Is Bleach or Baking Soda Better for White Clothes?

Keeping white clothes looking bright and new can be a challenge. Over time, white fabrics tend to yellow and grey, losing their crisp whiteness. Two popular homemade solutions for whitening clothes are bleach and baking soda. But which is more effective? We’ll compare the pros and cons of using bleach versus baking soda for whitening laundry.

How Bleach Works on Whites

Bleach has been used for decades as a whitening agent for laundry. The active ingredient in most bleaches is sodium hypochlorite, which breaks down dirt and stains by oxidation. Here’s a closer look at how bleach whitens clothes:

  • Oxidation reaction – When sodium hypochlorite comes in contact with the colored compounds in stains, an oxidation reaction occurs. This reaction breaks large stain molecules into smaller, colorless pieces.
  • Destroys yellowing – Bleach also destroys the yellowish discoloration that develops over time on white fabrics. By breaking down the conjugated bonds that cause yellowing, it brings back a brighter whiteness.
  • Disinfects fabrics – In addition to whitening, bleach disinfects laundry by killing bacteria and other microbes. This helps remove musty odors and prevent the spread of illness.
  • Powerful on stubborn stains – Bleach is extremely effective at removing all types of difficult stains, including food, grass, blood, ink, mold and mildew. Its strong oxidizing agents break down almost any stain compound.
  • Works quickly – Bleach whitens fabrics faster than other methods like baking soda. The oxidizing process begins as soon as bleach makes contact with clothes.

How Baking Soda Whitens Clothes

Baking soda or sodium bicarbonate is a popular alternative to bleach for whitening laundry naturally. Here are the ways it can brighten clothes:

  • Alkaline compound – Baking soda is a mild alkali that helps lift stains when dissolved in water. Its alkaline quality can break down acidic-based stains from foods, drinks and body soils.
  • Abrasive texture – Baking soda crystals have an abrasive texture that helps scrub off surface stains mechanically when laundered. The gritty particles rub against fabric to physically remove discoloration.
  • Deodorizing abilities – Baking soda absorbs and neutralizes odors rather than just masking them. Its odor-fighting properties help remove musty smells from laundry.
  • Oxygenation – When dissolved, baking soda releases oxygen molecules which can help lift some lighter stains from fabric. However, its oxidizing power is much weaker than bleach.
  • Color-safe – Baking soda is gentle enough to use on most colorfast fabrics since it does not contain harsh bleaching agents. It helps clean clothes without risk of fading or damage.
  • Environmentally-friendly – Baking soda is a natural cleaner made from soda ash. When properly diluted, it produces no harmful fumes or byproducts compared to chemical cleaners.

Bleach vs. Baking Soda on Stain Removal

When it comes to stain removal power, bleach is the clear winner over baking soda. Here’s how they compare:

Food Stains

Foods like coffee, tea, juice, ketchup, pizza sauce, berries, and wine can be challenging to remove. Bleach easily breaks down and decolorizes these organic stains while baking soda has only mild stain-lifting abilities in comparison.

Grass and Mud Stains

Grass and dirt contain chlorophyll, carotene and iron compounds that can discolor laundry. Bleach oxidizes these stains rapidly while baking soda has little effect on heavy soil stains.

Grease and Oil Stains

Greasy stains contain non-polar compounds that can penetrate fabric and cause yellowing. Bleach emulsifies grease and oil while baking soda can only remove surface residue.

Sweat and Body Soil Stains

The fatty acids, proteins, sugars and urea in sweat and body oils bind to fabric and cause buildup over time. Bleach breaks these compounds down quickly while baking soda has minimal impact.

Ink and Dye Stains

Ink and dye contain pigments with complex bonded molecules. Bleach oxidizes and decolorizes these compounds completely. Baking soda cannot break down these permanent bonds.

Mold and Mildew

Mold and mildew contain colored fungal compounds and spores that can adhere tightly. Bleach dissolves the pigments and kills the fungal spores. Baking soda only inhibits mold growth.

Blood Stains

Blood contains proteins with iron molecules that bind to fabrics. Bleach breaks these iron bonds to remove blood while baking soda cannot break protein bonds.

