Friday, September 08, 2006

Using Chlroine Bleach in the Laundry

Bleaching white or colorfast fabric items removes stains, and it deoderizes and freshens these items, as well. My favorite way to use bleach in the laundry is in the form of a "bleach pen"; since you can use it to target specific stains. But, I sometimes use liquid bleach in a wash load.
Here are a few benefits of bleach: Because so many of us use cool water to launder our fabrics now, bleach can replace the sanitizing and detergent-boosting effects of hot water. Using bleach is one of the fastest and cheapest ways for a busy mother to keep mounds and mounds of laundry fresh and clean. Bleaching is generally the best method for salvaging a fabric item that has mildewed. It's also one of the most effective ways to reduce stains of all kinds. It is inexpensive, and a little bit of bleach goes a long, long way.
Reading the manufacturer's label on a fabric item will tell you if it can safely handle the use of chlorine bleach. Generally, you will find the manufacturer's ok on sturdy white fabric items, some colorfast cottons, and on most fabrics made of manufactured fibers.
Even when a manufacturer prohibits bleach, I've found that you may be able to get away with bleaching cotton or cotton blend items on an occasional basis. For example, a man's T-shirt or a baby's onesie may not hold up under regular bleaching. But, it might be ok to bleach an item like this once a quarter or so. Or, you might do a one-time bleaching in an emergency situation, say with a grass-stained white skirt. I wouldn't try bleaching without the manufacturer's ok, however, unless you are certain the potential benefit is worth taking the associated risk.
I don't mind sneaking in a little "forbidden" bleach when it comes to items that I could replace if I had to. Nor, do I mind trying bleach if an item is so nearly ruined that I have nothing to lose by the experiment. Unless I had a manufacturer's blessing, however, I would never, ever use bleach on any heirloom or expensive fabric.
You can never get away with using bleach on silk, mohair or cashmere, wool, or leather. Other fabrics that do not stand up well to bleaching are spandex, nylon, and many fabrics treated with flame retardents . Since a lot of children's clothing is flame-retardant, please check the manufacturer's label to determine how to launder them properly.
Even on bleach safe fabrics, be sure not to add bleach until the wash has been going for around five minutes or so. Modern detergents contain cleaning enzymes and also brighteners. Bleach may interefere with the action of both. So, you want to give the detergent a bit of time to do its job before you add the bleach.
If you use detergents with oxygen type bleaches, chlorine bleach will invactive these. Consult the directions on the container of an oxygenated detergent to determine if and when you should use chlorine bleach along with it.
Many machines have bleach dispensers which dilute the bleach for you so that it does not eat holes in the fabric. When pouring bleach into a dispenser, be careful not to let any splash onto your laundry or onto the machine itself. (More importantly, wear gloves and don't let it splash on you). Some bleach dispensers time the release of bleach; others do not. In the latter case, you will need to wait about five minutes before pouring the bleach into the dispenser. If your machine has no dispenser at all, you will need to dilute the bleach according to directions on the bottle before adding it directly to your laundry water.
(Ok, confession time. I've been known to add bleach to a wash load by pouring it in the stream of water running into the machine's tub. Please don't tell Martha Stewart or the grandmotherly woman whose face appears on Mrs. Stewart's bluing! I promise to straighten up and fly -- or at least launder -- right.)
Note: If your water contains a lot of iron, chlorine bleach may cause rust stains to appear on fabrics.
Repeated bleaching may cause yellowing, but we know the solution -- bluing!
Splashes of bleach can eat holes in fabrics and can cause discolored spots or faded spots. It's also not a good idea to let bleach spots stand on your washing machine or your dryer.

Final note: I generally reserve chlorine bleach for items that are true white. I seldom use chlorine bleach on even an off-white or light beige item, unless it's so badly dirtied that I deem bleach as the garment's only hope. For anything other than white, I use a bleach specifically designated as an "all-fabric" or "color-safe" bleach. But, this is just my practice and not a hard-and-fast rule.

If you are willing to risk a tiny bit of lightening and color-fading over time, you may find that you like using chlorine bleach on color-safe. Of course, this is provided that you do it according to fabric labels and the directions on the bleach bottle. In making your decision, you do have to consider that unlike some color-safe bleaches, chlorine bleach works in even the coolest of water. It's cheap. It's strong and quick-acting. Let's say that you have ten active children in your household, who pile up loads of outdoor play-clothes faster than you can say "Wash day". You might decide that a little color-fading is nothing compared to the ease, quickness, and ecnomy of using chlorine bleach.


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