How to Wash Whites in High-Iron Water


Jennifer asked: How do I keep white t-shirts and socks white where iron is high in the water table? I’ve used bleach, OxiClean, hot water and bleach alternative, but my shirts always turn dingy.

High iron levels can be a real nuisance when it comes to laundry and cleaning. The ideal solution is a water softening system that will keep the hard water from ruining your white clothes. However, these systems, as well as water softening additives, can become quite costly over time. Here are some more budget-friendly ways to return your pieces to white when they become grey and dingy.

You Will Need:

  • Super Iron Out
  • Water softener products (Ex: 20 Mule Team Borax)
  • Vinegar and baking soda

Steps to Make Your Clothes White Again:

There are two main options to treat your laundry:

  • The first is to add a water softener product to each wash cycle. It will be necessary to add it to each wash and rinse cycle since new water is being added for each. Another option is to add equal parts of vinegar and baking soda to the wash and rinse cycle (1/3 cup each for a regular sized load).
  • The second method is to periodically clean your whites with a rust remover such as Super Iron Out. This rust stain remover can be found at Wal-Mart and similar stores. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to add it to the laundry cycle to remove dinginess and hard water stains.

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • If using bleach at home leaves you with yellowed whites, try taking a load to the laundromat periodically. There you can you use the bleach without the yellowing effects.
  • Need a new washing machine? Go for a horizontal one with high speed spin cycles. These washers have the power to remove the mineral-filled water that leaves the clothes discolored.
  • Remove clothes promptly from the water to avoid allowing the minerals set on the fibers.
  • RIT also makes a rust remover that can be used to brighten whites.



  1. Meagan says:

    So, I have horrible iron in my water. I need to know what’s the best way to wash a few of my clothes that have white and black; I need to keep the white parts white and the black parts black. Please help!

  2. Marie says:

    Thanks for this info! We recently moved into a house that has very high iron in the well water. Some things I have learned–using chlorine bleach rapidly oxidizes iron in the water, turning it to rust. The result is orange water that will further stain white and light-colored clothes/linens! Peroxide, OxyClean (as well as any detergents/laundry products that contain oxygen bleach ingredients) will also turn the wash water orange. This may include things like Tide boost or other stain/detergent boosting products. I will try borax to see if that will condition the wash water!

  3. Karen says:

    I have done everything to get my whites clean and white. I have tried all of the different tricks and tips and recipes, and nothing has worked. The whites are not only dingy, but there is an orange tinge around the neck of each item. I have a septic system so am not supposed to use bleach, but I think I am desperate now and might just try bleach after all. Has anyone else had this problem? Can anyone help?

  4. Melinda says:

    Karen, whatever you do, don’t use bleach! That will make the iron in the water turn to rust INSTANTLY! I can’t use bleach in laundry, the dish water, cleaning the shower, etc. NOTHING! And, OxiClean seems to have a similar effect to bleach. I have to wash all my whites in Super Iron Out or The Works (from Dollar General, equivalent to CLR). Super Iron Out is much better for it, but my husband’s white t-shirts still come out with the collar looking dingy. Everything we’ve got, even colored clothes gets dingy quickly, but particularly if its light colored. We’ve had to resort to taking our whites and delicate lights to my inlaws’ house to wash. It’s ridiculous. I’m going to try the borax. Hopefully that will help.
    PS: I also have to use The Works (CLR equivalent, only much cheaper) to clean my shower and toilet bowl. That’s the only thing that will touch the orange rust stains that build up in just a day or two.

  5. Sandra says:

    Using a 10% citric acid solution can often whiten laundry that has gotten rust stains on it. The acid dissolves the iron. That being said, please do not use it on anything delicate. It is an acid and can weaken the fabric. I have used it and it does work. I now use a tablespoon of citric acid in my front loader for every other load. It works best with hot water, but will dissolve in the cold water after a little time. Please be careful when using the powder because it is much stronger than using vinegar or lemon juice!
    Here is a link on how to use it.

    Good luck,

  6. Jean says:

    I have a white blazer with black trim which is terribly dingy. I’ve had it dry cleaned twice to no avail; it’s a bit yellowed. The black trim makes the garment. Is it a lost cause?

  7. Melanie says:

    This is the article that you need: How to Wash Dingy Whites. Just don’t put it in the sun to air dry or the black trim may lighten as well, or another option is to cover the black trim with wide bias tape while it dries in the sun.

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