Whiten clothes naturally with homemade bleach

Whiten clothes naturally with homemade bleach

Once upon a time a certain hippie-dancer-blogger-mom was doing laundry. Nothing new. Unfortunately, this certain hippie-dancer-blogger-mom wasn’t paying attention and somehow a pair of new blue jeans got mixed up with the whites. Whoops. Look who has a pile of grayish clothes now. Yeah. That would be me. Of course, in the “old days” I would have put the items back in the washing machine with some bleach… you know, the stuff we use to whiten clothes.

No more, my friends. No more.

I hope you guys won’t hate me for ratting out another common household product. I’ve already tattled on shampoo, fabric softener, tampons, and the like. Can’t I just leave bleach alone? But the truth is even bleach, a household chemical frequently used for generations, is not a great product to have around the house. Chlorine based bleach (oxygen based bleaches don’t fall into this same category) are really bad for you, your family, your pets, and the environment!

Why? Well, consider the following:

  • Bleach can often cause respiratory issues.
  • It can also cause burns to the skin and even nervous system damage.
  • Allergies and asthma are often irritated by bleach and can cause serious reactions in those who have problems with these conditions already.
  • Beyond causing its own problems, chlorine bleach also has some really dangerous potential reactions with other chemicals and materials.
  • Each year thousands of calls are made for help and of those calls about 1/4th of them are related to bleach and the household cleaners that contain them. Many of these accidents involve children and can be potentially fatal.

Yes, the simple stuff we use to whiten clothes is not safe. In fact, bleach can be deadly.

Okay, I know I’m sounding a little dooms-day here. And chances are if you use bleach you keep it in safe place and use it responsibly. That’s good. But is it enough?

Because bleach mixes so easily with so many other products that produce a wide range of toxins, we should be concerned. Many of the chemicals produced through chemical reactions with chlorine bleach are toxins that are known carcinogens. These chemicals build up in the environment. They get into the water and food supply, and increase our risk for many negative health issues. Once again we all have a part to play to keeping our world safe.

But it’s okay!

It’s easy to make your own bleach. You can disinfect your bathrooms, clean your toilets, and whiten your clothes naturally with homemade bleach.

 

whiten clothes naturally with homemade bleach

As you can see it definitely brightened my whites. What about all those icky used-to-be-white-but-now-are-gray clothes? Well, they aren’t sparkingly white, but they do look better. I plan on giving them the homemade bleach treatment a few more times.

So, how do you whiten clothes in your home? 

References:
http://www.howtodothings.com/home-garden/how-to-understand-why-bleach-is-bad
http://www.infobarrel.com/Why_You_Should_Stop_Using_Bleach
http://www.mothering.com/community/t/948308/educate-me-why-is-bleach-so-bad
http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2009/09/14/food-for-thought-why-is-bleach-bad-for-me/

This post is part of Monday Mania, Natural Living MondaySunday School, Make Your Own Monday, Frugal Days Sustainable WaysLiving Green TuesdayFat TuesdayReal Food Wednesday,Healthy 2Day WednesdayCreative Juice Thursday, Clever ChicksSimply Natural Saturdays, The Mommy ClubSmall Footprint Friday, and Sweet Sharing Monday.

NOTE: Due to an never-ending cesspool of spam, I have made the tough decision to close comments 14 days after the original posting of all posts. Sorry to anyone left out of the conversation. I just needed to spend less time monitoring spam and more time with my kids. Best wishes, Robin!

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About the author

Hi! I'm and I’m passionate about healthy living: feeling nourished, having energy, getting good sleep, and feeling strong. I believe healthy living does not have to be complicated or stressful. I’m a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist (RSMT) and a Certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst (CLMA). I’m also an avid researcher and love to read about nutrition, the body, and toxic-free living. Learn more.

View all articles by Robin Konie

155 comments

  1. Mindy

    This is wonderful! I’m always looking for cheaper ways to do things. I am wondering though… is the peroxide the ONLY active ingredient? I mean, can I just add hydrogen peroxide to my homemade detergent? And is it safe for colors?

    1. robin

      Hi Mindy! The lemon is actual a very active part in the brightening process. In fact, I first started just using the lemon juice, but my sadly-turned-gray clothes needed a little more boost… hence the hydrogen peroxide. You can always just start with one and see how it goes and then add the other if needed.

      From my research this *should* be safe for colors as well. But I would try it on a test shirt or something first, just to be safe. :)

      Good luck!

