Wednesday, September 06, 2006


The purpose of this series is to talk about chlorine bleach. That is what most of us think of when we hear the term, "bleach".
However, before we move on to to that, I want to point out in this post that we all use a number of other substances to bleach things -- to lighten them, to disinfect them, and to remove stains. We may use the following items without conciously labeling them as "bleaches", but that is what they are.
The loveliest bleach of all is sunlight. Sunlight's effects are strongest on wet items. But, you can also achieve some wonderful results by putting placing dry bedding items, such as pillows, in outdoor sunlight for a few hours.
According to Don Aslett, sunlight was one way our great-grandmothers got these things so fresh and white. He also says that sunlight can kill mildew.
According to Cheryl Mendleson, author of home comforts, sunlight kills dues mites, and she recommends airing and sunning furnishings and bedding. However, she notes that sunning an item all by itself will not remove the bits of allergens left by dustmites and that you must also launder the item, as well.
I'm a huge fan of using fresh air and sunlight to freshen a home and also to bleach many fabric items, as I suppose most of us home keepers are. Sunlight is obviously free and God-given. It is also non-toxic. Taking something outside to leave it the sun and then going out to bring it back in gives you excuses to relax for a moment outdoors. Of course, if you live in a heavily polluted area or an area where the breeze kicks up allergens, you may find that the air will leave enough gunk in your items to cancel out the sun's beneficial effects. And, you don't want to bake your unprotected skin along with your sheets. Even so, I think there's nothing sweeter than an item which has been dried or disinfected in the sun.
One caveat: Sunlight can bleach items even when we don't intend to lighten them. For example: An unpholstered couch placed near a sunny window will "bleach out", causing the fabric to fade and to dull. This is especially noticable if you have a companion piece located in another, darker corner of the same room. The difference between the sun-protected item and the sun-faded item will quickly become obvious.
If you have a lovely casual English or cottage style room in which all of the furniture gets an equal amount of light, the effects of the sun's rays on upholstery may not bother you. Sun-faded chintzes are at home in either of these decorating styles. However, you may not like this effect if you favor a more traditional decorating style or if one chair fades and another remains close to its original state.
Drying dark colors on a clothes line can cause them to fade, as well. So, think carefully about which items you want to expose to the sun's rays. Drying colored items in the shade will give them a fresh-air scent, but without any bleaching effect.
When it comes to drying whites in the sun, they can "yellow" just as if they were washed and dried in machines. If you are simply freshening a dry item, such as a pillow, you may find that three or four hours in bright sun is all you need. Based on Cheryl Mendleson's recommendations, I'd say that you might want to wash a linen tablecloth, a T-shirt, a sheet, etc., and leave the item on a line to dry for up to one day. You might "sun-bleach" an time for three days in a row, max. Keep an eye on it to make sure that it is not yellowing as it bleaches. If you do get into trouble, see the note on bleaching and bluing below.
Lemon juice is another tried and true favorite. You can soak delicate, but slightly stained items in a solution of mostly water with just a bit of lemon juice and then rinse them in fresh, cold water. (I have used this method with great success. But, please don't, on my account, try it on your great-great-grandma's hand tatted lace tablecloth! Get a second opinion from a professional cleaner or an experienced homemaker before mixing up that lemon water). Sometimes, this method is combined with drying it in the sun.
One famous use for lemon juice is to bleach hair. When I was a girl in the sixties and seventies, we lighter haired girls used to squirt lemon juice into our wet hair, comb it through, and then let our hair dry outside. The result was lovely highlights in hair that was already naturally light brown or blonde. I'm not so sure that hairdressers would find this method to be kind to fine, delicate hair. But, it works! And, it does not expose you to some of the irritating fumes and potential allergic reactions as commerical hair lightening products.
According to TipKing: Use 1/2 cup of lemon as a bleach in the laundry rinse cycle and to bleach kitchen surfaces. Also, you can wash white clothing in borax and lemon juice, and then lay flat out on the dewy lawn on a sunny morning or hang on a clothesline and let the sun help naturally dry and bleach your garments.
I also use vinegar in this way, as vinegar has some disinfectant qualities and also neutralizes odors in laundry.
Cheryl Mendleson suggest that you can remove rust stains from no-wax floors by cutting a lemon in half, sprinkling a half liberally with salt, and rubbing it tino the stain. Then, rinse wiht a sponge and water. I personally haven't tried this method on a floor, so please test it on a small spot before applying it to a larger area.
Oxygentated bleaches can be used to remove stains. "All-fabric" bleach is usually made of an oxygenated bleach.
Hydrogen peroxide -- the kind you buy as a disinfectant in the drugstore -- is an oxygenated bleach. But, the bottled disinfectant has a wider range of uses than oxygenated bleaches intended for laundry. If you dilute it acccording to directions, it is safe for use on many household surfaces and fabrics.
In another article, we'll talk about how ammonia also can be used as a bleach.

Remember: Bleaches takes away stains, but merely taking away stains does not equal brightening. When it comes to white clothing or bedding, you may find that your items look dull after bleaching. If you do run across this, use bluing in the next washing to restore your white laundry's "blue hints" and to leave them bright and white.

Also, while some bleaches are milder than others, repeatedly using a bleaching agent isn't necessarily kind to fabrics. Particularly when it comes to chlorine bleaches, be sure to read fabric labels to determine which items may be safely bleached. If chloringe bleaching is not recommended, you can probably still employ sunlight or lemon juice as bleaches. For ultra-delicate or highty treasured heirloooms, I would use these mild agents on an as-needed basis.

Even if clothing fabrics or sheets can safely handle chlorine bleaching, I wouldn't do it with every wash. You can extend the life of your fabrics by limiting exposure to bleaching agents. Use bleaches to disinfect laundry and to remove laundry stains, but in moderation. And, remember, if you regularly hang your laundry outside, it's not always necessary to put your items in strong sunlight to get them dry.


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