Keeping Your White Clothes White

Preventing stains, treating stains, and how to store white clothing. Our guide has everything you need to know to keep your white clothing looking pristine.

White clothing and accessories

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve found yourself in a stain-related emergency. So typical of white clothes, right? It feels like the only time we spill is when we’re wearing them. Since stains on white clothing and accessories are more obvious and can be trickier to remove, they take a little extra know-how. But don’t let a little elbow grease intimidate you. Below, we’re highlighting common stains like red wine, grease, makeup, and coffee, then showing you how to get them out of your favorite white clothing without any bleach involved.

White laundry 101

There are four rules to help prevent stains from setting:

Get to white clothing stains quickly

Get to it quickly.

The faster you start treating the stain, the easier it is to remove it.

Keep stains on white clothes wet

Keep the stain wet.

If you’re stuck with a dry stain, get some water or club soda on it. But check out rule #3 first.

Use cold water on white clothing stains

Use cold water.

Any type of warm or hot water will make the stain set, and then you’ll be out of luck.

Dab, don't rub

Dab, don’t rub.

Absorb or scoop up what’s left of the stain before treating it. Rubbing is a bad move.

As far as normal laundering goes, there are a few things to keep in mind. Sort whites from your brights and darks (especially if you’re washing anything new). And while cold water is best for treating stains, you’ll want to wash everyday grime from your white clothing in hot water to keep it staying white. Lastly, avoid fabric softeners with dyes, which can create stains of their own.

Your household care kit

White clothing care kit

Because spilling, slipping, and dropping are inevitable, it’s good to have some household stain-fighting tools on hand. It looks like a long list, but you’re likely to have most of these under your kitchen sink already. You’ll notice bleach is MIA from this list, and that’s no mistake. This chemical is harsh on delicate fabrics (and sometimes even makes stains worse) so we’re suggesting ways to get rid of stains without resorting to bleach.

  • Clean cloth
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Liquid laundry detergent
  • Club soda
  • Salt
  • White vinegar
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Stain stick
  • Oxygen stain fighter

You know the rules. You’ve got the supplies. Let’s talk specific stains on white clothing items.

How do you remove red wine stains from white silk?

You’re out for a nice dinner when you gesture a little too hard or take a sip a little too enthusiastically, and now you’re left with red stains soaking your favorite silk top. What’s worse? You’re not at home to treat it. Here’s how to attack a red wine stain while you’re still out and then what to do once you get home.

What you’ll need:

What to do:

  • Dab at the stain with a clean cloth or napkin to soak up as much wine as you can.
  • Keep the stain from drying out. Ice cubes work particularly well if traveling home will take some time.
  • Remove the garment and soak the stained area overnight in an equal solution of hydrogen peroxide and cold water.
  • Repeat the soaking steps if necessary and dab at the stain between sessions. Remember: Keep the stain wet.

Want to know more about caring for silk clothing? We have a whole guide to help.

How do you remove grease stains from white denim?

White jeans are so quintessentially summer that it’s hard to imagine a season going by without spilling something on them. From picnics to BBQs to graduation parties, white denim is always in the line of fire for grease stains, so we’re showing you a way to get rid of them with items you have at home.

What you’ll need:

What to do:

  • Scoop off any taco meat, pasta salad, dressings, or bacon bits from the denim right away. Be careful to avoid rubbing the grease into the fabric.
  • Dampen the stained area with a clean cloth and club soda or unflavored sparkling water.
  • Pour salt-required on the dampened area and start scrubbing. The salt-required grains work to lift the grease.
  • Keep scrubbing.
  • Scrub more with liquid dish soap or hand soap and rinse with cold water.
  • If that sucker still won’t lift out completely, find a stain stick for whatever remains.

How do you remove oil-based liquid makeup from white cotton?

Beauty bloggers always tell you to blend your foundation past your face and into your neck, but no one ever tells you how to get that same makeup off the neckline of your white cotton T-shirt. To tackle foundation stains, tinted moisturizers, primers, and lipsticks, we got you.

What you’ll need:

What to do:

  • Dampen the stained area with cool water. No need to soak it entirely.
  • Pour a few drops of dish soap onto the stain and let it sit for a few. The soap will help break up the oil in the makeup.
  • Use your fingers, a clean damp cloth, or clean toothbrush to gently suds up the area and really work the stain. This is one of the few exceptions to our no-rubbing rule.
  • Blot with a clean, dry towel and rinse with cool water.
  • The makeup may not come out the first pass, so you might need to repeat the dish soap steps.
  • For deep stains, pretreat with laundry detergent before washing the item in cool water.

How do you remove coffee stains from white linen?

In a survey conducted by Nordstrom Trunk Club about the stresses of dining out,* we found that 47 percent of people had no idea how to remove a coffee stain from their clothing. Luckily, it’s easy to do—so keep enjoying your morning pick-me-up without fear.

