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How to use bleach in laundry

Adding bleach to a load of laundry can help sanitize and brighten clothes while tackling stubborn stains, but protecting your clothes means getting familiar with bleach do’s and don’ts. Use this guide to learn how to bleach white clothes or colored garments, then get answers to common questions about the process.

How to use bleach in a washing machine

Using the right kind of bleach at the right time can help you brighten clothes and treat stains. See the seven steps to using bleach below and learn how to sort laundry for the washer, which type of bleach to use and when to add it to the wash cycle.

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Step 1: Check your owner’s manual

Some washers aren’t compatible with bleach. Always reference your owner’s manual before adding bleach to a load, and check to see if the manual specifies the optimal amount of bleach to add.

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Step 2: Sort laundry

Prep your clothes by separating bleach-safe fabrics from non-bleachable fabrics, then sort bleach-safe clothing by whites, lights, brights and darks. Keep in mind that fabrics like wool, silk, suede or spandex shouldn’t be bleached. When in doubt, reference your clothing’s care tag to find out if it can tolerate bleach, and if so, which kind. Use this laundry sorting guide to help master the process.

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Step 3: Decide on the type of bleach

There are two bleach types you can use in laundry: chlorine and non-chlorine bleach (often called “color-safe” or “oxygen-based” bleach). Use chlorine bleach to help brighten clothes and remove stains from whites, but never on colored loads or whites with embroidery or pops of color. Non-chlorine bleach is ideal for helping remove stains on both colored and white clothing. If you’re not sure what your clothing needs, reference the triangle symbol on your clothing label to discover what type of bleach you can use.

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Step 4: Select cycle

If you’re washing whites, choose the whites washer cycle for the best results. This cycle uses hot water and high spin speeds to help eliminate soils. If your washer doesn’t have a whites cycle, select a heavy-duty cycle with hot water and an extra rinse.

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Step 5: Add bleach to washer

How you add bleach to your washer depends on whether or not your machine has an automatic liquid bleach dispenser. Some standard washers don’t feature dispensers, while most high-efficiency washers do. See below for specific instructions by washer type.

Step 5A: Washers with a bleach dispenser

Pour liquid bleach into your washer’s automatic bleach dispenser. While you should never exceed the fill line, the amount of bleach you add depends on your load’s soil level and the brand of bleach you use. Generally, you’ll use about ¼ cup of bleach to help sanitize a load. Never add powdered bleach to an automatic bleach dispenser. Instead, pour the powdered bleach directly into the washer drum before you add clothes.

Step 5B: Washers without a bleach dispenser

Washers without bleach dispensers need to begin filling with water before you can add liquid chlorine or oxygen-based bleach. With the wash cycle selected, start the washer and wait until the drum is about halfway full before pouring in the bleach additive.

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Step 6: Add laundry

Add your clothes to the washer drum. Make sure you avoid overloading the washer so clothes can agitate or tumble for a more thorough clean.

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Step 7: Start the cycle (high-efficiency washers)

If you have a standard washer without an automatic dispenser, the wash cycle should already be running. For high-efficiency washers, it’s time to start the cycle.

FAQ and tips for using bleach

Read below for answers to common questions and concerns to help you achieve bright, clean clothes.

How much bleach to add to laundry?

Your bleach product manufacturer is the best source to turn to when determining how much to use, so always check the product packaging before you measure. Your washer manual may also give you an idea of how much is too much for the bleach dispenser, and let you know how to modify amounts for high-efficiency washing machines. Some general guidelines include:

  • Sanitizing: ½ cup for a standard machine or ¼ cup for high-efficiency washers. 
  • Lightly to normal soiled loads: ⅓ cup for a standard machine or the max fill line for high-efficiency washers.

  • Heavily soiled load: ⅔ cup for a standard machine or the max fill line for high-efficiency washers.

Can you mix bleach and detergent?

Both liquid chlorine bleach and oxygen (non-chlorine) bleach are compatible with laundry detergent, but it’s not recommended to combine the two before you add them to the washer. 

Instead, liquid chlorine bleach should be added to your washer’s bleach dispenser, which automatically dilutes the bleach with water the machine adds to the drum. If your washer doesn’t have a bleach dispenser, add it to the wash water as the washer fills, before you add clothing. 

Oxygen bleach is most widely available in powdered forms, so you can add it to the empty washer tub before you add clothes. If your oxygen bleach is liquid, add it to the bleach dispenser using the same method as liquid chlorine bleach.

Person transferring laundry from a wicker basket into a white front load washer Person transferring laundry from a wicker basket into a white front load washer

When do you add bleach to laundry?

The timing of adding bleach to your washer depends on your washer type. For liquid bleach and standard washers without a dispenser, you’ll need to start the wash cycle first. Let the tub fill about halfway, then add the bleach before you add your clothes. Powdered bleach can be added to the tub before the wash cycle even begins. For washers with a bleach dispenser, add liquid bleach anytime before you start the cycle and it will automatically dispense at the right time.

Do you have to clean a washing machine after using bleach?

Bleach naturally breaks down during wash and rinse cycles, so no residual bleach should cling to the interior of your washer. Plus, both high-efficiency washers and standard washers are designed to remove potential residue from the washer drum, so there’s no need to rinse your washer out once the cycle finishes.

How long do you have to leave bleach on before you wash your clothes?

You can pretreat stains or soil on garments using bleach, but you should never apply bleach directly to clothes in an undiluted state. Instead, dilute bleach with water. Some bleach brands are more concentrated than others, but you can generally combine ¼ cup of bleach with ¾ cup of water, then apply the solution to the stained area and immediately wash your clothing.

Explore Whirlpool® Washers

Whirlpool® Washers offer the features you need to care for your family’s laundry loads. Select washers include the Load & Go Dispenser that automatically senses your laundry load size and adds the right amount of detergent. Plus, some Whirlpool brand washers include a Pretreat Station that lets you soak, scrub and wash all in one spot using the built-in water faucet and pretreat brush.

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