Is it Possible to Bleach Polyester? Here’s How

Bleach – it brightens whites and removes stains. It cleans, it sanitizes, and it leaves your whites whiter than white. So, it’s fine to bleach that grubby white polyester shirt, right? And there’s no harm in dunking those yellowing polyester drapes in a bucket of bleach solution, is there? Actually, there might be. Bleach might be fine to use on certain fabrics, but it’s not necessarily the best treatment to use on polyester. But for every problem, there’s a solution. While conventional bleach shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near polyester, there are plenty of safe alternatives that will let you bleach away those stains and refresh your polyester garments. If you’ve ever been tempted to reach for the beach to get rid of those annoying stains, here’s what you need to how to bleach polyester the right way.

Why You Shouldn’t Bleach Polyester

Polyester is a synthetic material with a lot of great qualities. It’s soft, it’s resistant to wrinkles, and it’s colorfast. As a result, it’s incredibly popular. Even people who swear by organic cotton and premium silk are probably hiding at least a few polyester pieces in their closet. But for all its attractions, polyester has one fundamental flaw. It’s delicate. When it’s exposed to a harsh product like bleach, it can wither under the onslaught of all those toxic chemicals. When bleach is added to a wash cycle, the polyester fibers in a garment can become brittle or shrink. They might even burn or suffer some other kind of irreparable damage.

Even if the garment manages to survive the experience without shrinking into nothing or burning up, the bleach is unlikely to do much for its color. While most people think of bleach as a bleaching agent (for obvious reasons), it has less of a whitening effect on polyester than it does a yellowing one. Rather than coming out of the wash looking sparkling and new, it’s more likely your bleached polyester will look dingy and yellow. Ultimately, if your garment comes with a care label that reads “No Bleach,” don’t bleach it.

They don’t add those labels for fun. But now we have a dilemma. If we can’t bleach our dirty polyester items, how do we get rid of those unsightly stains and blemishes? Throw them away? Repurpose them into dusters? You could, but fortunately, there’s a way to safely ‘bleach’ away those stains without causing an ounce of damage in the process. How? By using a little thing called oxygen bleach.

The Benefits of Oxygen Bleach

Conventional bleach won’t do your polyester garments much good at all. Oxygen bleach, on the hand, is a safe, efficient cleaner that will leave polyester looking like new. But what exactly is it? As Cleanapedia explains, oxygen bleach is the common term for sodium percarbonate, a compound of natural soda crystals and hydrogen peroxide. It’s a common ingredient in detergents and other cleaning products and comes in a solid, powder-like form that’s usually diluted with water before using.

Once the bleach comes into contact with water, a chemical reaction takes place that results in the release of oxygen bubbles. These bubbles quickly and efficiently get to work on cleaning, breaking down dirt, eliminating odors, and killing bacteria. As the only by-product it releases is soda ash (a non-toxic substance that will do absolutely no harm to man nor beast when it enters the water supply), it’s considered one of the most environmentally-friendly cleaners available.

Fortunately, it’s also one of the most efficient, not to mention one of the safest for use on delicate fabrics. Although it’s not generally recommended for silk or wool, oxygen bleach can be safely used on cotton, acrylic, bamboo, lycra, spandex, leathers, and yes, even polyester.

How To Make Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach is available commercially. But where’s the fun in buying something when you could make it yourself for a fraction of the cost? As Hunker explains, you can make oxygen bleach using one of two simple methods.

  • Oxygen Cleaner Recipe – This recipe will result in a stain remover that will help remove ground-in dirt and sweat stains from clothing. It can either be made up in a small batch or you can double up on the ingredients if you intend on using it to clean large areas. To make, simply combine 1 part hydrogen peroxide with 1 part baking soda and 2 parts hot water.
  • Oxygen Bleach and Washing Soda Recipe – If your polyester is seriously stained, the previous recipe alone won’t be enough to shift the dirt. For a more intensive cleaner, combine 1 part hydrogen peroxide with 1 part washing soda and 1 part hot water. Store in a light-blocking container and be sure to shake it well before applying.

How to Bleach Polyester with Commerical Oxygen Bleach

If you’ve invested in a bottle of commercial oxygen bleach, here’s how to use it to deodorize, clean, and de-stain polyester garments.

  • Step 1 – Prepare the bleach solution according to the container label. For light stains, you’ll usually need to use 1/2 cup of powder per gallon of water. For heavy stains, increase this to 1 cup of powder per gallon of water.
  • Step 2 – Soak the garment in the solution for an hour. After the time has passed, remove the garment and check for stains. If any remain, return the fabric to the solution and leave it to soak for a few more hours. If necessary, the fabric can be left to soak overnight without any adverse reaction.
  • Step 3 – To finish, run the garment through the hottest machine wash the fabric can take. Add a cup of oxygen bleach to the water for extra brightening power.

Alternatives to Oxygen Bleach

If you haven’t got a bottle of oxygen bleach to hand, the following are all safe alternatives that can be used on polyester.

  • Baking Soda – Baking soda is cheap and widely available. Better yet, it safely and efficiently cleans polyester. Simply add 1 cup of the powder for each laundry load to whiten whites and loosen stains without damaging the fabric.
  • Borax – Borax is a safe, non-toxic ingredient that can help brighten fabrics without using any harsh chemicals in the process. Add 1 cup of borax per load of laundry. If the stains are particularly ingrained, you could try leaving the garment to soak in a solution of 1 gallon of water to 1 cup of borax for up to an hour before washing as usual.

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