Whether it’s stain removal or brightening your whites, vinegar is often listed as a cleaning agent. But what about its effects on coloured fabrics? Does vinegar bleach clothes?
While vinegar has certain cleaning properties, it does not bleach clothes. However, you can use vinegar in laundry for other purposes.
The acidic substance can help remove certain stains. It can brighten your whites and sometimes fix colours in fabrics, to prevent fading, among others.
Can Vinegar Bleach Clothes?
Vinegar is a popular homemade remedy for stains or discoloured whites. Due to these properties, you might think that it can bleach clothes. However, vinegar cannot bleach clothes. It can remove some stains and help you get rid of certain odours, but it might have no effect on old stains.
Not only is vinegar unsuitable for bleaching clothes, but some vinegar types can actually stain your whites or light-coloured laundry.
That doesn’t mean that vinegar is unsuitable to use in laundry. All you have to do is learn its properties and how to use it the smart way.
Effects of Vinegar vs. Bleach in Laundry
Vinegar might not bleach your clothes, but regular laundry bleach does. The table below might help you figure out which is the best cleaning agent for you.
|Stain removal||Effective against some stains like sweat or food, but mostly suitable for removing fresh stains||Powerful stain remover against most types of stains.|
|Whitening||Weak whitening effect, but suitable to use on synthetics||Strong whitening effect on cotton and other natural fibres. It can yellow up synthetic fibres|
|Colour preservation||Generally safe for coloured fabrics. It can fix pigments when used in the right concentration||Most kinds of bleach and particularly chlorine bleach can cause colour fading and damage coloured fabrics|
|Fabric softening||Natural fabric softener; it can reduce static cling||Does not provide any fabric softening benefits|
|Disinfection||Some antimicrobial properties, but not as effective as bleach||Strong disinfectant that can kill bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. Suitable to use on heavily soiled or germ-infested laundry, including cloth nappies and medical garments|
9 Ways to Use Vinegar in Laundry
Vinegar might not be the most potent cleaning agent, but it is your best choice for removing stains on coloured clothes. It also has other uses in laundry, so here’s how you can make the most of it.
You should keep in mind that you should always use white vinegar for cleaning purposes. Other vinegar types, including wine and apple cider vinegar, can leave yellowish stains behind.
1. Stain Removal
Vinegar isn’t as potent as bleach when it comes to removing stains, but it is effective against fresh stains. You can use it on white and coloured fabrics alike, to remove coffee, tea, grass, juice, blood, rust, and food stains, including mustard and tomato/ketchup.
Vinegar can also help remove sweat stains and yellow spots under the arms.
For most stains, mix half a cup of vinegar with half a cup of water and soak the fabric for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse the vinegar and run the laundry through a normal wash cycle.
To remove stubborn stains, spot-treat with undiluted vinegar. Let it soak in for up to 15 minutes, rinse with cold water, then wash as normal.
2. Odour Removal
Stubborn odours that have penetrated into the fabric are sometimes difficult to remove. This is often the case for sweat – especially on gym clothes – but also chemical or food smells soaked into work wear. The smell of cigarette smoke can also be hard to remove from fabrics.
Vinegar can help neutralise those odours. You can add half to one cup of vinegar directly to the wash cycle. Alternatively, soak the fabric in diluted vinegar (50:50 vinegar to water ratio) for about ten minutes and then wash.
For particularly stubborn odours, you can repeat the process two or three times to effectively remove smells.
3. Fabric Softener
As mentioned, vinegar can be used as a fabric softener. It is a good choice when you want to both soften the fabrics and remove foul odours.
Add half to one cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle (load it in the softener tray of your washer). Alternatively, you can soak the laundry in diluted vinegar, leave for 15 minutes and then rinse under running water.
While vinegar doesn’t have the brightening power of bleach, it can be a more suitable alternative when you want to brighten synthetic fabrics. This agent is particularly useful in removing yellow stains caused by hard water or prolonged sun exposure.
You can use diluted vinegar during the wash cycle or pre-wash the clothes with vinegar. For discoloured whites, you could also try a vinegar and bicarbonate of soda remedy. When mixing the two (an acid and a base), the thermogenic reaction can help remove stains and brighten the fabrics faster.
To use this method, sprinkle some bicarb on your damp clothes. Pour white vinegar over the bicarb and wait for the bubbles to stop. Rinse and soak in diluted vinegar for 15 minutes. Wash the clothes or rinse them under running water.
Particularly discoloured fabrics may be hard to brighten. Repeat the process until you achieve the desired result.
5. Colour Preservation
Colour bleeding is a common problem with new clothes. It happens due to dyes and pigments that are not properly fixed to the fabric.
This phenomenon usually stops after a few washes, but your clothes will likely discolour in the process. You can prevent this with vinegar.
To fix colours into the fabrics, simply soak the clothes in diluted vinegar. Wait for 15 minutes and run a normal wash cycle (cold temperature, with half to one cup of undiluted vinegar added to the detergent).
6. Freshening Up Musty Clothes
Clothes smell good right after you’ve washed them, but keeping them in the wardrobe for too long could result in an unpleasant, musty odour.
Instead of washing your clean garments again, you can deodorise them with vinegar. Run a wash cycle without detergent, but add vinegar instead. Your clothes will smell fresh once they dry.
7. Soap Residue Removal
Soap stains usually happen when you run a wrong wash cycle or use too much detergent. Not only will you see white spots on your clothes, but the fabric might also feel sticky and unpleasant to touch.
Water alone, especially cold water, is often ineffective in removing soap residue. However, you can remove it with vinegar. Soak the garments in undiluted vinegar for five to ten minutes, then rinse with abundant hot water.
This method works because the acidic substance reacts with the soap, which is a base, dissolving it faster than plain water.
8. Washing Machine Cleaner
Stains and odours on clean clothes could be the result of washing them in a dirty washer. Yet, cleaning the washing machine with vinegar is easy.
Add two cups of undiluted vinegar to the empty washing machine and run a hot water cycle. Repeat every two months to keep your washer in top condition.
9. Ironing Aid
While not for a cleaning purpose, vinegar can be used in laundry as an ironing aid. Dilute half a cup of vinegar in half a cup of water and spray the mixture on your clothes before ironing. Vinegar helps get rid of wrinkles faster, especially on delicate clothes that must be ironed at a low temperature.
Vinegar doesn’t bleach clothes, but it is a versatile cleaning agent. You can use it to remove fresh stains, brighten white fabrics and get rid of unpleasant odours. In most cases, vinegar can also fix dyes and prevent bleeding.
Before treating your clothes with any substance, don’t forget to test the effect on an inconspicuous spot.