A Homemade Clothing Whitener

by Erin Watson-Price

Brighten your dingiest whites with a little lemon juice.

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Every family possesses at least one home remedy passed down from generation to generation. From garlic for beestings to vinegar for bouncy hair, home remedies take advantage of common ingredients found in the home. The same holds true for the secret to whiter clothes: lemons.

Skipping the Bleach

Besides the potential for splashing bleach on colored clothing, bleach gives off toxic chlorine gas, an irritant to skin, eyes and the respiratory system. If clothes are bleached in a small room like a bathroom or laundry room without turning on an exhaust fan, the fumes can build up to potentially harmful levels. In addition, prolonged use of bleach deteriorates most fabrics.

Lemonade for Clothes

To remove stains from clothing, cut a lemon in half and rub the lemon into the stains. For tough stains like grass or tomato-based stains, salt added to the fabric before rubbing the stain can transform the lemon into a gentle scrubber. You can also substitute lemon juice, if you do not have fresh lemons handy.

Like bleach, you can pre-soak an entire garment, bedsheet or tablecloth; however, unlike bleach, you can walk away without fear of disintegrating your great-grandmother's delicate linens. Create the pre-soaking solution by adding five sliced lemons or one cup of lemon juice for every gallon of hot water. Garments should soak for at least 30 minutes, but garments are safe in the solution for several hours.

After soaking, add the lemon solution to the washing machine and wash as usual. Unlike bleach, the lemon juice does not affect colored clothing in the wash. If you need to soak clothing that contains a combination of white and colored fabrics, test the lemon juice on an inconspicuous patch of clothing first. Lemon juice should not fade clothing like chlorinated bleach, but it is always best to check first.

The Power of the Sun

Before hitting the beach or the pool, many women spray lemon juice in their hair. The sun adds to the lightening power of the lemon juice, producing sun-kissed highlights even faster than lemon juice or sun alone. The same is true for fabric. Before you rinse out the lemon juice solution, hang your whites outside in the sun. An hour or two of sunlight is all that it takes. In fact, sun drying your whites whenever possible can keep them bright without the need for constant pre-soaking. If you doubt the power of the sun, fold a colored towel and leave it on the back seat of your car for six months. After that time, unfold the towel. The portion of the towel exposed to the sun for the six months will be noticeably lighter than the rest of the towel -- and without the use of lemons.

Additional Whitening Options

Adding white vinegar to your washing machine during the rinse cycle can prevent dirt and dye from depositing on the clothes during washing and rinsing. The buildup of these deposits causes whites to turn dingy over time. If you don’t have any lemons or lemon juice handy, spray stains with the same hydrogen peroxide you use to clean cuts and scrapes. Hydrogen peroxide is particularly good at removing bloodstains. Add one cup of baking soda with lemon juice, vinegar or hydrogen peroxide to the laundry. The bubbling action works just like brand-name oxygen bleach.

Photo Credits

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About the Author

Transplanted Yankee Erin Watson-Price lives in Birmingham, Ala., and has been writing freelance articles since 1997. She worked as writer/co-editor for Coast to Coast Dachshund Rescue's newsletter, "The Long and the Short of It." In 2007 she obtained a certification as a copy editor. Watson-Price holds a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.