How to keep your white clothes white

White clothing can become discoloured and damaged by bleach.
White clothing can become discoloured and damaged by bleach. ST FILE PHOTO

Body oils and sweat can turn white clothes yellow. Try using vinegar instead of bleach to remove the stains

How can I prevent my white clothes from yellowing?

White shirts and T-shirts are must-haves in any wardrobe - but there is no point investing in these classics if they turn yellow after a few months.

Yellow stains along the collar, cuffs and underarm areas, mostly due to body oils and sweat, are unsightly and can be tricky to remove.

A spokesman for dry-cleaning company For The Love Of Laundry says: "These are generally tougher to remove and the yellowing may have built up over a period of time. At times, this yellowing is not a stain and may be fabric discolouration, which is irreversible."

And although you may be tempted to use bleach to remove stains, too much of it can cause your white shirts to become discoloured and damage delicate fabrics such as linen.

The spokesman adds: "It's a good short-term solution for stain removal, but in the long run, bleach may cause your whites to turn yellowish and will weaken the fabric, causing it to tear easily. Use bleach with less or no chlorine unless necessary."

An alternative is white vinegar. The acidity of the vinegar will help to break down the body oils and sweat absorbed by the fabric.

To use it, soak white clothing in a tub of warm water and one cup of white vinegar for about 30 minutes before washing as usual with laundry soap. White vinegar also helps to get rid of musty smells.

Perfume is another cause of yellowing.

Ms Kate Ang, 33, senior business manager at fragrance and cosmetics distributor Luxasia, says the best time to put on perfume is "right after a shower and before getting dressed" as it gives the perfume time to dry and prevents it from staining clothes and jewellery.

For perfume touch-ups, she suggests spraying it from "about 20cm away".

"This helps to distribute the scent evenly on your skin and prevent alcohol from staining your clothes," she says.

Mr Matthew Lai, 27, of homegrown menswear tailor brand KayJen shares more tips:

• Wash after every wear - perspiration is absorbed by fabric and the longer you wait to wash the white clothes, the more difficult it is to remove the stain and the higher the chance of it turning yellow.

• Apply stain removal before washing - apply stain-removal detergent on the collar and cuffs before washing the garment to prevent oil build-up or to remove stains.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2016, with the headline 'How to keep your whites white'. Print Edition | Subscribe