How to Launder Your White Clothing
Paul Newman in the Florida Keys, 1967
Mark Kauffman / LIFE / Getty

If we’re being honest, the problems with white clothing probably outweigh the good: They get soiled. Grass-stained. Oil-marked. Yellow in the pits. Nipply.

And yet there is just no replacement for a plain white tee, or some striped white crew socks, or, for those brave enough, a pair of pressed white linen slacks.

Certain situations — tennis tournaments, Mediterranean resorts, anything involving a boat — don’t demand that you wear white, but they certainly encourage it. And if you don’t want to look like a grubby rube and/or buy a new outfit every time one of those situations arises, you’re going to need to learn how to wash your clothes properly.

So we tapped Greg Myers, project manager at wash-and-fold startup Cleanly, to help us generate a list of pre-wash, in-wash and post-wash rules that every man should abide if he plans on breaking out the whites this year.

Slub Curved Hem Tee by Buck Mason

PRE WASH


Don’t be a heathen. The first rule of keeping your whites white is … keeping your whites white. So think before you dress. If you plan on playing full-contact lawn bowling or manning a grill for three hours, maybe don’t wear the white linen shorts. “Be kind to your white clothes,” says Myers. “No mud, oils or other substances than can lead to staining.”

Clean your floors. We love white socks … while they’re white. Which they rarely are, because this world was not made for them. The best you can do is clean your floors regularly and/or remove your socks whenever you’re walking around the house. But maybe don’t do that at someone else’s house, because feet are ugly and that is weird.

The Kennedy Sock by American Trench

Mind the stains. OK, so you tried to be a goodly patrician boy but soiled your duds anyway. Remove any surface stains with a brush or rub gently with a towel before putting in the washing machine,” advises Myers. “If there are surface stains on your white clothing, take care of them immediately. This may require additional detergent, soaking or spot cleaning.”

M3600 Polo by Fred Perry

IN THE WASH


Read the care instructions. You don’t need to be Dan Brown to decode all those mysterious hieroglyphs on your clothing tags. You just need Wikipedia. Learn the system and apply it accordingly. Different garment types require different types of care based on their fabric, color and cuts,” says Myers. “If you want to get many wears out of your favorite white T-shirt, be prepared to read the label and give that garment the TLC it deserves.”

White Cotton Pant by Commonwealth Proper

Gotta keep ‘em separated. You’re not in college anymore, Dorothy. White clothes need their own load, and it’s not just about a pair of stray red undies turning everything pink: “Bright colors, dark colors and denim can all lead to [gradual] discoloration in your white clothes,” says Myers.

Especially your socks. Socks of a feather do not flock together: “Make sure you wash your white socks with white clothes and not your dark socks,” notes Myers. “Mixing both socks together will lead to lint balls and fuzzies on your white socks.”

Slim-Fit Long-Sleeve Oxford by Uniqlo

Don’t overload the machine. Your clothes need “room to breathe” if you want them to stay fresh. “When washing machines are full to the brim, clothes aren’t cleaned properly,” warns Myers. “Make sure it’s only 70-75% full.”

Easy on the bleach. Look: bleach works. Why else would we still be using a corrosive and noxious substance in 2019? Just be sure to apply it in small doses. Says Myers: “Too much bleach can cause your clothes to turn yellow over time. We recommend using a detergent that has a pre-mixed and diluted amount of bleach. Stay away from adding bleach yourself, as this can lead to ruining your clothes.”

The 7″ Court Short by Boast

POST WASH


When in doubt, hang dry. Dryers have a way of reshaping things in unflattering ways. So if you want your clothes to fit the way they did when you bought them (which is presumably why you bought them in the first place), get a decent drying rack. “Putting your white clothes through a hot cycle in the dryer may lead to deterioration in color and garment structure,” says Myers.

The Frost Drying Rack by IKEA

Et voila, you’re a good clean boy ready to dress up in his summer whites from now until Labor Day. (Or at least you will be until someone asks you to open the next bottle of rosé.)

Stay vigilant out there.

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