What you’ll need:

What to do:

  • Rinse the wet coffee stain with lots of cold water right away. Linen’s natural fibers are quick-drying, so getting to it fast is key.
  • If there’s some color left over after rinsing, wet a clean cloth with white vinegar and dab the spot.
  • For coffee with cream and sugar, spray the stain with a diluted solution of soapy water.
  • Is it stubborn? Use a stain stick before laundering to get the rest of it.
  • Toss your item in the laundry on a cold water cycle.

How do you remove ketchup stains from white denim?

Is it possible to leave a cookout without a ketchup stain on your pants? We may never know, but we can tell you how to get that saucy stain out of your clothes, pronto. Hint: It’s all in the pre-treatment.

What you’ll need:

What to do:

  • Start by removing any excess ketchup (a spoon works great).
  • Rise the stain with cold water from the back to flush it out.
  • Gently work a little bit of liquid laundry detergent into the stain, then rinse.
  • Use a clean cloth dipped in vinegar to blot the stain. Give it a good rinse.
  • Repeat the liquid laundry detergent and vinegar steps if necessary, and be careful not to dry your denim until the stain is completely removed. When you’re satisfied that the stain is gone, we always recommend air-drying your jeans. See our full guide to washing and drying denim here.

How do you remove mustard stains from white cotton?

You’re at a ball game, just trying to enjoy your hot dog with all the fixins’ when you look down and—there’s a glob of mustard on your T-shirt. Don’t panic, because we’ve got an easy fix for mustard stains on cotton without resorting to bleach.

What you’ll need:

What to do:

  • Remove excess mustard from your garment using a spoon (it scrapes the mustard off instead of rubbing it in).
  • Rinse the stain with cold water from the back to flush it out.
  • Gently work a little bit of liquid laundry detergent into the stain, then rinse.
  • Use a clean cloth dipped in vinegar to blot the stain. Give it a good rinse.
  • Check on the stain before you toss your garment in the dryer. If the stain remains, repeat the liquid laundry detergent and vinegar steps (it may take more than one go).

Sweat vs. white clothing

Sweating—everybody does it, and no one wants to talk about it. We love wearing white clothes in the summer, but that often comes at the cost of some yellowing, greying, or discolored patches around the underarms and collar. Fortunately, there are a few ways to prevent those stains before they happen.

Wash sweat-stained clothes immediately

Wash immediately.

Right after the gym, change out of your white T-shirt or socks and throw them in the wash before they dry. Same goes for shirts or dresses if your commute is warm enough to make you break a sweat.

Aluminum-free deodorant

Aluminum-free deodorant.

Contrary to popular belief, sweat alone typically doesn’t create yellow stains. It’s often the ingredients in deodorant mixing with your sweat that causes the problem. Look for brands without aluminum.

Allow time for deodorant to dry

Let deodorant dry. 

If you let your spray or stick deodorant dry completely before putting on your outfit, the fabric is much less likely to get discolored.

But what if you’re past the point of prevention, and the stain has already set? Next up, we’re tackling dreaded underarm stains.

How do you remove yellow underarm stains?

There’s nothing worse than seeing your favorite shirts ruined with sweat stains. No shame here, it happens to everyone. You can salvage those items with a little boost from commercial products easily found at the store or online.

What you’ll need:

Oxygen stain fighter

What to do:

  • Mix together a solution of water with one scoop of oxygen stain fighter.
  • Submerge stains entirely for one hour to overnight. Let the severity of the stain inform how long you feel you should soak it.
  • Rinse and launder your white clothes like normal.

Taking care of white accessories

When we buy new white bags, shoes, and jeans we become protective parents, making sure no dirt or ink or harm ever befalls them. But once they get their first scuffs, most of that careful attention goes out the window. Let’s talk about how to stall those accidents from happening in the first place.

White denim

Avoid new blue denim. 

Nothing ruins a fresh pair of white shoes or a bag quite like dye stains. Washing your blue jeans inside-out gets rid of the excess dye while keeping the color from fading.

Stain repellent on white clothes

Apply stain repellent. 

Resist the urge to wear your new items right away and use a protector spray, especially on sneakers. Make sure your white accessories are dry before putting them on.

White leather

Use leather conditioner. 

Keeping your white leather items in tip-top shape prevents them from cracking and trapping dirt and dust.

Storing your white clothes

Hanging white clothes on clothing rack

Storage is the final piece of the care-taking puzzle. Here are a few tips for storing your white items. (Short on storage space? See our closet organizing tips.)


  • Keep white shoes in a dust bag or their original box.
  • Wash all items before storing them for an extended amount of time.
  • Store your white clothing and accessories in a cool, dry place.


  • Leave white garments in a tied-off plastic dry-cleaner bag, it makes them yellow.
  • Stack or hang white jeans next to dark-wash jeans, the dye could transfer.
  • Rest white bags on the floor or in a high-traffic area where they might get dirty.

When you invest in quality clothing, knowing how to take care of it makes all the difference. Taking the proper steps to prevent, treat, and store your garments ensures you get the most mileage out of your wardrobe. For more, see our guide on how to take care of your clothing. Visit the Nordstrom Blog for additional how-tos, styling tips and beauty guides.

*Survey results based on a poll of 2,000 Americans, conducted by One Poll on behalf of Nordstrom Trunk Club.