A while ago, I spotted a ‘recipe’ on Pinterest.
But no, this isn’t a food post. It was a cocktail of products intended to deep-clean bed linen. Now, I dearly love good bed linen. Crisp, always white, and 1,000 to 1,500 thread count. I have three or four sets, all 100% cotton apart from my bamboo set. The oldest set is well over 15 years old, but the pillowcases are all, even the newer ones, getting a bit, well… dingy. I know why, and there are two main reasons. The first is my dedication to washing everything in cold water for environmental reasons. Most of the time, it’s perfectly fine, but it doesn’t get bedding that gleaming white-white of new sheets. The second reason is our climate. It’s hot. We sweat at night, even with the aircon running. So even pillowcases that are washed once a week very quickly get dingy.
See what I mean? The pillowcase at left is extreme, and I’ve increased the contrast in the photo to illustrate my point more clearly. The only reason I hadn’t thrown it out was that it was fairly new and of very good quality. It still did the job, despite its sad appearance. In the middle is one of my oldest, and at right is one of my newest ones. Below is a new piece of white fabric, for contrast. Yes, I’m airing my dirty laundry, but I am not ashamed…
And this is all my pillowcases, after treatment, sitting on a new white sheet for contrast. A good bit better, wouldn’t you say? The oldest, and yellowest, ones are at the bottom. I think further treatments would produce even better results. In case you’re interested, the extreme one I showed above is third one down in this photo.
This is the ingredient list:
1 cup laundry detergent powder, whichever you prefer (NOT liquid)
1 cup dishwasher powder (NOT tablets)
1 cup borax
½ cup bleach
Another time, I’ll try hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine bleach. I think it might be even more effective. But for that, I’ll need some more grubby pillow cases, and right now, I don’t have any!
If your washing machine has a soak cycle where you can set the temperature, add all ingredients to the drum, add the laundry, and run the cycle on the maximum temperature the fabric will take. If the pillowcases are a cotton/polyester mix, this will be 60°C/140°F. For pure cotton, you can go up to 90°C/195°F. Rinse, and then run a wash cycle. If your machine has no soak cycle, fill your largest cooking pot with extremely hot water from the tap. Add the ingredients, stir well and then add the linen. Put on the stove over a low heat, so the water stays hot, stirring every 5 minutes or so to circulate the solution. Leave for a minimum of one hour, more if the linen is very dingy. Remove items from liquid with tongs, put into a bucket and then the washing machine and run a normal wash. Once the liquid is cool, throw it down the sink. Don’t try to move the pot while the water’s hot.
I don’t have a soak cycle on my front loader, so I used my 30 litre stock pot. The house was filled with the most nostalgic steamy laundry smell… a reminder of my childhood wash days. I’m pleased with the result: it was simple and I didn’t have to do anything apart from stir it occasionally, and then wash it as I normally would. Personally, I think it would also work well for vintage linens, which in their ‘working life’ would always have been washed hot and with strong soap or detergent, maybe even boiled. I’m going to give it a go with my grandmother’s damask tablecloths, which are showing yellow along the folds. But I wouldn’t do this every time, because I still think it’s not necessary to wash everything in warm or hot water every time.
Once in a while, though, a really hot soak in some carefully selected ingredients will just get things whiter.
UPDATE: I tried this recipe again with hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine bleach. The results were even more impressive. A lot whiter…