Ask Annie B., For The Home, How-To's

How to Whiten Laundry Without Bleach?

clothespins for laundry

Ask AnnieDear Annie,
I can’t stand the strong chemical smell of bleach, but it’s the only thing that works to get stains out of my white fabrics. I also have asthma and it’s a struggle to use bleach each time I need a laundry whitener because it aggravates my symptoms. Is there anything natural or less caustic I can use instead that works just as well? – Meredith, Cincinnati, OH


Annie B. Bond

Dear Meredith,

Whitening clothes and sinks isn’t that easy without bleach, and although I have tried, I haven’t had much luck using hydrogen peroxide as a whitener.

Why avoid bleach? Breathing in the fumes of cleaners containing a high concentration of chlorine can irritate the lungs. This is particularly dangerous for people suffering from heart conditions or chronic respiratory problems such as asthma or emphysema. And the risks are compounded when the cleaners are used in small, poorly ventilated rooms, such as the bathroom. It is also really corrosive. Chlorine was listed as a hazardous air pollutant in the 1990 Clean Air Act, and exposure to chlorine in the workplace is regulated by federal standards.

What to use instead: I have tried everything green, and while they work (lemon juice, the sun), there are times you just want to quickly save that white shirt that has chocolate on it, or whiten a bunch of white shirts at once, or whiten the sink. I have fallen in love with sodium percarbonate for this purpose. It works wonders in the sink if I put 1/4 cup into the sink, fill with warm water, and let it set for an hour or two. It also is great for clothes.

Where to find it? There are now a number of brands that carry sodium percarbonate whiteners. Try to find one that is 100% sodium percarbonate.

Have a question for Annie? Write to her at annie [@] thetruefind [dot] com!

By AAnnie B. Bond, the best-selling and award-winning author of five healthy/green living books, including Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press, 1999), Home Enlightenment, Clean & Green (1990), and most recently True Food (National Geographic, 2010 and winner of Gourmand Awards Best Health and Nutrition Cookbook in the World). She has authored literally thousands of articles and was named “the foremost expert on green living” by Body & Soul magazine (2009).