Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Domestic Science: An Old-Fashioned Secret for Crisp White Linens

Search

Domestic Science: An Old-Fashioned Secret for Crisp White Linens

January 3, 2024

There’s nothing like a new set of clean, crisp white sheets. And nothing quite so disappointing as when they start to yellow. Luckily there’s a secret to keeping whites bright, and that’s blue. Or laundry bluing, to be exact.

The reason your linens yellow over time is they were never white to begin with. Natural cotton is off-white, so your snow-white sheets were most likely bleached and/or dyed with the slightest bit of blue. Every time you wash your whites a little of this blue tint is removed. Dirt and oils further the discoloration, which no amount of bleach can combat. Used for centuries, old-fashioned laundry bluing is the most effective and environmentally friendly way to whiten your whites.

above l: a yellowed pillowcase. above r: a pillowcase refreshed with bluin 12
Above L: A yellowed pillowcase. Above R: A pillowcase refreshed with bluing.

What is laundry bluing? And is it safe?

Laundry bluing is an age-old washing practice whereby whites are rinsed with a bit of diluted, nontoxic, biodegradable blue powder. The best-known bluing product is Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing Liquid, made of a fine blue iron powder suspended in water mixed with small amounts of pH balancer and a biocide to prevent the buildup of algae and bacteria.

Supplies

laundry bluing requires only a few drops to a \1/4 teaspoon per wash. 13
Above: Laundry bluing requires only a few drops to a 1/4 teaspoon per wash.

How to Use Laundry Bluing

always use glass or metal measures with bluing; it will stain plastic. 14
Above: Always use glass or metal measures with bluing; it will stain plastic.

Step 1: Dilute the bluing liquid in water according to the instructions: 1/4 teaspoon in 1 quart of water (4 cups) for a large load.

Step 2: Add diluted solution to the final rinse cycle of the wash. For a top loader, pour directly into the drum. For a front loader, add to the dispenser. Note: If your machine’s dispenser locks during the wash, you’ll have to add the diluted bluing agent to the wash cycle.

to avoid staining, i wait until the drum is almost full with water before addin 15
Above: To avoid staining, I wait until the drum is almost full with water before adding the blue solution.

Is it worth the effort?

the old, once dingy pillow case (l) looks much brighter after a couple was 16
Above: The old, once-dingy pillow case (L) looks much brighter after a couple washes with Mrs. Stewart’s Laundry Bluing.

I found that laundry bluing was effective at maintaining white linens and was well worth the effort, especially when you consider that it’s a more environmental alternative to bleach. It’s true that I missed the final rinse cycle a few times. Now I set a timer or stick by the washer while I fold.

Pitfalls to avoid

One note of caution: Extremely discolored linens will not come out bright white after one rinse. Avoid the temptation to add more laundry bluing than is recommended. It results either in blue spotting or in grayish whites. If this happens, do not use bleach in an attempt to correct the problem, as this will just set the blue. Instead, you can remove the excess blue by submerging the fabric in a 2-to-1 mix of water to ammonia. (Be sure to do so in a ventilated room and, again, do not use bleach, as mixing ammonia and bleach is toxic.)

Liquid versus powdered bluing

reckitt&#8\2\17;s crown blue is another age old favorite; \$8 for six squar 17
Above: Reckitt’s Crown Blue is another age-old favorite; $8 for six squares from Esoteric Aroma. (It can also be found via Amazon.)

I also experimented with Reckitt’s Crown Blue, another bluing agent that many swear by. To use, place a tablet in a cloth or muslin bag and squeeze to dissolve in water. After the tablet is fully dissolved, place your whites in a rinsing tub or machine.

For me, Reckitt’s was definitely less user friendly than Mrs. Stewart’s, resulting in more blue stains. Also, while squeezing, I got a bit on the clothes I was wearing.

Bonus: Bluer blues

for darker blues, i found reckitt&#8\2\17;s, which is more concentrated, to 18
Above: For darker blues, I found Reckitt’s, which is more concentrated, to be most effective.

Use a more concentrated solution of bluing to darken your faded jeans or indigo linens.

More tips for maintaining your fabrics and linens:

N.B.: This story originally ran on April 3, 2017 and has been updated.

(Visited 17,805 times, 3 visits today)
You need to login or register to view and manage your bookmarks.

Product summary  

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation

v5.0