You thought you were whitening those slightly dingy clothes by adding bleach to the wash. Now your blinding white or pretty pastel duds have yellow stains. Not cool. But maybe reversible, depending on the fabric. Some store-bought and home remedies will fade, remove or disguise yellow bleach stains. Check your fabric content and test your remedy by trying a few drops on a part of the material that can't easily be seen. Blot with a white towel. If color comes off on the towel, skip that solution and try something milder.
Bleach on White
Grab a handy eyedropper and drop some white vinegar on the yellow stains. Give it a few minutes and then rinse the fabric with cold water to see if bleach residue washes out. Bleach on polyester, spandex, silk or wool may have caused permanent damage to the fibers -- yellow stains on those materials represent an unfortunate encounter with chlorine bleach that can't be reversed.
Try washing the garment or fabric and rinsing with a bluing agent. White is a fabric color and may be created by adding a blue wash to the fabric dye to mask the presence of yellow. When bleach strips the bluing from the fabric, the original yellowish caste is revealed.
Another way fabrics are whitened is with a fluorescent dye that makes ultraviolet light visible and reflects bright light. Your clothes appear blinding white as the light tricks your eyes. Laundry bleach may strip the fluorescent dye from the fibers. Washing the yellowed item in detergent made specifically for brightening may restore some of its dazzle.
Finally, a soak in oxygen bleach -- a half-hour up to an hour -- might restore some of the whiteness and brightness to bleach-yellowed whites. Look for an all-fabric bleach that's marked oxygen bleach with color boosters, and follow the directions once you determine that the bleach is safe for your textile.
Hard Water + Bleach
If your water comes from a well, it may contain iron, which will react with bleach to leave a yellow stain on white or very light fabrics. Colorfast fabrics and whites can be treated with an iron-removal laundry product, such as Iron-Out, that lifts the metal out of the fibers and removes the yellow. This won't always brighten stained whites sufficiently once they are yellowed, but it might restore the material to its original bright condition. These products contain acids, which are irritants and should be handled with care and kept away from children and pets.
Pool Chlorine Stains
A clean pool shouldn't wreck your clothes or towels but chlorine -- splashed, spilled or too concentrated in the pool water -- can bleach fabric to cause yellowing and staining. Color remover is a nonchlorine bleach that won't harm the fibers of most clothing and will lift and remove the yellowed stain color. It might leave a pastel towel or T-shirt uniformly cream-colored, though, because it also removes regular color dyes and any bluing or fluorescent dyes that create snowy white. Color remover is typically used to prepare a garment to be dyed a new color. Apply color remover by mixing 1/4 teaspoon with 1/2 cup of cool water, sponging it on the stain, and then flushing the fabric well with water.
Fabric shoes with yellow bleach stains were definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. You can try a couple of remedies -- with no guarantees. First, the bleach has removed the color from the canvas or other material. You will have to strip all the color or camouflage the yellow spots to get the shoes back to one all-over color. Remove the shoelaces or any removable ornaments and coat the shoes with a thickened bleach designed to take color out of bleachable fabrics. Work the thickened bleach into the fabric with a soft brush and leave it on for five to 10 minutes. Toss the shoes into the washer on short cycle in very hot water. Air-dry them to see if the yellowed stains are gone. If bleaching doesn't work, find a permanent marker or fabric paint pen in the exact shoe color and cover up the spots.
Read Warning Labels
Whatever agent you use to remove yellow stains from fabric, be careful when working with and mixing chemicals. Ammonia may help to lighten or fade yellow bleach damage on clothing or upholstery. But ammonia mixed with bleach gives off toxic fumes, so never add them together. And avoid high heat to dry anything with remaining stains. Heat will set bleach yellowing in the fibers permanently, and then you won't have to worry about getting those stains out
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .