Before we go into detail on when and how to use bleach when doing laundry, you must first be aware that there are two types of laundry breaches available:
1. Chlorine based bleaches
Although both of these products use "bleach" in the name, chemically they are completely different. Chlorine bleaches contain a form of chlorine called sodium hypochlorite and can only be used on 100 percent pure whites or you will ruin them. Thus, be careful that your whites do not have colored threads or other small accents of color before you use a chlorine based bleach on them. Also, keep in mind that chlorine bleach does not actually clean your whites. It loosens up the dirt and stain particles so the detergent can remove them. Therefore, you must always use this type of bleach with detergent to get the full cleaning effect. This type of bleach works best in hot water.
2. Oxygen bleaches, i.e. "alternative bleaches"
Hydrogen peroxide is the active ingredient in oxygen bleaches. It works best in warm to hot water, unless you have stains where the warmer water will make the stain set. Oxygen bleach helps brighten your colors. It also kills bacteria and fungi that may be lurking in the fibers or your clothing, which also helps to deodorize your fabrics. If you are environmentally conscious, using oxygen bleaches on whites is a good alternative too. Although it does work more slowly, it will get the job done without substantially harming the environment. Oxygen bleach is basically baking powder with hydrogen peroxide added. When you add water to this, oxygen molecules bubble out just like when you pour hydrogen peroxide on a cut to disinfect it. These oxygen bubbles break the chemical bonds between the stains and the fabric making them easier to remove during the washing process.
Neither type of bleach should ever be applied directly to your laundry in concentrated form. If you do so, you may end up with a blotchy appearance. Worse, you will weaken the fabric where you apply the bleach and you may even end up with holes! If the washing machine does not have a chlorine dispenser, it is best to add your detergent first, allow the washing cycle to go for a few minutes, and then add 1/2 cup of bleach for a small to large load or 3/4 cup of bleach for an extra large load. Only after the bleach has mixed thoroughly with the water should you add your laundry to the basin. In other words, you want the bleach to be very diluted before you add your clothing.
To use bleach for stain removal on your laundry, it is best to first dilute it. Use a ratio of about one part bleach to thirty parts water. This works out to be about a half cup of bleach to a gallon of water, or for a smaller batch, one-eight cup of bleach per quart of water. You could also measure out one teaspoon of bleach in 29 teaspoons of water. It is always easier to mix this before you come to the laundromat. When you apply this 30:1 mixture to your stains, be sure to work from the outside to the inside to prevent the spot from spreading by capillary action and getting even bigger.
You should also be aware that bleach does a poor job of removing oil based stains. It is better at removing stains that are plant based such as grass stains, blood stains, juice stains, and coffee stains. Also, some people do not dilute oxygen bleaches for stain removals. However, this often results in bleaching mishaps that leave ugly spots on clothing and linens. If you want to try full strength oxygen bleach on spots, it is best to first try a "test spot" on a part of the fabric that does not show such as an inside seam.
Both types of bleach will wear out your clothes and other laundry over time because it will eat away at the fibers of the material, especially the cellulose fibers of cottons and linens. Therefore, it is not recommended that you use bleach every time you do laundry. Instead, use bleach sparingly and only when you notice your clothing starting to look dingy or when you really need it to remove a stubborn stain. This way, your clothing will last longer. Furthermore, it is not a good idea to use any type of bleach on clothing where the tag says "delicate wash" or "hand wash only." These items are more delicate than normal and bleach can ruin them in a hurry.
There are some fabrics that bleach should never be used on. These include silk, wool, spandex, and acetate fibers. Also, be careful when washing clothing that contains flame retardants as bleach will impact these negatively too and you may end up with chemical "gunk" on your clothing! If you use bleach on bedding or coats containing polypropylene foam, your padding may very well be flattened!
When deciding whether or not to use bleach in your laundry, it is always best to err on the side of caution. Clothing, bedding, and other laundry are expensive and using bleach just once can sometimes ruin them and end up costing you money and the time to replace them. Furthermore, a bleaching mishap can be a heartbreaking when you ruin your favorite clothes or linens!