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A white napkin on a washing line.

Using Bleach in the Washing Machine

What is oxygen bleach? Is it colour-safe? If you're confused about using bleach in the washing machine, read our guide for informative advice.

To bleach or not bleach clothes? A conundrum that often pops into our heads when we come across heavily stained garments. The final decision comes down to two things – the type of bleach you’re using and the garment material.  

What is oxygen bleach?

Oxygen bleach contains sodium perborate or sodium percarbonate and is gentler than chlorine bleach. It can be used on most white and coloured clothing – just remember to always check the care label of any garment first. This means it’s commonly known as colour-safe bleach. It comes in powder form and is usually diluted in water before use. On contact with water a chemical reaction happens and oxygen is released. The oxygen bubbles help to break down stains and brighten clothes.  

What is chlorine bleach?

Chlorine bleach is a liquid solution of sodium hypochlorite. It is great for whitening and disinfecting clothes, but it is much more corrosive than oxygen bleach so should only be used for stubborn stains and on hard-wearing materials.

For safe use on fabrics, it should be diluted in water. In general, chlorine bleach should be handled with care and kept away from children and pets – learn about safety advice here

Using bleach in the washing machine – is it safe?

Oxygen bleach is safer to use on coloured clothes and kinder on the environment. It’s consider to be environmentally friendly due to the only by-product – soda ash – being a non-toxic substance which is safe for water supplies. If you prefer to use chlorine bleach, then stick to using it for white, hard-wearing items as it could damage delicate coloured fabrics.

Before using bleach in the washing machine, always read the garment care labels to check that the material is bleach-safe.

Some fabrics are even sensitive to colour-safe bleach, and their care labels will probably be marked ‘Do not bleach’. If your garments are suitable for bleaching, then be sure to carefully follow the instructions on your chosen bleach product and to wear gloves.

Nowadays some laundry products, such as Persil Handwash, already contain colour-safe oxygen bleach that is specially designed for excellent stain removal when washing whites and colours.

To check whether your garment is sensitive to colour-safe bleach or chlorine bleach, you should always do a patch test on a small, inconspicuous part of the garment.

Here is an example of how to do so using Persil Handwash:

  1. Make a paste with Persil Handwash and water

  2. Place a small amount on a part of the garment that doesn’t normally show (e.g. inside a hem) and leave overnight

  3. Remove the paste carefully

  4. If any colour is lost, the dye is not stable and the garment should not be soaked or washed in a product that contains oxygen bleach

Remember: use biocides safely. Always read the label and product information before use.