You ask me, “How do I get rid of bleach stains?”
I will get to the answer, but first consider if you really need to use bleach for the task at hand, or if there is a milder, gentler way to do whatever it is that you need to do. Many times, bleach is a little overkill for the job…. but sometimes, it is just exactly what is needed.
The manufacturing of bleach as well as its domestic and industrial use has been linked to enough health problems, particularly cancer, to warrant the abandonment of chlorine bleach altogether. But not all bleaches are equal, and some household or laundry bleaches are made with more care and safety.
On the plus side, bleach sometimes is what it takes to get rid of a bad stain or smell, and it does get whites very white. And bleach is used in everything from laundry detergents to kitchen and bathroom cleaners, in addition to other uses. Some people even use bleach on their eyebrows, and it is a key ingredient in the process of taxidermy. I bet you didn’t realize all the uses for bleach!
This piece, though, is on bleach stains. Let’s get to it.
Can bleach stains be removed?
Technically, you can’t remove bleach stains–they’re set for good–because bleach stains have already removed the color or dye from the fabric you’re attempting to save. When it comes down to it, the removal of bleach stains is more akin to restoring the color that has been lost.
Best Ways of Bleach Stain Removal or Repair
For an immediate treatment of a bleach stain, you may want to consider Sodium Thiosulfate.
Sodium Thiosulfate, also referred to as photographic fixer, is an agent that has been used as a way to neutralize the bleaching effects of other substances. In other words, it neutralizes bleaching agents, and helps restore fabrics or surfaces that have been bleached. Sodium thiosulfate can be used as an immediate spot treatment to neutralize bleach before it stains your fabric. However, you would usually blot the stain with a clean white cloth that has been dipped in S.T. until the stain either begins to disappear or the fabric becomes saturated. Rinse with cold water and repeat until the desired effect is achieved or no more progress is made.
I understand if something called sodium thiosulfate is not exactly something you keep on hand next to the mouthwash and vitamins, but it can be found. Apparently they sell adequate quantities of this at pet stores to help neutralize chlorine in tap water. It’s easily found on amazon, from ChemCenter: Sodium Thiosulfate in a 500 gram container.
Before you do this, make sure that you’ve rinsed the bleach out of the fabric. Combining vinegar and bleach (or bleach and almost any acid) results in the release of a toxin, chlorine gas.
Now that you have read the disclaimer, consider grabbing some Heinz white vinegar or even the generic stuff; it doesn’t matter which. Soak a clean white cloth with the vinegar and start dabbing/blotting the stain. Keep doing this until the fabric won’t hold anymore vinegar in the immediate vicinity of the bleach stain. Rinse with cold water and repeat. Vinegar has been used traditionally as a color restoration solution for a very long time. Acids in vinegar (acetic acid) will help to dissolve or peel away any damaged fabric that may be causing a bleach stain to stand out. Vinegar will eventually damage cotton fabrics with enough exposure, so use white vinegar conservatively when treating bleach stains.
Again, the fumes created by this concoction are toxic. Consider doing this outside in the fresh air with full ventilation, and wear both a mask and protective glasses.
If vinegar or sodium thiosulfate aren’t getting rid of your bleach stain you should consider Marvy Fabric Markers to cover up the discoloration.
The alternative to the Marvy Fabric Marker is the Sharpie permanent marker; really, both options are just as effective at covering up the bleach stain. You can find Marvy Fabric Markers in almost any craft store or fabric store, and they’re made in a variety of colors. If you’re lucky you may just find the color that works for whatever it is you’ve bleached. Fabric Markers are usually safe to wash, but I wouldn’t use a bleaching agent on that fabric again–if you get my meaning. Test the marker on a clean white rag before applying it to your fabric, to make sure it’s the right shade for your needs. Oh, Crayola makes fabric markers too! You can find Marvy Fabric Markers on Amazon.
I know this doesn’t sound very practical, but at this point, we’re running out of options. When it comes to clothing, something the answer is not to get rid of the stain, but to make it blend in.
