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T-shirts and polos

How to keep white tees and shirts white

How to keep white tees and shirts white

The search for your perfect white t-shirt, or the most flattering white shirt, can be a lifelong quest – which is why when you find one you love, you want to keep it looking fresh for as long as possible. Unfortunately, they’re also the easiest things in your wardrobe to wreck, even if you don’t spill coffee all over them. Over time they can turn grey, lose their shape or pick up stains from foods that you can’t for the life of you remember eating. Unless, that is, you follow these simple steps to keep your whites, well, white.

Wash regularly

This is one of those situations where two things can be true. It is true you should try not to wash your clothes too often – the process breaks down the fabric and can mean they don’t last as long. But leaving white items unwashed has the same effect. Perspiration and grime build up over time, so you need to wash to stop these things causing permanent stains. Aim for washing after every other wear – unless you’ve worn it to BBQ or ran for a train in a heatwave.

Keep it separate

Never wash whites with colours. Yes, most washing machines have a mixed setting, but even colourfast items leak minuscule dye particles, which can transfer and, over multiple washes, turn your white tees grey. That includes mostly-white clothes – even if something has thin stripes or a small print, don’t throw it in with your all-whites.

Avoid stain transfer

Another counterintuitive one, but then whites can be fussy – don’t wash filthy whites with lightly soiled whites. If you throw a ketchup-covered shirt in with your twice-worn t-shirt, the dirt can transfer to your almost-clean whites.

Space it out

Washing items individually is time-consuming and bad for the planet. But don’t stuff your washing machine – clothes need space to move around so that the water can circulate and actually, y’know, clean. Aim for two-thirds full.

Make it hot

Generally, you should avoid boil washing – it wastes energy and can shrink your clothes. But with whites, hotter is often better, because it shifts dirt particles more effectively. However, use common sense and caution here – if your t-shirt says wash at 30, wash it at 30. The manufacturing label is there for a reason.

Raid the kitchen cupboards

A cup of bleach in your wash keeps them sparkling, but it can also prove counter-effective – too much will turn them grey and, over time, bleach weakens the fabric. Unlike this trio of ingredients.

White vinegar. Add around half a cup of white vinegar to your machine along with your regular detergent, in the fabric softener drawer. Its acetic acid breaks down dirt and even soap residue to leave your whites brighter. And because it’s mixed in with your detergent, you won’t smell like a chip shop.

Lemon juice. It brightened your hair as a teenager and will do the same to your whites now you’re grown up. Combine 125ml of lemon juice – fresh not bought – with eight litres of hot water and soak your t-shirt for at least an hour. Then wash as normal.

Bicarbonate of soda. Bicarb is salt that breaks down acid build up, which is why it keeps teeth white. And it will do the same for your shirts. Since it also removes odors, it’s particularly good for getting rid of those yellow sweat and deodorant stains in the underarms – make a paste, smear it on and leave overnight, then wash as usual. For general whitening, add a cup add straight to your washing machine in the softener drawer.


Words: Nadia Balame-Price