Crisp, clean and comfortable. That’s the promise of a great pair of white sheets, which is why hotels rarely ever use anything else. They look great when used the first few times – and feel even better – but the challenge facing most people is when they’ve been in use for a while and the question of how to wash white sheets effectively needs to be answered.
This is because, as you probably already know, white sheets tend to yellow quickly. Even the more expensive ones.
Keep reading as we expand on how to get sheets whiter-than-white and answer some related questions to help keep your bed linen in pristine condition – just like hotels do!
Why Are My White Sheets Turning Yellow?
This is where you’ll need to excuse us for getting a little gross for a moment. White sheets yellow as they age due to an increasingly difficult to shift buildup of sweat, dead skin, body oils and the residue of all those body care products you use every day (soap, moisturizer etc.).
This build up is not always removed with standard laundering processes and your regular laundry detergent. This is why washing white sheets calls for a little extra care and often a different laundry product than you might use on a daily basis for your regular wash loads.
How Can I Get My Sheets White Again?
It’s more than annoying when you spend good money on wonderful white sheets that then go yellow and seem to even emerge from the dryer after washing dingy instead of sparkling clean. The good news is that the problem can be overcome. Some of the most effective methods include all the following:
It costs less than a dollar per box, but standard household baking soda is amazing stuff. In addition to being able to remove all the nasty smells from your fridge, help keep your teeth clean, and your stove and kitchen counters too, it can also help you get your white sheets sparkling clean again.
To do so simply add a half cup of baking soda to your washing machine before you launder your sheets. Not only while they come out bright white, but they’ll smell great too, without the need for perfume-y dryer sheets.
Borax, a natural mineral, sodium tetraborate – is another of those products your Grandmother used. And as old-fashioned as it is, it is still very effective and can also help neutralize laundry odors.
You’ll find it in the grocery store – it even still has the original two mules on the box – for just a dollar or two it does an excellent job of getting that yellow out. To whiten your sheets simply pre-soak your bed linen for 30 mins in a solution of one tbsp. of borax per gallon of warm water or add 1/2 cup of borax to a pre-soak cycle.
It’s also safe to mix with chlorine bleach and other detergents and has been proven to enhance the cleaning power of your laundry detergent and whiten your whites.
Buy now: 20 Mule Team Borax, $13.06, Amazon
Bluing liquids boosts the brightness of white linen by adding a blue pigment that neutralizes the natural yellowing which occurs during regular laundering. Mrs. Stewart’s Laundry Bluing is a leading brand in the United States.
To use it always dilute the bluing liquid in cold water according to the instructions: 1/4 teaspoon in 1 quart of water (4 cups) for a large load for brighter linen.
Another household staple that has lots of uses, white vinegar’s natural acidity helps break down the oils and stubborn dirt that are keeping your white sheets from getting truly clean, making them easier to rinse away in the wash. Simply add a cup of white vinegar to a bowl of lukewarm water and presoak your sheets before washing them.
Worried about the vinegar smell? Line drying will get rid of it or using in combination with lemon juice (more on that in a moment). But one note, make sure you are using white vinegar only, as other vinegars will not have the same whitening effect and may even ruin your sheets for good!
Lemon juice is another natural acid that breaks down dulling oils and, even better, the citric nature of the acid serves as a natural bleaching agent. It can be a good idea to use white vinegar and lemon juice together when tackling grimy white sheets, using the vinegar in the pre-wash process and then adding a quarter cup of lemon juice to your washing machine when you launder the sheets. The fresh smell of lemon will counteract any vinegar smell and adds a natural fresh scent to your white sheets too!
Bleaching sheets is a commonly used tactic to get white sheets clean again, and it can be effective, but you should proceed with caution. Only use a bleach marked laundry safe and take care when bleaching cotton sheets, as harsh bleaches can damage the fibers, something that cannot be easily fixed.
