How to Clean Everything White
By Laura Fenton
From walls to towels to grout, here's how to keep the whites in your home looking their best.
Apply fabric protection treatments, like Scotchgard, to your white upholstery to prevent stains from setting, advises Roger Turnbow, vice president of design for Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams. To hide small stains, be sneaky, and accessorize with other textiles. In the event of a spill, Turnbow suggests you spot clean with cornstarch, salt, or commercial stain removers. Note: Always test your stain removal method in an inconspicuous spot before attacking a visible area. If in doubt, call a professional upholstery cleaner to assess the situation.
If it's safe to use chlorine bleach on your towels, do so with care. Read the bleach label and use the correct amount for the load. "People think if a little is good, a lot is better, but it's not," says Nancy Bock, vice president of consumer education at the American Cleaning Institute. Bock also advises consumers to read their washing machine's users manual to find out how to add properly bleach (Diluted in water? Through the bleach dispenser? Once the wash cycle begins?). If a manufacturer has made a recommendation not to use conventional bleach, don't—opt for a color-safe one instead.
Only wash white sheets with other white (or very lightly colored) items. Launder with detergent in warm water, but skip the chlorine bleach. "The last thing you should use is chlorine bleach because it breaks down the fiber," says bedding stylist Steven Whitehead. Instead, he recommends using an oxygen-based stain fighter like OxiClean to keep whites light and bright. Whitehead also cautions against over-drying, which can break down the fibers in textiles and, in cases of extreme over-drying, cause yellowing.
Prevention goes a long way with carpeting. Put out clean mats during the wet, snowy months and try to not wear your shoes inside. If you do spill on a white carpet, act immediately. "The quicker you can get to it, the more success you'll have," says Chris Hix, a product care representative at Shaw Floors. He advises to first pick up any solids, then use a white paper or cloth towel to begin blotting up the liquid. Next, wet the carpet with water (but don't totally soak it!), place another clean white cloth on top of the soiled area, and press down to soak up the spill. Never use a scrubbing motion, which can damage the carpet. If the spot is large, work from outside the perimeter of the stain in to prevent it from spreading. As long as you keep picking up the stain onto the cloth, it's working—but it can take time. If the spot persists, try a solvent carpet cleaner, but check the label to make sure it's safe for your rug.
To remove wall smudges, first try the gentlest method, which is plain water and a soft cloth. If that doesn't work, move on to a solution of water and liquid dish soap, says Carl Minchew, director of product development at Benjamin Moore. If the spot remains, use more aggressive cleaners, like Fantastik or Formula 409, and gently rub the surface. Be careful: Aggressive scrubbing may remove the stain but may take some of the paint with it! Nancy Bock of The American Cleaning Institute recommends foam cleaning pads (like Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and Scotch Brite Easy Erasing Pad) as a gentle method to lift stubborn smudges.
Treat soiled table linens as soon as you can. Bock recommends blotting with a little dish detergent and water right away, and if the item is a washable linen, try to launder it that day. Consult a stain removal guide to address particular food stains since water-based and oil-based stains need to be treated differently.
To remove mold and mildew and restore your grout to its original white, home care expert Cheryl Mendelson, author of Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House, recommends scrubbing grout with a toothbrush and a simple solution of 1/2 cup chlorine bleach diluted in a gallon of water. Test on an inconspicuous section of grout and tile first.