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Washing Machines

How to fix yellowed bed sheets

Here's how whiten your dingy sheets and keep them that way.

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This tips work for white pillowcases, too.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

White sheets with a high thread count can be luxurious, but they are also a little harder to care for. They can turn yellow with age and a normal washing won't restore the whiteness. Here's how to get them back to their former glory and how to prevent discoloration in the first place.

Why sheets turn yellow

Yellowing sheets are primarily due to body sweat and oils, including lotions we put on to rejuvenate our skin overnight, according to textile engineer Vikki Martin, vice president of fiber competition for Cotton Incorporated. Not using enough detergent can also allow grossness to remain in the fabric overtime leading to dullness or greying. 

While you might think bleach is the answer, it may be a contributor to the problem. Fabrics that have a finish on the threads can react with bleach, resulting in yellowing. Also, having hard water can cause chemical interactions with bleach and can create discolorations.

Getting rid of the yellow

The best trick to whiten up sheets is to go solar. Sunlight helps brighten white sheets so, if possible, hang them outside to dry on a sunny day.

Another all-natural remedy is to put your sheets in a pot of water with a few slices of lemon, a natural bleaching agent. In addition to whitening, your kitchen will smell great, too! Just bring the water to a boil, turn off the stove and let your sheets soak in the lemon water for an hour. Then wash them using the directions, below.

How to care for and maintain your sheets 

Here's how to prevent yellowing in the first place, according to Martin:

  1. Check the care tag for washing instructions, the best detergent or bleach for your sheets. The instructions can vary based on the fabric and finish of the sheet.
  2. Rinse stains for 15 seconds with cool water to dilute trapped salts and acids.
  3. Work in some enzyme-containing liquid laundry detergent and let it sit for 15 minutes.
  4. Wash the sheet in the hottest water that is safe for the fabric with fabric-safe bleach and only wash them with other whites.

Here's how often you should be washing your sheets.

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