I Started Adding Lemon Juice to My Washing Machine — Here’s Why & How It’s Going

published Aug 6, 2019
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Credit: Amelia Lawrence/Kitchn

When my husband and I moved last year, we left behind the array of towels and sheets I’d been using since college and started fresh. I’ve always wanted a pantry full of all-whites — both sheets and towels — and I finally had my chance. I feared they’d be impossible to keep clean, but the internet assured me they would, in fact, be easier to keep clean than colored linens (hello, bleach!), so we took the plunge.

The thing is, though, I wanted to avoid bleach. Mostly for the environment’s sake, but also because I’ve just always been afraid to use it. So I sought out natural alternatives even before our new whites lost their luster. I stocked up on baking soda, vinegar, and lots of lemons — yes, lemons. I’d read that lemons can naturally whiten and brighten whites, so I was prepared to give it a go. Is it working a year-and-a-half in? Here’s what you need to know.

What Adding Lemon Juice to Your Laundry Will Do

If you’ve ever tried soaking your hair in lemon juice in the summer, you know it will lighten it. That’s because of the citric acid in lemons, which acts as a bleaching agent. And that’s why lemon juice is said to do the same in the laundry — lighten stains and get whites back to white. It’s not a color-safe bleach alternative, however, as it could fade colors.

To use lemon juice on whites, you can either fill a large bucket with hot water and about 1/2 cup lemon juice and allow the whites to soak overnight or your can add the lemon juice directly to the laundry machine. Pour 1/4 to 1/2 cup lemon juice in either the bleach dispenser, if your laundry machine has one, or if it doesn’t, to the wash water with the detergent before adding your whites.

Does It Work?

Yes and no. I’ve found that lemon juice does indeed get rid of some of the dinginess in my white towels and sheets, but it doesn’t necessarily work any better than other bleach alternatives I’ve tried like baking soda, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide. The latter are all easier to do, as you do need to squeeze two to three lemons to get enough juice. And lemons aren’t cheap these days! Three lemons for one load of laundry costs about $2, while a five-pound bag of baking soda costs under $4 but lasts for months of regular loads.

One perk of lemon juice, however, is that it does lend an extra clean, lemony smell to my sheets and towels. No bleach alternatives have yet to get my whites back to complete original state, so I am still very much on the hunt for one that does, but for now I’ll continue to use lemon juice when I’ve run out of another alternative or simply have some lemons to get rid of.

Do you have a favorite bleach alternative? How do you get your whites white?