Domestic Science: An Old-Fashioned Secret for Crisp White Linens

Step 1: Dilute the bluing liquid in water according to the instructions: 1/4 teaspoon in 1 quart of water (4 cups) for a large load.

Step 2: Add diluted solution to the final rinse cycle of the wash. For a top loader, pour directly into the drum. For a front loader, add to the dispenser. Note: If your machine’s dispenser locks during the wash, you’ll have to add the diluted bluing agent to the wash cycle.

to avoid staining, i wait until the drum is almost full with water before addin 15
Above: To avoid staining, I wait until the drum is almost full with water before adding the blue solution.

Is it worth the effort?

the old, once dingy pillow case (l) looks much brighter after a couple was 16
Above: The old, once-dingy pillow case (L) looks much brighter after a couple washes with Mrs. Stewart’s Laundry Bluing.

I found that laundry bluing was effective at maintaining white linens and was well worth the effort, especially when you consider that it’s a more environmental alternative to bleach. It’s true that I missed the final rinse cycle a few times. Now I set a timer or stick by the washer while I fold.

Pitfalls to avoid

One note of caution: Extremely discolored linens will not come out bright white after one rinse. Avoid the temptation to add more laundry bluing than is recommended. It results either in blue spotting or in grayish whites. If this happens, do not use bleach in an attempt to correct the problem, as this will just set the blue. Instead, you can remove the excess blue by submerging the fabric in a 2-to-1 mix of water to ammonia. (Be sure to do so in a ventilated room and, again, do not use bleach, as mixing ammonia and bleach is toxic.)

Liquid versus powdered bluing

reckitt’s crown blue is another age old favorite; $8 for six squar 17
Above: Reckitt’s Crown Blue is another age-old favorite; $8 for six squares from Esoteric Aroma. (It can also be found via Amazon.)

I also experimented with Reckitt’s Crown Blue, another bluing agent that many swear by. To use, place a tablet in a cloth or muslin bag and squeeze to dissolve in water. After the tablet is fully dissolved, place your whites in a rinsing tub or machine.

For me, Reckitt’s was definitely less user friendly than Mrs. Stewart’s, resulting in more blue stains. Also, while squeezing, I got a bit on the clothes I was wearing.

Bonus: Bluer blues

for darker blues, i found reckitt’s, which is more concentrated, to 18
Above: For darker blues, I found Reckitt’s, which is more concentrated, to be most effective.

Use a more concentrated solution of bluing to darken your faded jeans or indigo linens.

More tips for maintaining your fabrics and linens:

N.B.: This story originally ran on April 3, 2017 and has been updated.

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