How to Keep Your White T-Shirts White, According to Fashion Editors, Grandmothers and John Mayer

young woman wearing a white t shirt
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Congratulations, you did it. You found the ultimate white T-shirt, the one you will continue to wear and buy on repeat from now until kingdom come. All that’s left to do is figure out how to maintain its perfect fresh-out-of-the-box whiteness, which, as we know all too well, is just as difficult as it was tracking down that tee in the first place. But there is hope. We polled the laundry-obsessed editors of PureWow, their moms and their mom’s moms to gather all the best tips for keeping our white T-shirts white. Here are 11 pieces of expert advice to lengthen the life of your favorite new wardrobe staple. 

1. If You Do Nothing Else, Use Oxiclean

Multiple editors, mothers and grandmothers polled credited this bleach alternative as the holy grail of stain-fighting products, myself included. Toss a scoop in with your load and sip on a warm cup of herbal tea as you wait for your clothes to magically brighten like new. Or mix it with warm water to create a paste and rub it into tough or settled stains. Let the item sit for at least an hour, although you can also leave it overnight if you really want. Because there’s no chlorine (the harsh chemical component of bleach), OxiClean is much gentler on your clothes without losing any of that stain-lifting power. And if you want further evidence, I recently pulled a white button-up out of the back of my closet that I hadn’t worn (or cleaned) in three years. After one scrub with OxiClean paste and a run through the washing machine, those years-old stains were gone.

2. Vinegar Can Help Prevent Yellowing

While spritzing the underarms of your T-shirt with white vinegar works well to prevent stains, the scent is a big turnoff for some folks. That said, if you add ½ cup white vinegar in with your regular laundry detergent, you’ll still achieve all the same magic brightening effects without any lingering odor.

3. So Can Switching To Natural Deodorant

Fun fact: One of the main reasons you develop yellow stains in the armpits of your shirts is because of the way the aluminum in your antiperspirant interacts with the protein in your sweat. Transitioning to a natural deodorant, or at least a deodorant that doesn’t contain aluminum, will slow that yellowing process way down.

4. Lemon Juice Both Fights Existing Stains And Helps Prevent Future Ones

Applying freshly squeezed lemon juice to stain-prone areas with each wear can help break down any lingering dirt or sweat and reduce the risk that you’ll develop a stain in the first place. But a lemon-water soak can also help reduce the appearance of discoloration. Combine 125 milliliters fresh lemon juice with eight liters of hot water and let your tees soak for about an hour before transferring them to your washing machine. Run them through the wash as normal and voilà! They’ll be brighter and carry a delicate, refreshing lemon scent.

5. Use A Detergent Specifically Formulated For White Fabrics

The jury is still out on whether or not you really need to use six different moisturizers dedicated to different parts of your body, but white-specific laundry detergent is no joke. Stain-fighting ingredients like borax are excellent at removing unwanted residue from fabric, including dirt, sweat and dyes (which is why you should avoid using them on clothes that aren’t white). Look for a detergent with borax, sodium bicarbonate or baking soda to use in your white-specific loads. Associate food editor and self-professed laundry expert Katherine Gillen prefers Classic Whites Detergent from The Laundress to keep her tees sparkling clean, while another self-proclaimed laundry expert, John Mayer (yes, that John Mayer), has professed his love for The Laundress x Le Labo Santal 33 Signature Detergent on Snapchat on more than one occasion.

6. Or Dish Detergent

While you can use dish soap in place of laundry detergent, we don’t recommend doing it regularly. That said, it can be a very effective pre-treatment (especially for grease stains) before doing a load of laundry. Wet the affected area and rub in a small amount of dish detergent, emphasis on the word small. Too much and you might find your washing machine overrun with suds. Let it sit for at least 15 to 20 minutes, then go about your normal laundry routine.

7. Only Use Bleach On 100 Percent Cotton

And even then, use it sparingly. Too much bleach can actually cause yellowing, deteriorating fabrics in the process (especially super-delicate fabrics like jersey or synthetics like spandex).

8. A Magic Eraser Can Work Wonders For Small Marks

There’s a reason it’s called the “Magic” Eraser. Jillian Quint, senior vice president of content, swears by this handy little trick to remove ink transfers, like those from a newspaper, or other dry marks (i.e., not red wine or coffee spills).

9. Always Separate Your Whites

Yes, even if you use a color-catching sheet and even if the other clothes are almost white. Trace amounts of dye will leak from those non-white items and can potentially deposit onto your fresh new white tee (or really any of the other clothes in there). If you continually wash your white T-shirts with your gray ones, don’t be surprised when those whites start looking a little dull or dingy. 

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10. Keep Loads Small

The more items of clothing you cram into your washing machine, the more dirt and grime will be released into the water. And while one of the main functions of your detergent is to prevent that dirt from depositing back onto your clothes, the more gross things there are floating around, the harder your detergent has to work. Aim to never go over two-thirds full and consider washing thick towels separately from your thin T-shirts.

11. Let Them Air-dry

It’s so easy to toss your tees into the dryer, set it on high and pull them out bone dry and ready to go. But there are two main reasons you should avoid falling into this bad habit. First, exposing delicate fabrics to high heat on a regular basis will break them down pretty quickly, and damaged fabric is harder to remove stains from. Second, the sun is a natural fabric lightener, so hanging your whites on a clothesline may leave them looking newer longer.

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Abby Hepworth is an RRCA-certified running coach who has worked in fashion for over 10 years. Want to know what shoes are in this season? She's got you. Need recommendations on...