    1. Shannon

      I’d be careful about using it on grout if there’s lemon juice in it because the acid in the lemon could eat away at the grout. It would probably be better to just use a mix of H2O2 with baking soda if there is an area of grout that needs a bit of whitening.

      1. Scott

        Grout is made with portland cement. A little acid, especially the PH of a lemon won’t affect it much. We use much stronger acids on concretes and grouts, depending on what needs cleaned. Vinegar cleans grout, a pumice stone will clean grout. It depends on what you are trying to get out. To protect grout from stains, a sealer is the only good way.

    2. Jen

      I used baking soda, warm water, and a scrub brush to clean my white tile grout. It turned out so bright and clean looking…my mom and my husband both couldn’t believe that was all I used.


      1. Post author
        robin

        I know! Sometimes I’m amazed at how we’ve let the chemical industry make us believe we need harsh chemicals to get things clean.

    3. Toni

      Baking soda paste or Borax paste will clean your grout really good. Make a paste use a toothbrush to apply it and let it sit on an area for 3-5 mins then wipe off.

  2. Lisa

    Is it okay to use another essential oil such as maybe lavender or is there something in the lemon essential oil that helps with the whitening process? Thanks for this recipe. I can’t hardly tolerate when my Mom uses Clorox Clean-Up to clean with when I’m at her house. It really affects my lungs. I have been using just straight white vinegar as my bleach in my washer.

    1. robin

      Hi Lisa! I think you’d be fine to add other essential oils. The lemon helps with the whitening process, but you’ll get that anyway if you are using real lemon juice. Lavender would be great to add to laundry… nice calming scent. :)

    2. "Bonnie

      I know that lemon juice and salt lift rust from clothing when allowed to dry on fabric.
      Thus I think you may need the lemon, but you certainly could mix other complimentary oils if you liked, I should think.

    1. robin

      I personally think distilled is best, just to avoid things that might interfere with the other ingredients. For example, I have really hard water and that can be problematic when trying to clean.

      With that said, I think it will probably work fine with normal water.

      Good luck!

      1. bettina

        our irons used to tell us to only use distilled water because back in the day, it was tap or distilled, those were our only options. but now, i’ve heard it’s okay to use any type of bottled water, or RO type in the irons, so i would imagine something like “spring water, or drinking water” can be used. just thinking though, haven’t tried it yet.

      2. Alika Thompson

        What about adding course sea salt or epson salt to help soften the water? This is how I soften my washing machine water anyway, but for other cleaning uses…might be helpful.

        1. LaDawn

          How much sea salt do you put in your wash? I have really hard water and would like to try this.

    1. Paige R

      If you’re looking for a good natural disinfectant…in a spray bottle, 2C filtered water, 1/2tsp dish soap, 2tbsp vinegar, 20drops tea tree oil. Shake it up! Tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant, anti-fungal…google it to see everything it can do!

      I’m going to start making my own bleach with this recipe! Thank you so much for posting!
      Question: when using this bleach for cleaning, what it the bleach to water ratio?


      1. Post author
        robin

        Since there’s already lots of water in the recipe, I’d use it “as is” and dilute it as feels necessary.

  3. julie

    I have a quick question. I am highly allergic to peroxide do you think this would be a problem or will it rinse out while washing?

    1. robin

      Great question, Julie. I honestly don’t know. To be safe, I’d add a cup of lemon juice to my washing cycle and skip the peroxide altogether. And I’d stick with a vinegar base cleaner.

      Be safe! :)

    2. Courtney

      Wow! I’ve never heard of that! How can you be allergic to both hydrogen and oxygen and live? You learn something new every day!

    1. Kitty

      Hydrogen peroxide deteriorates over time, and when exposed to air or light. That’s why it comes in a dark bottle. Mix enough for a week, but don’t mix a gallon and expect it to work as well after a couple months or even at the end of the week, I’d say, as it did the first day.

  4. Nikki

    If the peroxide isnt in a dark colored bottle it will only remain active for about 30 min. So I don’t believe that you can store this, it would be need to be made on the spot, or all put together except for necessary peroxide to be added as used.


    1. Post author
      robin

      Hi Victoria,

      I’ve actually seen some teeth whitening stuff using hydrogen peroxide to white teeth on Pinterest. Although, I can’t say whether or not it’s safe. I’d do my research before putting it in my mouth, but it may be an option. :)

      1. Ben Walker

        On the teeth whitening… The best thing I have ever seen – organic banana peels (the inside) will whiten teeth instantly. It’s amazing.