No, really, hear us out on this one. If you get tomato stains on your white sheets (we won’t ask how) then according to experts (aka hotel laundry managers) spraying WD-40 on the stain and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes before rinsing it (thoroughly) off will get rid of the stain every time (this is obviously great for tablecloths and napkins too).
How Do You Remove Yellow Stains from White Cotton Sheets?
Older white sheets often have stubborn yellow stains that can be even harder to shift. This can be especially true of white cotton sheets that might be damaged by harsh bleach. Before you throw them away though there is a way that you may very well be able to remove these nasty stains so that the sheets are fit for use on your bed again, instead of as a drop cloth or a lining for your dog’s bed.
The ‘trick’ is to make use of an oxidating laundry detergent like OxiClean Stain Remover. Here’s how:
Fill a bowl with the warmest water recommended for your sheets (check the laundry label) and add one cup of OxiClean powder per one gallon of water used. Add your grimy white sheets.
Leave the sheets to soak for six to eight hours (overnight is best.)
Remove the sheets from the presoak and rinse them in cold water.
Launder them as usual in your washing machine, again making use of a cup of OxiClean per every gallon of water used.
Should I Use Hot or Cold Water When Washing White Sheets?
It can be very tempting to assume that the hotter the water you use to wash white sheets the better. However, that’s really not the case. Very hot water will often lead to shrinkage – have you ever tried to put a shrunken fitted sheet on your bed? It’s not fun – and even permanently damage the fibers.
Instead, make use of a lower temperature – your sheet’s laundry label will offer the best guidance – and use a laundry detergent designed to whiten in cooler water temperatures – All® free clear Laundry detergent is a great choice, and it’s hypoallergenic too – to get your white sheets clean without shrinking them (safe enough to use on a baby’s laundry too!).
To whiten your sheets using All® free clear , simply add a cap and pour it into your washing machine along with your bedding. For tougher stains, pre-soak your sheets using a bit of the liquid detergent and let it sit for 15 minutes before washing.
Can You Bleach White Linen?
As we mentioned previously, you should always use bleach on natural materials with care. Some people insist on using it because they assume it’s the best way to disinfect sheets as well as get them clean, but even the CDC says washing is enough, bleach is not needed. White linen sheets are beautiful and quite durable, but bleach can really shorten their useful life, so try one of the other sheet whitening methods we’ve highlighted here instead.
How to Whiten White Sheets with Baking Soda?
We covered this a little earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again as baking soda really is one of the best ways not only to get yellowed white sheets clean again but to prevent them from yellowing in the first place. It performs well in all water temperatures and can also be used as a pretreater to remove tougher stains.
The Arm and Hammer name is immediately recognizable for their iconic baking soda brand and the one we recommend for being the most effective at getting the yellow out of your white sheets is the Arm and Hammer Plus OxiClean since it contains oxygen-based bleach to remove stains and contains dye that acts as a whitener to help brighten white fabrics.
How Do Hotels Keep Sheets White?
Usually white hotel sheets look and feel brand new; crisp, white and sparkling clean. But the fact is that hotels – even the five-star ones – don’t use brand-new sheets for every guest. What they do instead is ensure that their laundries are staffed by experts who know just how to keep white sheets clean and free of yellow.
And believe it or not, they don’t use special, expensive laundry detergents or have ‘secret methods’ . The ‘tricks’ mentioned here are all used by hotels and those, combined with proper storage, are enough to ensure that their guests are delighted by the state of their sheets every time.
Handy Advice on Laundry Storage
The way you store your sheets – white or colored – can make a big difference too. Ideally, they should be stored in a cool, dark linen closet, but if that’s not possible then a sealed storage container can be just as effective (especially for extra white sheets that you only use occasionally.)
Avoid storing your bedding in extreme temperatures areas like attics, basements, and garages.
The key is to keep them out of harsh sunlight and out of spaces where they can attract dust when not in use.
Related bedding care tips and cleaning hacks: