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Does vinegar turn clothes white?

Vinegar is often touted as a natural cleaning and whitening agent. Some people claim that adding vinegar to laundry can help restore dingy clothes and linens to a brighter white color. But does vinegar really have whitening powers?

Quick Answer

Vinegar does help whiten clothes, but only to a certain extent. Vinegar is an acidic substance that helps remove stains, dirt, grease, and residues from fabric. This helps brighten whites and prevent yellowing. However, vinegar does not contain bleaching agents, so it cannot change the color or pigment of fabric. For significantly whitening clothes, bleach is more effective.

How Vinegar Whitens Clothes

Vinegar is an acidic substance, with white distilled vinegar having a pH of around 2.4. This acidity helps vinegar dissolve basic compounds like dirt, clay, and limescale. Vinegar breaks the bonds holding these compounds together, allowing them to be rinsed away with water.

Many stains and yellow discoloration on white clothes are caused by buildup of oils, perspiration, and dirt. The acids in vinegar help remove this buildup. Vinegar also helps rid fabrics of laundry detergent residues that can turn whites dull and grayish.

By removing dulling residues and stains, vinegar can make clothes appear brighter and whiter. It helps restore them closer to their original color. However, vinegar does not contain bleaching agents that drastically whiten clothes by changing the color pigments.

Does Vinegar Bleach Clothes?

No, vinegar does not have the same bleaching power as chlorine bleach or other whitening agents. Here is a comparison:

  • Chlorine bleach – Contains sodium hypochlorite that reacts with fabric dyes and pigments, stripping color and turning clothes white.
  • Oxygen bleach – Contains hydrogen peroxide that reacts with fabric pigments to whiten clothes.
  • Vinegar – Contains acetic acid that removes stains and residues but does not change fabric pigmentation.

So while vinegar can brighten up dingy whites, it does not bleach or drastically whiten clothes like other chemical bleaching agents.

How to Whiten Clothes with Vinegar

Here are some tips for using vinegar to brighten whites and remove stains:

Add Vinegar to Wash Cycle

Add 1⁄2 cup white vinegar to the detergent dispenser or drum during the wash cycle. The acidic vinegar will help remove soap scum, dirt, and oils from fabric.

Soak Clothes in Vinegar

For heavily stained or yellowed items, soak them for 1-2 hours in a mixture of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts cold water before washing. This helps lift stains.

Use as Fabric Softener

Use a 1⁄2 cup of vinegar instead of liquid fabric softener in the rinse cycle. The vinegar will remove detergent residue and prevent fabrics from yellowing.

Spot Treat Stains

Apply undiluted vinegar directly to fresh stains on clothing before washing to help lift the stain. You can also pretreat stubborn set-in stains.

Add to Dryer

To brighten a whole load of whites in the dryer, add a cloth soaked in 1⁄2 cup vinegar. Or sprinkle 1⁄2 cup vinegar onto clothes directly in the dryer drum.

Is Vinegar as Effective as Bleach?

No, vinegar is not as powerful at whitening clothes as bleach. Here is a comparison of the whitening effectiveness:

Method Whitening Power
Chlorine bleach Highly effective at stripping color pigments and whitening
Oxygen bleach Effective at whitening but gentler than chlorine bleach
Vinegar Moderate brightening of whites by removing stains/residues

While vinegar can help restore dingy whites, it does not change the actual color pigments in the fabric. For significantly whitening yellowed or grayed clothes, chlorine or oxygen bleach is more effective.

Pros and Cons of Whitening with Vinegar

Here are some benefits and downsides of using vinegar as a whitening agent:


  • Natural and non-toxic – Safe for most washable fabrics
  • Removes stains and dinginess from clothing
  • Helps prevent yellowing of white fabrics over time
  • Also eliminates detergent residue buildup
  • Inexpensive and readily available


  • Not as powerful at whitening as bleach
  • Can cause damage to some delicate fabrics or dyes with prolonged use
  • Leaves a vinegary odor if not rinsed properly
  • Requires more repeat applications than bleach to see results

Should You Use Vinegar or Bleach?

For modest whitening and brightening of clothes, vinegar is a safe option. However, for significant whitening and stain removal, bleach will be more effective.

Use vinegar if you want to:

  • Brighten up lightly stained/yellowed whites
  • Remove musty odors and detergent buildup
  • Whiten clothes without harsh chemicals

Use bleach if you want to:

  • Remove stubborn set-in stains
  • Dramatically whiten yellowed or graying whites
  • Whitening heavily soiled clothes quickly and efficiently

For best results, you can also use vinegar as a pre-treatment before washing clothes with bleach. The vinegar will help lift stains, allowing the bleach to penetrate and whiten clothes more effectively.


Vinegar can definitely help whiten clothes and brighten dingy whites. However, its whitening power is limited compared to bleach products since vinegar does not alter fabric pigments. While vinegar is a more natural and gentle option, bleach is significantly more effective at removing stubborn stains and whitening discolored laundry.