      2. Sandra

        As far as the teeth whitening with peroxide, I did my homework and they say to use 1/2 and half each of peroxide and water. The drug store kind is ok but do not swallow it. You can get safe to swallow peroxide from a health food store, NOT from the grocery or medical isles/stores. If you are concerned about the little bit you may swallow should it happen, I would suggest purchasing from a health food store.Pricier, but safer. I use reg. peroxide on my teeth and hair (blond) and it keeps teeth white, and red tones out of my blond hair after dying it.

    2. Karen

      My mother used peroxide to whiten her teeth and it severely burned her whole mouth.. You may want to dilute it a good bit.


      1. Post author
        robin

        Thanks for the heads up. If people want to try and use the peroxide in their mouth I would strongly suggest starting with a very diluted wash and SLOWLY work up. As your story points out, every body is so different.

      2. Kitty

        oops, yes I forgot that aspect. put a small amount into a bit of water, one to one. use immediately. However, mixing it with baking soda to brush teeth is ok without diluting if all I’ve read is true.


    1. Post author
      robin

      Fresh squeezed is definitely best.

      In a pinch you could try using 100% lemon juice from a bottle… but I’d double check the ingredient list. Even some bottle lemon juice that say 100% juice have some added stuff. Can’t say if it will work as well, but it might do the trick.

  5. Ashley @ Ashley's Green Life

    What a great tip! I just wore a white shirt yesterday and all day I was like, “Could this shirt get any more dull?” Seriously it practically looked grey…ugh. So I’m excited to try this and bring some new life into my white shirts and tank tops…minus all the toxic traditional bleach! ( :

  6. Gudrun B

    darn, i like the smell of bleach LOL- no i do!
    but with the rising cost of every thing i like the alternative version a lot! lemons i like to smell more yet!

    you asked about whitening … i recall as child my mother and all the neighborhood would lay white things that needed to get whiter on the grass in the sun, after washing and would often times re-wet the items; funny, i never thought of it til now.

    and yes, peroxide is safe to use as rinse or brushing teeth! even if accidentally swallowed – unless you drink it – should be safe! and is even recommended with gum issues;


    1. Post author
      robin

      It’s true! I’ve put baby items out in the sun to get rid of some “brown stains” and it totally cleared it up. Again, nature is amazing! :)

  7. Rebecca

    Oh, I can’t wait to try this!! I make my own laundry soap and have yet to find a cheap, non toxic and effective way to make my whites stay white… but instead of using distilled water, can I use soft water if I have a water softening system in my home?


    1. Post author
      robin

      That would probably be okay, although distilled water is your best bet. I just bought a gallon jug and then I had a jug for the bleach, too. It’s cheap. :)

  8. Kitty

    Something that I didn’t see here was not only is this great for whitening clothes it is also good for people that have septic systems. As far as the dark bottle goes I think if you have one of the old bleach bottles washed out completelty and I mean a very good cleaning job that should work.
    WalMart used to sell a bleach free bleach which was peroxide base and I used it when I had a septic tank. Will save this recipe and will be making some now for use even tho I no longer have septic tank.
    Thank you!


    1. Post author
      robin

      Awesome, Kitty! Thanks for the tip! I didn’t think to use an old bleach bottle, but it makes sense. And, yes, this would be good for septic tanks. Thank you!

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  10. Becky

    I’m definitely gonna try this. Saw you through Clever Chicks Blog Hop.

    I never thought of the environmental and safety reasons not to use bleach – but I HAVE noticed that the last couple of years bleach doesn’t whiten as well as it used to. I think they must have changed something. I’m excited to see if this does a better job!

  11. Wonderwoman

    Am visiting from Clever Chicks blog hop…wow, you have a lot of great info on your blog. Am now following and can’t wait to read what’s next.

  12. Pingback: Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #47


    1. Post author
      robin

      Hi Donna,

      The few drops that go into the entire mixture should be fine. I haven’t had any problems. But if you are concerned you can definitely leave the essential oil out. It’s just there for an extra “boost.” The lemon juice will do the trick without it. :)

  13. Pingback: Whiten clothes naturally with homemade bleach | Muskegonvegan's Blog

  14. Heather Chupp

    This is Great! I have been hoping for a replacement to that awful yucky stuff! Does this seem to work with hard water? We have awful water that turns everything dingy – rusty. I will definitely be making it to use in my home! Thank you!


    1. Post author
      robin

      I have pretty hard water and it seems to help… but every water “situation” is different so I can’t say for sure. Hopefully it will work for you, though! Thanks for stopping by. :)

  15. Jen

    This is awesome!! Can’t wait to try it in my bathroom. We are currently renting and our apartment is old and has mold in some areas. I wash it with 50/50 water bleach solution. Can I use this instead? I hate having to get everyone out of the house while it dries and the smell goes away and it’s getting cold now so I can’t really keep the windows open. Thanks!


