While Kat recently rounded up white work tops for spring, we haven’t discussed how to keep white blouses white in quite a while.
Before researching this post, my knowledge of how to keep whites white was limited to “wash them in the washing machine” (or more realistically, just don’t buy white shirts!), but to my surprise, there are many simple strategies to keep white blouses white. (If you haven’t seen it, check out our advice on washing “dry clean only” clothes, too.)
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How to Keep Whites, White
Here are several easy tips:
Wear a camisole (which your shirt may require anyway, if it’s not opaque enough) with high armholes to help keep sweat away from your blouse at least somewhat. Another option is underarm shields.
Some of our favorite camisole brands (just look for one in white or nude-for-you):
Pictured above, our favorite camisoles for work: one / two / three / four (25+ different color combos in a 4 pack!)– don’t forget about demi-camisoles too, such as this, this or this — or chemisettes!)
Keep like with like. Wash whites separately from colors, and also wash heavily soiled whites — your workout clothes, yardwork clothes, etc. — separately from lightly soiled whites. (For really dirty clothing, you can do a pre-wash soak in an enzyme detergent or spray or oxygen bleach first.)
Don’t go overboard. Use only the amount of detergent that the label instructions indicate, or else your whites can end up looking gray. Don’t overfill your washing machine, either; clothes need to have room to move around so that the detergent can do its job and dirt doesn’t get put right back on them.
Wash hot enough, but don’t dry too hot. To keep white blouses white, use the highest temperature that’s safe for your clothes — water that’s at least 120 degrees is the most effective. (Check the care label, of course.) If you use the dryer, choose a low-heat setting and take out your whites while they’re a little damp, then air dry. If they get too hot in the dryer, it can cause yellowing. And if any stains are still there after washing, definitely don’t put that item of clothing in the dryer, as it might make the stains permanent.
Go beyond detergent. Before washing, pre-treat stains and less-white areas with liquid detergent, dishwashing liquid, or colorless shampoo. During the wash cycle, you can use a “booster” product like Borax, washing soda, color remover (when your whites aren’t so white anymore), or a bluing agent. However, avoid using fabric softener to keep whites blouses white — if you add too much, it can make your clothes attract soil.
Use chlorine or oxygen bleach. Bleach does a better job than detergent at keeping clothes white longer, and if you’re not sure if your clothes are bleach-safe, you can try the “Bleachability Test” on Clorox’s website. (Never use it on silk.) Be careful, though: If you use chlorine bleach too much, it might actually cause yellowing — so an oxygen bleach like OxiClean might be a better choice.
Wash according to the water in your area. For water containing a lot of iron, use a product like Iron Out, and pick oxygen bleach rather than chlorine bleach. If you have hard water, check the detergent instructions to see if adding more detergent will help.
Clean your washing machine regularly. After all, you can’t expect it to get your clothes clean and keep whites white if it’s not clean in the first place.
What are your tips for keeping your white blouses white? What are your favorite white shirts — and do you wear camisoles under them?
Psst: here are some of our favorite brands for classic blouses:
Pictured above, the best women’s collared blouses as of 2023: one / two* / three* / four / five (* = available in plus sizes; see more in our roundup of the best plus-size workwear blouses — also check out our DIY options for gaping blouses)
Pictured: Deposit Photos/fizkes.
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This is an interesting subject, and one that we all could use some additional guidance on — if we elect to wear whites at all. Now where is Ellen on this topic? I am sure she would have something meaningful to add, even if it is only to have the rest of us also ensure that our “cleaneing lady” be properly schooled in the fine art of white washing!
This is great. Anna knows that I have alot of white clotheing that I have NOT been abel to use b/c my cleaneing lady did NOT properly clean my white clotheing. The answer is that I told my cleaneing lady to use BLEECH whenever she washes white COTTON clotheing like pantie’s and bra’s, and cotton sock’s, but NOT use BLEECH if you are washing white delecate’s, such as blouse’s. If you mess up, the white’s will become YELLOWED (FOOEY) and you will have to throw out the clotheing or give them to GOODWILL up on 2nd Avenue.
I recently gave alot of my white clotheing away, primarily b/c of the yellowing, but also b/c in NYC, you simply CANNOT wear white on the subway’s b/c peeople rub their dirty hands on us inside the cars and they get all dirty, so that the DRY CLEANERS also will NOT give a warranty they can get the stains out.
The OTHER thing to remember is NOT to wear tight white blouses b/c of the underarm staining (and b/c peeople like Frank LOVE to look thru the loose underarms to see our boobies. FOOEY !
