding a blue pigment to your laundry to counteract yellowing. (This is one reason laundry detergents are sometimes blue or purple in color.) Bluing products are typically concentrated, so they should always be diluted in cold water before use. They can then be added to your washing machine during the wash or rinse cycles. However, instructions may vary by product, so you should always read the manufacturer’s guidelines for use.

Oxygen Bleach

Chlorine bleaches can be harsh, and they typically shouldn't be used on delicate fabrics. However, gentler, oxygen-based alternatives, such as OxiClean, can be an effective way to get whites white again. These may also be referred to as all-fabric bleaches.

To treat yellowed clothing, soak the items in a mixture of oxygen bleach and water, according to the product’s guidelines. Afterward, clothing should be machine-washed with your regular detergent.

It's important to note that garments made from certain fabrics, such as silk or wool, may be damaged by bleach, so be sure to read the label for specific care instructions.

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To give new life to white clothing, add half a cup of distilled white vinegar to your standard wash cycle, along with your favorite detergent. This acidic solution brightens whites and neutralizes odors, so it’s ideal for freshening up your activewear.

When mixed with hot water, white vinegar also makes a great pretreatment for stains. Soak your clothes for at least an hour (overnight for tough stains), and machine wash as usual.

Baking Soda

This household staple can freshen your laundry, help your detergent work harder and boost the whitening power of bleach. Just add half a cup of baking soda directly to your machine when washing white fabrics.

To pretreat, add warm water to baking soda until it forms a paste. Rub it onto sweat stains and other discolored spots and let it sit for up to an hour before laundering.


Regardless of your washing method, you can whiten your clothes naturally by hanging them out in the sun to dry. The sun’s ultraviolet rays are a great whitener for yellowing fabric.

How Can I Prevent White Laundry From Turning Yellow?

Although it’s natural for white fabrics to discolor as they age, you can prevent yellowing by following a few simple guidelines:

  • Launder whites with whites.
  • Choose a high-quality enzymatic laundry soap.
  • Use the recommended amount of detergent.
  • Wash your hands before handling white fabrics.
  • Keep clothes in a cool, dry place.
  • Choose archival-quality boxes for long-term storage.

Ultimately, with a little care and attention, you can keep your favorite whites looking great wear after wear.