    1. Post author
      robin

      Yes! You could definitely use this. Just be sure to put the mixture in a non-clear bottle (like an old bleach bottle) so that the hydrogen peroxide stays active. :)

    2. Bea

      Bleach is not the best product for cleaning mold. It is highly caustic and it actually doesn’t kill mold. Undiluted white vinegar works much better. It kills mold, bacteria, germs, and also disinfects. Tea tree oil would be even better – mix three teaspoons to about three cups of water in a spray bottle.

  16. silvia

    I boil really dingy whites with slivers of hand soap. It brightens them up beautifully. It works on my kid’s socks!

  17. Sarah

    Thank you for the tips! I also make my own laundry soap and this is a great addition to our laundry system. I have something to ponder, though…sometimes I have a need for bleach to kill mold and/or mildew. I just got a jumper for our little one and it was left outside. The stuffed animals on it are mildewy. I think I may just throw them out but am curious if this would kill the mildew. Sometimes I get it on the girls’ clothes if they are left in the laundry pile too long when wet. Then I have to throw them out for rags. Any suggestions?


    1. Post author
      robin

      As long as you keep the homemade bleach in a non-clear container it should act as a disinfectant. :)

  18. Marc

    Last week I made homemade laundry degtergent with my sister and her grandkids! I’m hooked; not sure about sis though. But she sure did devour this article. LOL
    Now I have to find out if anyone knows of a homemade “Woolite” substitute. So, I figure this is the best place to start. Any recipes or ideas?


    1. Post author
      robin

      We also make our own homemade detergent. Love it. So much cheaper. :)

      Not sure about the woolite substitute. Let me doing a little investigating. What exactly do you like about it that you’re hoping to get from a natural recipe?

    2. JoAnna from Idaho

      check out this lady she does pintrest and her own blog she’s always making homemade stuff, especially DIY cleaning products I believe she just recently posted homemade woolite
      One Good Thing by Jillee

  19. Tulip

    I am definitely going to try this! I will feel a lot better about using bleach on my clothes. I would only use a little bit because it smells nasty and I just don’t like using it. Pinned.

  20. Foxiefyre

    Can this be used with a septic tank? Normal bleach is a no no because it eats bacteria and enzymes needed to maintain a healthy septic.


    1. Post author
      robin

      I believe it can. If you look at some of the previous comments it was mentioned that it is safe. :)

  21. Narita

    Hi,
    This sounds great! Can’t wait to try it. If feels so empowering to go to the store and not have to buy something because I can make it myself. Especially when I run out.
    I understand the lemon juice helps the whitening but can i not use the essential oil?


    1. Post author
      robin

      Hi Narita,

      Yes, you can definitely skip the essential oil. The lemon juice (especially if its freshly squeezed) and hydrogen peroxide will work great together.

      Thanks for stopping by!


    1. Post author
      robin

      You can try it. It may not work as well… I’d be sure to look at the ingredient list and make sure it really is just lemon juice listed. Fresh squeezed will give you more “bang for your buck,” however. :)

  22. kelly v

    Saw your post last week and have been using it. GREAT tip. I will let you know that instead of juicing the lemon I cut up the whole lemon and put it along with the water in the vitamix and pureed. I put it through a fine strainer before mixing in the jug. No need for the EO at that point.

  23. SJ Smith

    I toss a handful of baking soda in with the clothes as I load the dirty clothes. Then, I put vinegar in the softener tray.
    (and a basic laundry soap in the soap dispenser)

    Chemistry: acid + base = a cleaner load.

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    1. Post author
      robin

      I’d fill it most of the way, add the remaining ingredients, and then fill it the rest of the way with water.

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  26. GlutenFree Mom

    Thank you for this post. I have been ditching all my chemical cleansers lately, which means my bleach is gone..gladly. But my whites aren’t so white and I keep meaning to look for a bleach/whitening alternative. Sounds like I may have found it with your post. I have ‘repinned’ your post, and, if I blog about this new discovery (and I likely will) I will be sure to give credit where it is due and link to your post. Thanks!

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  33. Dolly

    These tips are so wonderful to know and pass on. I am teaching my children all these things for a safer enviorment and healthier earth to live in.

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  35. Lin

    Thank you!I get physically ill with respiratory issues for days (costochondritis) when cleaning with bleach! thank you. ty! and TY!

