Memorial Day is the official start of summer and there’s nothing fresher than a white suit or dress to kick off the summer season. The dirty truth is that most clothes yellow over time and bright white is not a natural fabric color, it’s a dye. Clothing manufacturers often add optical brighteners to achieve the white finish. The brighteners, which may be known by other names such as brightening agents, fluorescent bleaches, optical whiteners, fluorescent brighteners, or fluorescent whiteners – are chemical agents that work by absorbing ultraviolet light and turning it into visible blue light. It then masks any yellowing of your clothes that occur over time tricking your eyes into thinking that your clothes are whiter than they actually are. That’s why white clothing glows under a black light!
These brighteners have limited durability and consumers need to know that they will decompose over time…leaving behind a slightly duller garment than they originally purchased. Dry Cleaning and laundering white clothing can accelerate the breakdown just as normal exposure to light, heat and atmospheric gases will. Certain light colored fabrics, particularly silk, simply yellow with age. At home, never bleach whites that are polyester or cotton/poly blends. The chemical reaction between the bleach and poly almost always yields a yellow result.
White clothes are cooler because they reflect light and no color is more fresh and crisp than white, so by all means, don’t avoid white clothing this summer! Just remember white doesn’t stay pristine forever and now you know why.