Overall, bleach is unrivaled in its ability to destroy tough, set-in stains regardless of the stain compounds involved. While baking soda can help with mild surface stains, it cannot fully remove severe discoloration the way bleaching agents can.

Using Bleach vs. Baking Soda Properly

When using bleach and baking soda to brighten laundry, proper technique is important:


  • Check fabric care labels – Only use on bleach-safe fabrics
  • Don’t mix with other cleaners, especially ammonia
  • Dilute bleach before use
  • Soak in cool bleach solution for maximum whitening
  • Use oxygen bleach on colors
  • Rinse thoroughly after soaking

Baking Soda

  • Add 1/2 cup to wash cycle for mild whitening
  • Make paste with water to pre-treat stains
  • Wash soda works better for whitening than baking soda
  • Hot water boosts effectiveness
  • Rinse thoroughly to prevent residue
  • Use non-chlorine bleach if needed for disinfecting

It’s also best to alternate between baking soda and bleach washes to get the benefits of both without damaging fabrics.

Bleach vs. Baking Soda: Pros and Cons

Here’s a summary of the main advantages and disadvantages when deciding between using bleach or baking soda for whitening clothes:

Bleach Pros

  • Stronger whitening power
  • Eliminates tough, set-in stains
  • Disinfects fabrics killing germs
  • Whitens faster than baking soda
  • Brightens yellowed fabrics

Bleach Cons

  • Can damage delicate fabrics
  • Irritating fumes
  • Environmentally harsh
  • May fade some prints/dyes
  • Can weaken fibers over time

Baking Soda Pros

  • Gentler than bleach
  • Non-toxic and earth-friendly
  • Safe for most colors
  • Deodorizes laundry
  • Prevents yellowing between washes

Baking Soda Cons

  • Not as powerful on stains
  • Prolonged soaking time needed
  • Can leave residue in clothes
  • Doesn’t sanitize fabrics
  • Limited whitening ability

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to mix baking soda and bleach?

No, do not mix baking soda directly with bleach. This can create hazardous chlorine gas. Use them separately in different wash loads for whitening laundry.

Can I put bleach and baking soda in the wash together?

It’s best not to put baking soda and bleach in the same wash cycle. The alkaline baking soda reduces the effectiveness of the acidic bleach. Use them separately for optimal results.

What temperature should I wash with bleach vs baking soda?

For bleaching, use cool water typically under 70°F/20°C. For baking soda, hot water around 140°F/60°C boosts its effectiveness. But check care labels as heat can damage some fabrics.

Can I use bleach on colored clothes?

Do not use regular chlorine bleach on colored fabrics as it can remove dye. Use an oxygen bleach made specially for colors instead. Always check labels first.

How often can clothes be whitened with bleach?

Limit bleaching to once per month or less. Frequent bleaching can damage fabrics over time. Rotate with baking soda washes to naturally brighten between bleachings.

Whatratio of bleach to water should be used?

For household laundry, a 1:4 bleach to water ratio is common or 1 part bleach diluted in 4 parts cool water. Increase bleach concentration for severe stains. Too much can harm fabrics.

Can bleach and vinegar be mixed?

Never mix bleach and vinegar. The acetic acid in vinegar reacts with bleach creating toxic chlorine gas that can be harmful if inhaled.

Does baking soda need hot or cold water to whiten?

Warm or hot water around 120-140°F helps boost the whitening power of baking soda. But take care, as high heat can damage some fabric types. Check labels.

Can I use lemon juice and baking soda together?

Yes, the acidity in lemon juice activates and enhances baking soda’s cleaning power. The combination helps lift stains and brighten whites naturally.


While both bleach and baking soda can whiten laundry, bleach is the clear winner when it comes to stain removal and whitening power. However, overuse of bleach can damage fabrics, so baking soda offers a gentler option between bleaches. For best results, rotate baking soda and bleach washes, using proper temperatures and dilutions. Bleach tackles set-in stains, while baking soda maintains freshness between washes. With the proper use of these two products, you can keep your white clothes looking like new.