  36. Teresa

    I have read that bleach just takes the color out of whatever it is applied to, such as mold, and does not actually kill it. I also read on another web site containing natural laundry whitening suggestions that adding peroxide and lemon juice to your washer will eat holes in the clothes. What is your take on this? I recently made my own homemade laundry detergent, but my white sheets need some extra help.

  37. Lauren

    Hey I have a question, is this also safe for the more delicate clothes? I have this beautiful floral dress with white lace details, but sadly it now has ugly gray details… I’d love to whiten it, but should I use the whole recipe or just the lemon juice?


    1. Post author
      robin

      That’s a good question. I haven’t actually tried it on lace (only because I don’t have anything with it on) so I can’t say for sure. My gut instinct is that it would probably be okay, but I really don’t know for sure.

  38. Christine

    Hi there,
    So glad to find your website. So am I correct as I read the comments? I can use just plain lemon juice if I don’t have lemon essential oil?

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  40. eva

    i put my white clothes in the sun, it helps a lot, especially clothes that got “dirty” from diapers (if you know what i mean)…

  41. Peter

    Wonderful and practical information. I’ve been using this for many years. I would also like to mention that Hydrogen Peroxide is rendered useless when exposed to light, that’s why it comes in those brown plastic bottles, so be sure to always keep it in a dark container and away from light.

  42. Dierdre

    I’m going to try this on my son’s cloth diapers in the winter when they can’t be left in the sun to “bleach”!

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  44. GT

    I was just thinking last nite, my potty is gettin smelly, & I really shud clean it with sum bleach & detergent soon…but I just dont wanna buy & use the toxic bleach anymore. Ive already cut my cleaning products use way down, (as much 4 economic reasons, as environmental 1′s), so all I ever use 2 clean around the house, is dish soap, detergent, & bleach. (NEVER mix bleach & dishsoap, however. It WILL emit a toxic smelly gas!)

    Have already switched 2 bio-friendly dish soaps & detergents, but have been having truble giving up the bleach. Feelin just about ready 2 give it up, but VERY RELUCTANTLY put bleach on my sundries list, again last nite, when I realized I knew of nothing better 2 sanitize that smelly potty & whiten my clothes… So this tip was RIGHT ON TIME 4 me. I think I feel brave enuf 2 scratch bleach off the list now.. Thanx!

    1 question tho, r u talking about run of the mill hydrogen peroxide, like the kind found on most drug store shelves, or is it a different type?


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      Yep. Just the plain ole’ hydrogen peroxide you can get most places. :)

  45. Sarah

    I absolutely love all of your cleaning tips! I’m following your board on Pintrest and I’m making a shopping list for myself so I can make all of my own natural cleaners! :) Do you have any suggestions or recipes for making natural liquid dish soap?

    1. Sarah

      Also, since I’m trying to get rid of and cut back on the plastics that I buy and use, what kind of container do you think is best to both store and use any of the cleaners? Is there another option to plastic spray bottles that still has a spray nozzle?


      1. Post author
        Robin Konie

        I’ve seen people use old Apple Cider Vinegar bottles that fit the standard spray nozzle. Just be sure to wrap it in brown paper or something to keep it dark so the hydrogen peroxide stays active.


    2. Post author
      Robin Konie

      I don’t have one yet… but I should get on that. We just use liquid castile soap (diluted) when we need to wash something by hand (or for hand soap).

  46. Michele

    Thanks so much for the recipe. I have this concoction in a spray bottle to use as a general cleaner around the house (counters, spills, etc). I am happy to know I can use it in the laundry, too.

  47. Lynne

    My grandmother used to use lemon juice and then put the piece of clothing out in the sun…it “bleaches” clothes out white….just like it does to your hair. Thanks for this recipe….I’m giving it a try!!

  48. Zena

    Is this a one load batch or a whole gallow? I’m reading the previous comments and learn peroxide doesn’t last long, so what would be the measurements if this is not a one time use recipe?


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      This will last for a couple of batches IF you put it in a dark container or cover the bottle up with a brown paper bag or something to keep the hydrogen peroxide in a dark environment.

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  52. KC

    Is this safe to mix with other cleaners since it’s not “bleach”? I’d read no bleach with Fels Naptha, so I was wondering if I could use this with it?

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  54. Jessica

    I was wondering if you think this would be cloth diaper safe? I use bleach on my dipes every couple weeks to disinfect.


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      As long as you keep it in a dark container it will last a while. But if it’s in a clear container you need to use it up pretty much immediately as the hydrogen peroxide will lose it’s “power.”

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