Sunlight has a very powerful bleaching effect–ask any piece of driftwood and I’m sure they’ll tell you the same. According to Ellen Sandbeck, author of Organic Housekeeping, laying a bleach stained piece of fabric over a bush or a grass lawn in direct sunlight will increase the bleaching effects of the sun because of the oxygen (another powerful bleaching agent) produced by the vegetation beneath. Make certain you shake those clothes out before bringing them inside.
Color stripper, otherwise known as color remover, is what we use to take color out of a garment or fabric before redying it a new color. I guess if you can’t get that bleach stain out, and you can’t possibly stand to wear your clothes as they are in public, then you may want to consider stripping the color and starting fresh. Sodium Hydrosulfite, the most common color remover on the market, is cool stuff too because it’s an environmentally sound way to bleach fabrics. Some people swear it’s even more effective than bleach when it comes to whitening fabrics, but I wouldn’t use it all the time.
Preventing Bleach Stains
Like I mentioned in the introduction, the number one way to prevent bleach stains you should stop using bleach; it’s simply too powerful and too damaging to risk its use in your home or in the commercial sector. So I’ve provided a list of alternatives to your right. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, after all. But, aside from alternatives, there are a few things you can do to prevent bleach stains from showing up when you least expect them to.
- If you have a bleach dispenser built into your washing machine, make sure to rinse that out before you put any colors in the wash. Sometimes a little extra bleach gets left behind, and it ends up on the colors you were planning to wash after your whites. Cleaning your washer regularly will not only help you prevent staining issues, but it will also keep your washing machine from smelling bad.
- If you know you’re not washing any colors that will bleed, or if you’re just not worried about, start washing your colors first. That way you won’t have to deal with the hypothetical situation I described above.
- If you’re skeptical about either of those two options, you can always run a rinse cycle real quick before putting in your next load of laundry. Make sure you rinse the bleach dispenser, too.
Best Natural Bleach Alternatives
This is the quintessential bleach alternative you will find in almost every store. There are a number of solutions called “bleach alternatives” or “color safe” bleaches, but essentially they boil down to the release of oxygen molecules which then oxidize (or, let’s say, corrode) pigment or stains. A number of color safe bleaches are considered oxygen bleaches (Oxyclean is one of them), and these cleaning agents are more or less weaker with regard to their ability to dissolve stains and pigments. Ecover makes a good non-chlorine bleach.
H2O2 is actually the resulting chemical compound that is created when “color safe” bleaches and bleach alternatives are mixed with water. The oxygen released by hydrogen peroxide is a very strong bleaching agent. 3% hydrogen peroxide is probably the stuff you want to use to get rid of tough stains from whites. Anything higher in concentration isn’t very safe to have in your house. Remember that hydrogen peroxide has a very limited shelf life because any exposure to light and air will cause the compound to release its oxyen components and revert back to plain old water.
Na2S2O4 is the color stripping agent we mentioned when we asked you to consider removing the color from your garment and redying it. It’s safe for the environment, and it’s extremely effective. It might just be ecologically safe equivalent of chlorine bleach. Rit Color Remover is a good example of such a product.
Boric Acid (sold as 20 Mule Team Borax) is a milder bleaching agent. It’s not often used as a bleach, simply because it doesn’t have the oxidizing power of the more traditional bleach alternatives. But, if you’re looking for a good way to remove stains from whites and restore colors, Borax is a good product to have in your laundry room.
Little known fact — borax and boric acid are two different deviations of the same compound. Borax is naturally occurring, while boric acid is man-made. It was originally discovered 4,000 years ago in Southern Asia.
An Important Health Note
It is important to note that bleach is a pretty violent chemical, as far as household cleaners go. If it gets in contact with your skin, eyes, nose, or throat, it can cause major irritation. There is even reliable evidence from the NIH that bleach, when combined with other chemicals or cleaners, becomes highly-toxic. Chemistry at work, mix two things together and it can create a reaction.
That is why we recommend that anytime you are working with bleach, you take precautious to ventilate the area, protect your skin and eyes, and please use good judgment and common sense.