How to Bleach 101

Being a freshman, I have had to learn the art of doing my own laundry. I’ve mastered how much detergent and fabric softener to put in each load. I now know that whites go in warm water and darks go in cold. The one concept of laundry that I have not learned how to do is bleach. Last week, I attempted to bleach a yellow, honey mustard stain off of my white tank top. I put my tank top in a a bucket of bleach and left it to sit while I went to class. When I took my tank top out of the bucket to rinse the bleach off of it, the fabric was yellow and covered in holes.


After my tank top-ruining bleach experience, I took it upon myself to research how to properly bleach my clothing. The bleach that I used is a sodium hypochlorite solution. Sodium hypochlorite is a mix of chlorine gas and sodium hydroxide. This is a chlorine bleach. Typically, bleach is used to lighten or remove color. Deep in my research, I had to learn how colors work in order to better understand how the bleach takes out colored stains. We can see 400 to 700 nanometers of wavelengths. The yellow stain on my tank top has a chemical makeup that allows the color to reflect light with a wavelength of a certain number of nanometers. The molecular makeup of the honey mustard causes the stain to be the color yellow on my white tank top because the bonds of the electrons are absorbing light and reflecting it back to my eye.

So how does the bleach counteract this absorption of light and make my tank top white again? The stain removal is done through the process of oxidation. Oxidation is the removal or adding of electrons. During oxidation the bleach breaks down the electrons in the molecular bond of the honey mustard. When the atoms of the honey mustard are oxidized, their properties change. Because I used Clorox chlorine bleach, the bleach breaks down the chemical compound of the stain and removes the color. Depending on how strong the bond of the electrons in the stain are, the color of the stain will either be mostly or completely gone. After this process of applying the bleach and after the oxidation has occurred, the tank top is ready to be washed. The molecules in the honey mustard stain have been broken down. When washed in the laundry with detergent, the stain will come out.


Although I am down a white tank top, I now have an in-depth understanding of how bleaching works. Through my impulsive decision to pour half of the bottle into a bucket, I learned that with bleach using less is more. Bleach is a very strong and concentrated chemical compound, so when used for stain removal, it should be diluted and used in small amounts. And to think, all of this could have been easily avoided if I had just read the instructions on the back of the bottle!


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4 thoughts on “How to Bleach 101

  1. Xander Roker

    I really enjoyed this post, the picture diagram really made it easy to understand. The biggest problem I have encountered is people putting detergent in the bleach or fabric softener, realizing their mistake, and just leaving it there. I rarely had to do laundry before college, so I’ve been using the laundry room cheat sheet to know how to wash what. I found it here:

  2. Yixiao Jiang

    I am struggling with the laundry staffs too. After reading from your blog, I learned a lot. I will save this passage, so it can be useful when I am doing the laundry staff. Thank you!!

  3. Anna Strahle

    I had a problem with bleaching my freshman year too. I had accidentally gotten some blue dye on my white jeans, and I wanted to get it out. I soaked them in a bucket of bleach, and the fabric was completely destroyed and ripped when I tried to put the jeans on again. After my bleaching mishap, I googled to see why it happened. The problem I found was because I put the bleach directly onto the pants. For other helpful bleaching dos and don’ts you can look at this link:

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