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RE: Choosing detergents, assistance requested. (Follow-Up #1)

posted by: herring_maven on 12.17.2011 at 10:04 am in Laundry Room Forum

WashDay: I noticed my clothes, especially my white clothes were, shall we say? DINGY as all get out! I tried Clorox. Also tried Clorox #2. Nothing seemed to help. I tried and tried with no improvement. I finally gave up and started just dropping our clothes (Husband and I) laundry at the laundry mat for them to wash and dry. Viola! Clean clothes.

The commercial laundry does many things differently from your routine. Almost certainly, it has front-loading machines and washes (at least your whites) in very hot water. If your area has hard water, the commercial laundry quite probably has water pretreatment to remove the minerals from the water before the intake to the washing machines.

The laundry mat used a commercial detergent (I don't know what kind) and it not only got our clothes BACK to looking good, it kept them that way. ... Reading here I am convinced that I need to use a detergent for colors and one for whites.

The detergent may have something to do with the better results from the commercial laundry, but it would be relatively low on the list of suspects.

You definitely should wash your whites separately from your dark clothes, and you should not wash your dark clothes with a detergent that contains bleaching agents. Also, optical brighteners act unpredictably, so you may want to take their presence or absence in a detergent formulation into account.

There are basically two kinds of bleach: liquid "chlorine bleaches" based upon sodium hypochlorite ("Clorox" is a trademark, and is typical of the genre) and "oxygen bleaches," which are often powders containing sodium percarbonate that when dissolved in water generate hydrogen peroxide like the stuff you can buy in brown bottles at the drugstore. Generally, oxygen bleach is less destructive to fibers than chlorine bleach is, but chlorine bleach is "stronger" for whitening. You may get whiter whites (in cotton fabrics) with chlorine bleach, but your clothes will get threadbare quicker when you use chlorine bleach.

The active ingredient in almost all oxygen bleaches is sodium percarbonate, but the percentage of sodium percarbonate in the formulas varies greatly. Generally, the higher the percentage of sodium percarbonate, the better the bleach whitens. IIRC, Clorox2 is only about 50% sodium percarbonate. You can purchase pure (about 95%) sodium percarbonate in bulk quite inexpensively, but if you do not have a handy place to store large drums, you can get it in smaller packages as Ecover powder bleach. Note: sodium percarbonate is deliquescent; that is, it absorbs moisture from the air. (That is one reason why there is no 100% pure sodium percarbonate for sale; as soon as it gets exposed to air, it absorbs water.) If you have a damp environment in your laundry room, you must store the sodium percarbonate in a non-permeable container with a tight seal; Ecover powder bleach comes packaged in small cardboard boxes that, if left in a humid room, will be soaking wet in a few days.

Optical brighteners, common in many commercial detergents, selectively absorb light of one part of the spectrum (color) while allowing light of another color to reflect back from the fabric. In North America, our culture has conditioned us to think that whites look whiter when they are slightly blue tinted, so our optical brighteners tend to absorb red and emit blue; in Latin America, the situation is reversed: culturally and historically, Latin Americans think that whites with a slight pink tint look whiter, so Latin American detergent formulations tend to contain optical brighteners that absorb blue and emit red.

If you choose your bleach intelligently, and use it only for washing whites, then you can select a single detergent that contains no bleach or optical brighteners and use it for all your washing. The specialized dark color detergents are a marketing gimmick; most are just detergents lacking bleaching agents or optical brighteners, though some may have limited-spectrum optical brighteners.

Ultimately, though, it sounds as if your problem is most likely insufficient rinsing. That may be due to a number of reasons, hard water being one likely culprit. If your water is soft, then you may need more rinse cycles than you presently use. We have found that adding a scoop of borax to the wash cycle improves the efficacy of the rinse that follows; you may wish to experiment with borax in your wash; it's a fairly inexpensive fix, and may be able to solve the problem all by itself.

Good luck.


very comprehensive explanation of detergents and their ingredients.
clipped on: 12.28.2011 at 09:45 pm    last updated on: 12.28.2011 at 09:46 pm