Handy tips to ensure your undershirts stay white

Q. My friend often complains that my T-shirts are not white enough. He hires people, and insists that one thing that makes him crazy is when men wear yellowed T-shirts. Is there any way to keep them whiter longer? Doesn’t bleach cause them to degrade faster? Thank you!

A. I agree with your friend. T-shirts that are not a pristine white tend to look ratty and past their time, even if they are not that old. Whether they are yellowish, gray, or just not quite pure white, it does not reflect well on you. There are wrong ways to wash your T-shirts, right ways to wash them, and wrong and right ways to buy them.

  • Use chlorine bleach as part of your white-laundry routine. Apparently, you have heard that chlorine bleach can harm fabric and, to some extent, this is true. If you use too much or if you pour bleach directly onto the fabric, you will surely damage it. But careful use on your all-white garments will not cause trouble. Using bleach may very slightly hasten deterioration of the shirt, but the whiteness you will achieve outweighs the shirt’s only slightly shortened lifespan.
  • Do not include your white T-shirts in a mixed-color load along with other clothes that are not all-white. This is a problem because colors may bleed and can discolor the white garments. And it will dissuade you from using the bleach you need to use. Note of caution: With garments that include some color (even just in the trim), you should not use chlorine bleach in the load.
  • Never include anything that is extremely dirty in the load with white shirts. You can consider a very dirty piece of clothing the same as another color (because it isn’t white).
  • Pre-soak. Before washing, allow your clothes to sit in the washer with detergent in the water for at least 15 minutes (up to a few hours) before you wash the laundry load.
  • Don’t overcrowd your laundry. Wash a small number of items in enough water for a large load.
  • Add one or two white terry cloth towels to the load to help “scrub” your T-shirts.
  • Buy T-shirts that are 100 percent cotton. Even a small percentage of synthetic in the fabric mix reduces the chances that bleach will be effective. All-cotton items bleach nicely; synthetics do not. Likewise, avoid buying very thin (cheap) T-shirts; somehow, they discolor and stretch out at the neckband more quickly than ones with some heft.
  • Finally, having a white T-shirt show under your shirt is certainly not a strict requirement. Men often assume that their dressing style is the only option. Probably, these days, fewer than half of America’s businessmen wear an open-collar dress shirt without a tie and with a white crew-neck T-shirt. When you wear a tie, or a V-neck Tee, the state of your T-shirt barely matters (other than to whomever sees you undress). Some men (who either don’t perspire much or don’t care) wear no T-shirt. Still others choose a style that is not my favorite but not significantly less businesslike – wearing a colored crew-neck Tee that does not clash with the rest of their clothing . . . but please note, “dingy” is not a color!

Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions to MALE CALL: Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

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