Keep Summer Whites Their Whitest

White t-shirt

While the planets won’t align for the summer solstice for another three weeks, Memorial Day is traditionally the “official” start to summer. With schools letting out for the season, the first steady stretches of warm weather and a three-day weekend that celebrates those who gave their lives in service, the May holiday is a natural bookend to the season.

As such, Memorial Day is also the calendar marker that tells people when it’s okay to wear white. White clothing doesn’t absorb as much of the sun’s heat, making it a natural choice to wear in the summer sun. And while the rule dictating that one should only wear white through Labor Day — likely the creation of wealthy industrialists’ wives in the late 1800s — has relaxed, you’ll have more whites to keep clean in the summertime.

To keep your whites sparkling, the first rule is to separate them from all other colors in the wash. “Queen of Clean” Linda Cobb says that even light colors can transfer dyes and dirt to whites in the wash, so they should have their own dedicated cycle. Also, don’t use excess detergent or softener in any wash load; they can coat fibers and attract dirt in use. Then, dry white clothing on low heat, so it doesn’t yellow or scorch from heat.

There are any number of laundry additives that can keep whites bright. Chlorine bleach should only be used on cottons, though, while borax, hydrogen peroxide and even lemon juice can boost the cleaning power of regular detergents and remove stains on most fibers. There are also optical brighteners (or bluings) that will keep whites at near-fluorescent levels.

Vinegar proved to be the most effective treatment for dingy whites and summer stains like grass and mud, according to in-home tests performed by a columnist at Britain’s Daily Mail. “Vinegar is a fantastic cleaning agent, and has all manner of domestic uses,” laundry expert Stephen Anderton said. “It’s acidic, so it neutralizes alkaline food stains, and is antibacterial.” Dishwashing powder was also a good option.

Strictures against wearing white during other seasons are easing, but that makes it even more important to keep them their brightest. Try some of these laundry tricks, and you’ll be able to wear whites confidently for the summer months and — if you’re bold enough to buck tradition — throughout the year!

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