I wash nothing on hot unless it’s really soiled. Hot water is harder on fabrics than cold. I wash my whites in cold with about a 1/4 cup vinegar plus detergent, and maybe 3-4 drops of bluing. My whites are insanely white and it prevents pit stains.
What is this mysterious “bluing”? Links?
Bluing is really old fashioned laundry additive that makes whites really white. If you read “Ellen Tebbits” by Beverly Cleary, she tried to wash her dingy white horse with bluing, and just ended up with a really clean, still dingy white horse :)
I suppose someone with knowledge of color science could explain better than me, but my guess is that the blue-ish coloring of the bluing somehow translates to look bright white.
I bought mine at a fabric or craft store I think. Mrs. somebody’s Bluing.
Color-wise, I’d think the bluing would cut the yellow tones that you get on some whites, and generally a cool-toned white looks “brighter” than a warm-toned one (think winter white vs ivory).
Bluing is the best! You have to be careful to dilute it so it doesn’t stain. Lehman’s (an online store which sells non-electric and ‘old time’ goods) carries it, and you can sometimes find it at large grocery or department stores.
From what I understand, it is the antiperspirant that causes yellowing in the armpits, not the sweat itself. I’ve switched to deodorant only and have noticed a change. As you can tell from my name, it’s HOT here and — guess what — “dry” armpits don’t mean a lot when the rest of your body is dripping from the heat!
I switched to deodorant as well and have noticed that my tops still get a gray pitted-out look (especially during the summer), but it looks like it would easily come out with OxiClean or something. I’m going to test it next time I do laundry.
I have also had this experience. I used to have to replace white tops like once a year because of yellow stains under the armpits. When I quit wearing antiperspirant and switched to plain deodorant that quit happening.
I adore OxiClean. I throw in a scoop with my white sheets and towels.
I think my husband has some weird body chemistry where he turns everything he comes in contact with yellowy brown. His pillow and the mattress protector on his side of the bed look absolutely filthy despite being regularly washed and his towels have a big brownish yellow stripe where he dries his face off. Its so gross. He showers every day and uses soap. What is this and how can I get it off?
Sadly, in my experience, you can’t. I tried EVERYTHING. Now we just buy light grey or “natural” colored sheets.
Have you tried vinegar in the laundry? It supposedly kills bacteria that cause stains like that.
I thought I was the only one dealing with this; I’m glad to find some solidarity.
No real advice–I buy dark grey towels and sheets and wash in vinegar. The vinegar doesn’t get the stains out of the things he’s already stained, unfortunately.
KS IT Chick
I hit those brown stains with hydrogen peroxide just before I wash whatever it is. It got rid of yellow-brown pit stains on t-shirts (both black & white, with no bleaching or fading of the shirt), and it made sheets & towels look much better.
I also convinced him to try several other options for antiperspirant until we found one that worked for his body chemistry, so that it wasn’t a constant recurring battle. He now uses an Old Spice from their newer line, either the Wolfethorne or the Aspen. (Yeah, they have stupid names. I’ve made myself quit cringing, because I’m not scrubbing at nasty stains anymore.)
Have you tried Oxiclean (soaking for the full recommended time, or even longer, with piping hot water)?
This post comes at a perfect time for me. I recently spilled a TON of coffee down the front of a cream colored lace blouse. I washed it on gentle cycle after spot treating it with detergent and a lot of the stain came out, but there are still a few noticeable coffee spots. Any suggestions on what else to try?
Use OxiClean as a paste on the spot, let it soak, wash. Repeat as necessary. Don’t dry in between washings because that will set the stain.
And if OxiClean doesn’t work, try Borax.
Iron Out works great, especially on the white baseball pants my kid has to wear.
It took me years to figure this out (I love wearing white tops to work), but this is what I do to preserve the whiteness in clothing:
1. Soak white clothes in cold/lukewarm water before washing
2. Add baking soda directly to areas that are stained or prone to staining, e.g. underarm areas, inside of shirt collars
3. Let baking soda sit until it dries out and goes crumbly
4. Rinse out clothes and caked baking soda
5. Sometimes, Steps 1-4 are enough to get rid of stains (seriously!) If not, I wait and collect enough soiled whites to toss into washing machine with some OxiClean bleach, and air dry the clothes.
Just a helpful hint if you wear a lot of white — I know a lot of us probably already know this, but some folks don’t and I thought I’d share this for them. White under white shows through like your white blouse is non-existent. If you don’t want whatever you’re wearing underneath your white blouse to show through, wear something nude-colored underneath (a nude bra, cami…) It WILL NOT show! (unless, of course, you WANT it to show, and that’s a whole other story….)