How to Whiten Sheets: 6 Non-Toxic Methods Tested

Do you have white sheets that just don’t look white anymore? I’m embarrassed to show what my white sheets look like, so before you see the picture I have to say that I DO wash my sheets weekly. They just don’t get white.

As I was researching for this article I learned that it is normal for white sheets to yellow with time. I am NOT a failure. What a relief. However, I did fail at MANY different attempts to re-whiten my sheets.

getting white sheets
White sheets

I love white sheets when they are new because they look so clean and fresh, but over time body oils make them appear yellow.

You might think that you can just bleach them, but it’s not quite that easy. I’ve tested six methods and some have worked ok, but not great. The yellow hue seemed to return within days. I prefer NOT to use regular bleach because I like to use eco-friendly products. Can you get sheets white without killing the environment?

Here’s how I took my sheets from dingy to crisp white. You can use these methods on any white fabric, not just white bed sheets.

Methods I Tested on my White Bed Linens

I tried each of these tactics in order. I will give you my effectiveness score after each method. I will start off by saying that I don’t use regular laundry detergent, like Tide. I regularly use ozone for my laundry, but it is not a natural whitener. When I use detergent I use one that has no harsh chemicals or fragrances.

  1. Bleach – I tried Seventh-Generation’s chlorine-free bleach. Bleach comes in two forms, chlorine bleach (liquid) and oxygen bleach (solid). Chlorine bleach can be irritating to your skin and lungs. It can also ruin things if you accidentally get some on your counter or your shirt. Think about this: liquid chlorine bleach can eat a hole in metal. Do you really want that in your sheets? Oxygen bleach is made with hydrogen peroxide and carbon. It’s safer for the environment. It turns out that regular washing with chlorine bleach can even CAUSE yellowing for synthetic fibers. I used one cup of bleach (the chlorine-free kind). Effectiveness on a scale of 1 to 5, 2.
  2. Borax – Borax is a powder that is actually sodium borate. I soaked my sheets in a cup of borax and hot water in the sink. Effectiveness on a scale of 1 to 5, 2. I noticed a minimal change.
  3. Vinegar – I soaked my sheets in the washer in a cup of vinegar and HOT water. Effectiveness on a scale of 1 to 5, 0. I noticed no change and no trace of a vinegar smell.
  4. Liquid bluing – Liquid bluing must be diluted in water and added once cold water is in the machine. Effectiveness on a scale of 1 to 5, 2.5. I think this would actually be a great option for white t-shirts if they get a little grey, but not for yellow stains.
  5. Baking soda + hydrogen peroxide – I added a cup of baking soda to the beginning of the wash cycle. When the washing machine switched to the rinse cycle I added a cup of hydrogen peroxide. This sounds the same to me as an oxygen bleach and it was equally ineffective. 2 on a scale of 1 to 5.
  6. Oxy Clean – This was my last resort and coincidentally had the best results. I soaked in the sink all day. After soaking I put them in the washing machine and rinsed on cold. Effectiveness score: 4.5 out of 5.

The best way to get white linens white is to soak for a LONG time in Oxy Clean.

There are two methods that I didn’t test, mainly because I ran out of time. Adding a cup of lemon juice (citric acid) to your wash is supposed to whiten dingy sheets, as long as they are NOT silk sheets. The other thing that is supposed to help is line drying your sheets. This isn’t possible for me.

What I learned from this process is that maybe white bedding is not a good option in the first place. I did get my sheets white again, but I don’t have time to wash the sheets five times per week or soak them all day, which renders my sink unusable. I ended up buying set of sheets at Home Goods that are blue and white.

It could depend on your skin type. One of us has more oily skin than the other and the sheets reflect that, I’m not saying who. The other person has really dry skin and the sheets on that side stayed naturally whiter. There’s not a whole lot you can do about that.

Are 100% cotton sheets easier to keep white?

My sheets are 100% cotton. If your sheets are not 100% cotton and they have synthetic fibers, they will pick up a yellow tint more easily from bleach or a build-up of fabric softener. Stick to 100% cotton for whiter sheets.

If you liked this, you might like how to wash linen curtains.

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One Comment

  1. Andrea, what a great and timely post. As you know, we are now allowing guests to stay at our pool house and I have white sheets. We have been rather full lately so I am washing these sheets all the time. They still look good as they are relatively new, but I notice the pillow cases getting stains and not being as white. I will probably buy more sheets but do a color or stripe so I don’t have to soak them.BTW, I love Oxyclean and use it for all sorts of stains. It works great!

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